Monday, October 15, 2007


Tibet - The Story Behind the Story

Tibet, as beautiful as it is, folds a tragic story.

It is a sad story of a depressed group of peaceful people, cruelly trampled by the Chinese communist regime.
The Chinese takeover in 1950 resulted in incredible slaughter of over Million Tibetans. Since then, Tibetans are forced to live under strict regulations, limitations and restrictions, closely monitored by soldiers, marionette-monks, and even the tourist's temple donations are taken away by the government.

More striking is the disappearance of monks. The most troubling occurred on 1995, right after announcing a six year-old boy to be the next Panchen Lama (2nd in importance to the Dalai Lama), he vanishes off the earth and was never seen since - most likely to be abducted by the Chinese, to become the youngest political prisoner.

The one year old Beijin-Lhasa 48 hours train, aside to the promotions given to chinese migrants, have done their trick and Tibet is being overwhelmed by the Chinese transported population - by now, Lhasa holds a vast majority of Chinese over Tibetan. Silently, China's pincers are closing down over Tibet.

The unjust is evident. The Tibetan calamities cannot be ignored and it seems as if the poor Tibetan nation is facing a potential extinction of its unique religion and culture.

Reaching and traveling in Tibet is not easy - Tourist Infrastructure and facilities (like roads, transportation, hotels, agencies) are still at their early stage, which makes traveling in Tibet a bit of challenge. Moreover, the Chinese are not so keen for western eyes to see what's really happening inside Tibet. This is why permits, guides and groups are required. This is why access to my blog site was blocked. and this is why once you finally manage to get in, you feel obliged to share your observations.
and its also not easy to get out of Tibet...
We needed to exit via China and so (thanks to our dear friend Laura who trekked with us and lives there) we found ourselves in Kunming - a nice Chinese city in the Yunnan province - just in perfect timing for the Chinese national independence holiday.

It was a good opportunity to meet the other side of China - The Chinese people are kind and nice. They certainly seems to know how to grow old nicely - Morning Thai-Chi in front of the river, playing music, folk dancing, playing cards, badminton (my Tennis skills didn't help much against the pros...).

China, the land of tea and rice, is very much a country under construction - old neighborhoods are being demolished and rapidly replaced with "modern" constructions. An environmental ray of light is the electric motorcycles that are pollution/smell/noise-free. (and hey, they even have a province named 'Henan'... ;-)

We took a few days for a proper beten-gav (after all, it's a honeymoon-:) relaxation, tan, beach, books and the rest at Koh-Phi Phi, Thailand, which is completely recovered by now from the dreadful 2005 Tzunami.

and it is here that this journey came to it's end - a long way gone to explore the mysterious Tibet (Tel-Aviv->Amman->New Delhi->Kathmandu->Lhasa->Kunming->Bangkok->Amman->Tel-Aviv...)

and yes - pictures are now available at

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Trek Your Breath Away

So we wanted to trek up Tibet midlands.

Got a map, bought some food in Lhasa's Market (dried yak meat, yak butter, etc), and went to celebrate my birthday (yeah yeah, i got older...) over a nice dinner with our trekking team (secretly produced by Anati).

Speaking of food - The Tibetan kitchen is based on rice, noodles and...Yak. typical dishes are Manto (steam tasteless bread), Tsampa (barley corn flower), Momo (dumpling-like), Tok-Pa (spicy soup), Yak steak/burger. the Nepal-Indian (Dal, Biryani, Nan) and Chinese (Chewmain and the rest) influence is apparent. Interesting also to see the Tibetan way to heat water, using solar pots.

The next day, a local bus brought us to Ganden, a cute tiny village up the mountains at 4500M, with a sacred 14th century temple, and amazing serenity, which we just couldn't resist, so we stayed the night and got friendly with the locals. A group of man were playing cards, dice and cubic games. One of the nicest games played is called 'Kirum' (a kind of a hand-pool without sticks). Naturally we joined the happy gang and played kirum (cool game!). Lou Joung, the host, invited us for dinner at his small house - where we re-celebrated my birthday over extremely spicy noodle soup, drinking beer and singing Hebrew, English, Tibetan and Chinese birthday songs.

This is the point to mention that very few Tibetan speak (funny, meshed, unclear) english, so body language takes action as the main communication channel - Most dinners ends up inside the restaurant kitchen, trying to understand the menu/ingredients and even preparing soup and momo with the chefs, which was a great experience.

Back on trek - The road starts at Ganden, crossing some bare naked, almost desert-ish mountains, and goes through deserted yak farmers villages. Soon enough, we were heading up towards two passes over 5200M (nearly 16,000 ft.). After a looooooong boulder climb, with longs yearn for (non-existing at this height) oxygen, heart pounds like a mad man and the rest of the body just freezing under the falling snow... a real struggle, that payed-off once reaching the 2nd mountain path, crossing blue lakes, and (finally) descending towards green meadows, swiss-like valleys, with rivers and changing yellow-green-red vegetation scenery.

Along the road, we were listening to a background tune of Yak bells, Tibetan whistle-steer their Yaks, and singing traditional tibetan melodies. Pikos (mountain rabbits) were the only animal (apart from Yak) seen to survive those heights. After a challenging 4 trekking days (not to mention the freeeeeezing nights), we reached Samye, with its romantic temple and an extraordinary geography - snowy mountains, brown-red terra and dunes islands sporadically lying within a river.

Yak (the famous 3 letter crossword animal), is by no doubt an essential part of the Tibetan life - being the ultimate high mountain vehicle mule, a strong carrier, a meat supplier, milk used for drinking and making cheese and fine yak butter (base of the notorious butter tea) and creating candle wax (used in the temples), fur for sewing clothes and tents, teeth and hairy tail for beauty, and even the Yak disposals are used as fire coals...

Before leaving Tibet we went to see the marvelous Nam-Tso - a peaceful sacred turquoise lake lying at 4700M with up to 7100M surrounding peaks with nomads and monks leaving in cave monasteries.

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The Roof of The World

Tibet is long known to be 'The roof of the world'. and it certainly feels like that.

To start with its located on a high plateau (average of 4000M), but much higher are the Tibetan people, which pose the real inspiration and create a surrounding spirit elevation. This unique Tibetan-Buddhist spirit is felt not merely inside the temples and gumpas, but also on the streets - everyone seems to be dealing with religion/philosophy in some way, as if there are no doubts in their strong belief and their way of life is clear.

The Tibetan people are peaceful, friendly, happy and kind - always greeting hello ('Tashi Delek'), clapping their hands and smiling. Some resembles the Latin America Indians (women actually reminds the Bolivian 'Chulas'). Chanting monks, dressed up with their typical red/orange clothes, are praying, singing and laughing. The Buddhist praying mantra: 'OM MANI PADME HOM' (which means 'Hail the jewel in the lotus') seemed to be repeated everywhere.

Naturally, once in Tibet, one cannot resist gliding into a "being" state of mind.

The praying methods are smart, simple and suited even for the poor and ignorant people - turning praying wheels, counting praying beads (with 108 beads), circling sacred temples (known as 'Kora'), and putting out colorful praying flags (white, red, green, yellow and blue to denote the Buddhist core elements - wind, fire, air, earth and water), leaving it to the wind the make the pray.

Lhasa, the capital, is a mysterious spiritual city lying at 3600M and captured between even higher mountains. Shining out lies the marvelous Potala temple which has kind of a magnetic impact.

One of the most amazing sights are the prostrating pilgrims, who pray their way to enlightenment by literally crawling on the ground from their home town to the Lhasa's Jokhang temple - an unbelievable phenomenon which cannot be grasped till actually seen.As a complete conrtadicition, it is interesting to see how cell phones are being used by monks and poor people, bypassing the landline phone era.

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Paving a Path to Tibet

All we wanted is to get to Tibet.

Well, guess what? It's not so easy as you might think - Permit requires 3 days preparation, talking to the Chinese embassy in Katmandu is useless... they are simply the undisputed kings of the by-the-book beucracy. More hurdles? - only groups are allowed to enter and commute in Tibet, crossing the border took ~30 hours! and you allowed in only after they check your fever, pesticide spray your bags...
We were so happy to have finally enter Tibet, to find out that the first 50km are open solely during nighttime...
Seems like the Chinese are not particularly interested in people visiting Tibet. and for a good reason (more to come on that).

After surviving this 'via dolorosa', our multi-national group (Romanian, Korean, Japan, Swiss, German, Slovakian, Australian) with our nice Tibetan driver called 'Yampi', steered our Jeeps along a muddy dirt road (some flashbacks from other famous 'death-roads' in India and Bolivia), driving through mountain passes up to 5200M and crossing the (literally) breathtaking Himalayan mighty peaks with the famous Mt. Everest at 8810M.

No, we weren't lucky enough to see the actual Everest peak as it was up the skies covered with clouds, but is was impressive as is. We all felt the elevation - low oxygen results with headaches, heavy breath, noxious, few vomited and nearly fainted... Nights are freezing, strong sun at daytime, accommodation is basic and toilets are the worst ('bul-pgiaa').

The nearly 1000Km road (called the 'Freedom Highway') goes between sporadic nomadic villages with authentic mountain people, and spectacular moon-like sceneries of high desert, low on vegetation, rich on water - endless waterfalls and the turquoise 'Yamdrok Tso' lake, colorful Buddhist monasteries and the Himalayan snowy peaks as a perfect background setting.

Among our group was Stelian, a professional National Geographic photographer, with his top-notch equipment - we got friends and managed to see him in action.
Yom Kipur fast went fine (not much of an appetite at this heights anyway) and we finally arrived to the chanting heart of Tibet, Lahsa.

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Back in Nepal

Summer holidays arrived again – time to get back on the roads…

This year, in a kind'a spontaneous honeymoon, we decided to visit the mysterious Tibet - leaping over between Amman (great Humus), then Delhi (hot Chapatti and sweet Chai) to finally arrive to Katmandu, Nepal.

Being our 2nd visit to Nepal, not much have changed in the past decade. This beautiful piece of earth, a Disneyland-like country with all the hiking-gliding-rafting-banjying activities, aside to extremely poor people, human-riksha, hungry children, homeless and badly crippled beggars that simply tear your heart apart.

We’ve placed ourselves in the heart of the Thamel, next to the good-old Pumpernickel bakery, Everest Steak-house and the famous “swissa’ agency, and decided to take the outmost of our forced waiting-for-a-Tibet-permit and go out to explore the evergreen Katmandu valley.

A local bus (aka ‘chicken bus’), small, crowded and smelly as always (well, we did ride on the bus roof with 360 degrees of view and fresh air…), took us to Sundarizal, where a not-so-easy endless climb up to ~3000M have started, but still the tiny little villages along green rice terraces up the hill were absolutely rewarding on our way to a charming mountain village called Nagrakot, overlooking the Everest peak.

Going back, we accidentally found ourseleves in a town called ‘Boudha’ – a noisy place build around a huge Stupa (a Buddhist temple), where the locals are circling 108 clock-wise rounds (one per each of the 108 Buddhist Gods). We were also lucky enough to be in the midst of a women festival called ‘Fez’, which is all about finding a good husband and warship him. Women are dressed up in red-green-yellowish dresses, paint their hands and dance on the streets.

Tomorrow we head towards the Tibetan border.

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