I have always been intrigued by different religions- their culture, practices, and how it impacts people and their lives..... so when I was offered an opportunity to visit Tibet, I jumped at the chance to visit the birthplace of Buddhism. Tibet is a cultural Wonderland, but it has slipped into the control of China over the past few decades and lost a lot of it's ancient traditions.
Tibet is the Highest place on Earth sitting at 16,000 feet above sea level in the Himalayan Mountains and getting there from my Factory in South Mainland China was not an easy fete. This was an exhausting trip each way- spanning two grueling days of travel, 5 different connecting (Chinese) flights, 4 bus rides and 2 International Visas.... not to mention the days it took to get acclimated to the climate( 2 days of altitude sickness and non-stop breathing problems). And keep in mind that not just anyone can travel to Tibet- you have to be invited, granted a Visa, and travel with a government-issued Chaperone for the entire duration of your stay. With all the drama it takes just getting there, I'll have to say that once you arrive- the history and beauty of the region make you quickly forget the struggles. Here are some of the Highlights from my once-in-a-lifetime Trip.
My first stop after getting acclimated to the altitude was to visit Potala Palace- the Original Birthplace and home of the 5th through 14th Dali Lamas and the Highest Ancient Palace in the World. The sight of the palace alone will take your breathe away- standing at over 300 feet tall and spanning 32 acres. There are over 1,000 rooms in the Palace, containing more than 10,000 Shrines and 200,000 statues! Every single inch of the Palace is covered in beauty and art- from the ornate interior to the precious handicrafts and decorations..... It was a full day of inspiration and soaking in the rich culture, not to mention the best workout I have ever had in my life!
Although I visited a handful of Monestaries while I was in Tibet, the most memorable was The Sera Monastary, built almost 600 years ago. Although it had similarities to the Potala Palace, the standout moment for me was watching the resident Monks' afternoon debates. Imagine over 250 monks assembling in a courtyard, making the most awkward jesters, slapping and chanting gibberish. It's really something special as this style of debating is unique to this Monastery.
I stayed in a Former Monastery... and although quaint and cozy, this definitely wasn't the Four Seasons. I don't know if I would ever do it again, but I am so glad that I did it, and have such vibrant memories to share.
The room was all original- the former living quarters of a Student Monk. I felt like I was trapped in another time period, and it was so inspiring. But...... the front door had no lock, and there was no heat when it was freezing at night. There was no television, internet, or elevator to hoist up my 75 lb. luggage (again- amazing workout dragging up and down 4 floors). The bed was the worst sleep I have ever had in my life, and the noise level was mind numbing. The water was frigid cold, if it even came out of the faucet at all.... so needless to say I didn't shower for 6 days.
The food was an interesting surprise for me as I am a Vegetarian- but I firmly believe that when in Rome, do as the Romans do. With that said, I ate an unbelievable amount of Yak. Be it Yak meat, Yak butter, Yak Cheese, Yak Tea.... the Tibetian people rely almost solely on Yak as a form of clothing, food, fuel, transportation, and even shelter. The taste is better than what I thought it would be- a leaner, juicier version of Beef. They use Yak in EVERYTHING. Even the burning candle is Yak Fat... for light and heat!
A tradition I started years ago in every city I travel to, I always try the Local Beer. Let's just say I had a lot of these beers!! Lhasa Beer was very crisp and refreshing after my long days of walking and climbing through the intense altitude.
I like to save the best for last: The Shopping. I can't lie- one of the main reasons why I really wanted to visit Tibet was my fascination of Tibetan handicrafts, clothing and ornate jewelry, and thought that I should just visit the source of so much inspiration of my designs. In Lhasa, the main shopping area is on historical Barkhor Street, and I must have got lost at least 10 times trying to find it! The streets leading to Barkhor Street are a labyrinth and Barkhor Street runs in a circle around the famed Jokhang Temple. It is customary to walk in a clockwise direction while on the street. I could have spent my whole trip just shopping and exploring the hundreds of small shops and stands selling antiques, clothing, handmade jewelry and crafts. Some of my amazing purchases included a vintage amber and coral stone belt, a Tibetan Lamb Fur Coat, and traditional gemstone ear cuffs.
After all was said and done, Tibet is a magical place and I am so happy that I got to experience it. I had such a wonderful time learning more about the history, culture, people and how it has shaped the life that I live now.