Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Momos, Bobis and Monasteries

Tents on the Tibetan Plateau

Lake Nam-Tso. The highest altitude salt lake in the world, about 4700m up

Buddhists prostrating themselves on the ground outside the Jokhang Temple

Part of the Jokhang Temple

Not sure why I decided to follow this goat and take its picture but I did

Is anyone reminded of Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian? No?

The Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama before he was exiled

A large Yak. Also tastes good in burger form

A big pile of dried yak poo, which the Tibetans use as fuel

Buddhist prayer flags flying over Lake Nam-Tso.

Ni Hao from Lhasa, Tibet - the highest capital city in the world! The good old Chinese government doesn't make it the easiest place to visit if you're not Chinese but a short flight and a Tibetan travel permit later and we're here. I would have to say it's very much worth it too.

Before getting to Tibet, our last stop in China was Zhongdian, also known as Shangri-La. The hostel that we stayed in there was possibly one of the best I have stayed in, in Asia or Australia. Called the Dqing Area Tibetan Youth Hostel, it had everything that a good hostel should have. A bar/restaurant with an open fire, good cheap food, it even had a basketball court. The showers were like little wooden saunas, the whole place just had a much more personal feel to it than some of the places you end up in.

My only complaint would be that they played Dido too much. But this was made up for by the fact that we met a very tall German guy there who sounded exactly like the policeman in 'Allo Allo' who spoke with a terrible french accent...

While Lhasa is a beautiful place, I can't help but feel I would have liked to have seen it 40 years or so ago, before the Chinese moved in. Okay, it is a valid argument that the Dalai Lama was a religious dictatorship that left the country way, way behind the times and incredibly poor, but with economic progress you lose some of what makes a place unique. Especially with Chinese economic progress, they are moving along so fast you're not sure if they really pay any attention to the past when they're looking so much to the future.

For example, before we came to Tibet, one place we stayed for a couple of days was Lijang. Which was a nice enough place but quite false at the same time. It had a kind of Chinese Disneyland feel to it in that a lot of the buildings were meant to look old and quaint but quite clearly weren't. Whatever was there before was not Chinese enough or not attractive enough to bring in tourists and so was replaced with ornately carved wooden shop fronts. However, in a place like Lijang or Zhongdian it is still possible to find the old buildings and relatively untouched places if you just take a walk elsewhere so maybe I have no cause for such whining and should just keep quiet.

While in Asia, there have been a fair few visits to various temples, monasteries and pagodas. None more impressive than Angkor Wat in Cambodia. But the Jokhang Temple comes pretty close. Whereas Angkor was an area full of ancient ruins, the Jokhang is still an active place of worship for Buddhists.

You walk in and everything feels old, like it has been around for centuries, as it has. Inside it is dark and a bit musty, lit by huge candles made from yak butter. The place is full of brightly coloured statues of the many different deities that are a part of Buddhism. To be honest, if I was a monk, I think I would get fed up with a thousand tourists a day (95% Chinese, half of them wearing brightly coloured cowboy hats) roaming about in my temple but they seem to just get on with things. When you see a couple of monks laughing together about something, you wonder if they are making fun of all these people who barely know their Buddha from their Bodhisattva...

I should give a special mention to the Chinese family that gave us ice lollies the other day when we were sat on a riverbank. About three generations of Chinese or Tibetan, (my Chinese isn't really of the standard where I can ask where they come from) all sat around with a picnic and doing their clothes washing in the river. We even had semi-conversations, despite the fact that they could not speak English and we couldn't speak Chinese.

As I'm hungry now I'm going to wrap up, before possibly having a momo or a bobi for lunch. A momo is a kind of deep fried-thingy which can be filled with meat, vegetables or the ones that we are all getting fat on the fried apple momo's. Bobis are kind of like fajitas, you get given a few flour-based wraps and put all the stuff you want inside them before rolling them up and shoving them into your face. And they taste goooooood.

No comments: