Tibetans are very religious
Lhasa is the religious center of Tibet. Many Tibetans would visit Lhasa whenever possible during their lifetime. They follow the various traditional pilgrimage routes in the city. Some of them walk the route, some do a series of rituals which involve the whole body to the ground! They are the most religious people I've ever seen.
You are likely to encounter these devoted pilgrims on the streets around Johkang, which is one of the most popular pilgrimage routes.
- Religious Travel
THE LOCAL SATELLITE DISH
when going around lhasa (even within the monasteries), don't be surprised to come across one of these. from afar, it looks like a portable satellite dish - which really surprised me, tibet may be more developed than i thought after all.
it's actually a kettle heating device.
i've never seen anything like it anywhere else, as a matter of fact. ingenious, huh?
great photography subject.
The Bathing Festival ("Mu Yu Jie")
If you're in Lhasa during September then try to ask local Tibetans when the Bathing Festival occurs. The Bathing Festival, known as "Mu Yu Jie" in Chinese, is actually not known by some Chinese living in Lhasa (especially taxi drivers) so you'll need to get reliable information from local Tibetans.
The Tibetans celebrate this festival by bathing in the Lhasa River when Venus makes an early autumn appearance in the evening sky. They believe this is the best time for cleaning when the river is at its purist. You will see plenty of naked ladies but Tibetans use this occasion to wash clothes as well. I even saw dogs and bicycles getting a bath. (See related travelogue.)
The best place to observe the bathing festival in Lhasa is west of the Lhasa Bridge behind Tibet University. Go to Tibet University and use the west exit to access this area. Use your best judgement when photographing bathing Tibetans. If some choose not to have their picture taken then it won't take long before you find others who don't mind.
You might also get invited to join the Tibetans in the river, and so it would be a good idea to wear a bathing suit. The weather during early September is usually still quite warm, but the river water is very cold. Most Tibetans don't actually jump deep into the river, instead they wade by the shore and splash water onto themselves.
- Budget Travel
YUMMMMM, Yak meat!
Well, I guess this is a local custom. Refrigeration of uncooked meat is merely a suggestion and not a rule of thumb here. Hopefully no one gets nauseous from the photos. I think the meat was fairly fresh because it didn't smell (yet!) and it was about 75 degrees out. A good amount of "butchers" are in the same area as the vegetable market and it is not uncommon to see a make-shift table set up with a large hunk of meat on it. Your meat can be cut to order. You have to wonder about the guy in the third picture smoking the cigarette as he cut up some meat. As if it wasn't unsanitary enough.
Made me think twice (more than that) about ordering Yak Steak dinner again. I strongly recommend well done!
- Adventure Travel
- Food and Dining
Different areas of Tibet
In different regions of Tibet, Shannan or Changtang, rural or pastoral areas, eastern or western Tibet, the customs are varied. As a Tibetan saying goes: "Different lamas teach in different ways; different inhabitants have different sayings and different nature cultivates different folkways". The nomadic herders living on the highly-elevated, frigid and sleeted grasslands in northern Tibet wear hides and furs, eat beef, mutton and milk products, and live in yak woollen tents. The farmers living along the Yarlung Zangbo River Valley and the mountain dwellers in the Himalayas wear wool tweed clothing, eat tsampa (roasted highland barley flour), and reside in stone or earthern houses, while the the inhabitants in forested regions dwell in bamboo and wooden houses.
Most of the places we went to were all earthen or stone houses, many of them so much more beautiful than half the buildings they have in Beijing thats for sure! And the ones in the countryside had yak or horse (couldnt tell the difference!) p** on the walls. I'm not sure what that was for? Extra warmth? Make the walls more solid? But fun to see all the same!
So the folk culture in the pastoral areas of northern Tibet is known as the 'yak culture', while the rural areas are known as the 'highland barley culture'.
Pilgrimage is not just a matter of walking to a sacred place and then leaving again. There are a number of activities that must take place to focus the concentration of the pilgrim. The act of kora, or circumambulation of the object of devotion, is one of the main pursuits. Auspicious numbers are three, 13 or 108 koras, with sunrise and sunset being especially auspicious times. Pilgrims will show devotion through prostration (chaktsal), which follows a sequence: placing your hands in a namaste (prayer-like) position, touching your forehead, throat and heart, getting down into a half-prostration and then lying flat out on the ground with arms outstretched. A particularly devout pilgrim will make his entire journey in this way, moving only the length of his body each time, marking his progress by a conch shell.
Offerings are likely to be made during a pilgrimage, such as kathaks (white ceremonial scarves) given to lamas or holy statues as a sign of respect. At altars, offerings such as yak butter, tsampa, fruit, money and seeds are left. Offerings of printed prayers or tsampa are thrown into the air at holy mountain passes, bridges and peaks. Sacred rocks, earth, water or herbs are collected and taken back to those who were unable to partake in the pilgrimage.
- Arts and Culture
At Tibet Potala Carpet Company, not far from Drepung Monastery, we were shown the whole process of carpet making, from the basic wool, through the carding and spinning to the weaving of the carpets. At the end was the obligatory souvenir shop, where you could buy carpets and rugs in every size, colour and pattern, as well as a few other souvenirs.
- Arts and Culture
Politics and Responsible Travel
Don't try and talk politics to local people if they don't want to.
Tibetans can get 20 years in prison for this. It is a counter revolutionary crime. For example Yulu Dawa Tenzin was jailed for 20 years specifically for talking of independence with a foreign tourist. Even if people do want to talk, this may be due to a misplaced idea that you are a journalist or similar. Be sensitive to this.
There was a story a few years ago: Someone in India encouraged people to go to Tibet and "collect evidence" Acting on this, a tourist tried to record an interview with a nun in a muslim-owned tea-house opposite the Snowlands Hotel. The ever present police-spy called his masters and a police raid was staged. The poor nun was dragged away to [I assume] imprisonment and torture. The tape recorder was snatched for evidence and the feckless tourist was left to ponder on it all, free to go home...but doubtless unable to sleep at night.
Inspite of stories such as the one above, some people are alarmingly eager to tell you of their plight. In doing so they are taking a great risk, but are also putting a certain burden onto the listener: It might be flattering to have someone risk torture just to talk to you, and it might make a good adventure story for the folks back home, but the person is telling you all this in the hope that you will actually do something. The subleties of the political situation can be hard to grasp. Ask yourself what is really going on. On the surface, things look almost normal. Life goes on. It is not easy if you don't speak so much Tibetan. Before you go, read up on Tibet, its history and politics. This is far better than reading it when you get back, wondering what it was all about.
As a tourist you are very very unlikely to be endangered if there should be a demonstration.
- Road Trip
As Lhasa ia a main pilgrim destination you will see many people praying. Praying can be done in several ways. You can turn your prayerwheel, sending your prayers to heaven. Or recite a mantra like Om mani padme hum. Also you can kneel to laying down on the ground. The people you see in the picture are praying in front of the Jokhang.
When you`re travelling trough Tibet, you wil certainly meet the local people. In Lhasa itself, we`ve met Tibetians speaking English, so it is very interesting to accept an ivitation for drinking a yak butter tea with them (altough that tea is sometimes a disgusting thing :-0... ).
More difficult was the conversation with the people we met overland. Unfortunately there is often a language bareer ... But you will find ways to deal with that...
Tibetan New Year - February 18th 2007 / February 7th 2008
Butter Lamp Festival - March 4th 2007 / March 26th 2008
Saka Dawa Festival - May 31st 2007 / June 18th 2008
Shoton Festival - August 12th-18th 2007 / August 30th-September 5th 2008
Bathing Festival - Middle ten days of September 2007 / Last ten days of September 2008
Ghost-Exorcising Festival - February 5th 2008 / February 23rd 2009
Always come prepared
This monk shows how to be prepared for everything. He wears a cloth in front of his mouth and nose, probably against infections or the polution of the city.
In his left hand he holds a wreath, counting his prayers on it, and an umbrella in a handy bag. His right hand is turning his prayerwheel while he walks the Nangkhor, a pilgrim route inside the Jokhang.
More on the prayerwheel in the local custom tips at our Tibet page.
Turning the prayerwheels
Prayerwheels come in all forms and sizes. You are supposed to turn them around so the prayer (usually Om Mani Padme Hum) can travel to the heavens.
This pilgrim has one in her hand while turn the large ones in the outer wall of the Jokhang.
The chinese placed a lot of undercover monks in the monasteries in Tibet. Because it is believed by the chinese the monasteries are the centre of resistence against the chinese authorities.
Sometimes you can't tell weather monks are placed there or not, but in the case of this picture the golden watch is a dead give away.....
Constant turning of prayer tubes - one of the numerous rituals performed by the lay believers.
Long pilgrimages to the temples involving endless kowtowing before the Buddha & prostrating the entire body on the ground constitue some of the wonders of Tibet to the outsiders & strength & character to the Tibetans.
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