Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Tashi delek, Tibet!
Hello, Tibet!
First impressions
On the platform of the train stations there are many military men with white scarves around their neck. We exit and take some pictures. My family is ahead of me and has already met our guide. She is putting white scarves on their neck too. I want to take a picture but immediately a soldier blocks my way. I realize he is forbidding me to take pictures. I confirm and cover the lens. It seemed senseless because he was the last soldier along the exit corridor.
We meet our guide Tsewang Lhamo (pronounced Tehwan). It means Long Life Fairy. She tells us that those scarves are kata and they represent the clean heart that welcomes us to Tibet. I look outside the car window and it doesn't seem special: a flat Chinese city, with few people. And then we enter the real Lhasa, the Tibetan one, the old Lhasa, where there are lots of people, so different from the Chinese, with lots of townhouses that have a wide black stripe painted around their windows and with multicolored valences above doors and windows.
We stay at the Yak Hotel in heated rooms. The windows face the street. We can see in both directions the glass cases with soldiers, five inside and one outside, surveying. They have helmets, transparent shields, batons and guns. At half distance there are guardians, dressed in police-like uniforms. Through the same window we can see the sun setting over the mountains.
Altitude sickness
While in university I learned bout the mechanisms of adapting at high altitudes. I grew up at sea level. How do you feel at 11,484ft? In the beginning everything seems normal, only you don't have energy. To go up a flight of stairs? You need 5 min, by the end of them you think you are already dead, or if not, you will die soon because you have NO AIR. 
At 14,764ft, even after 9 days of adaptation, you wake up in the middle of the night, thinking you are suffocating. The best therapy would be a coca tea, but we don't have it, so we drink plenty of water, close to a gallon a day. That means you wake up several times to go to the bathroom.
And now in a random order, what I noticed:
In Lhasa there are people who are on a pilgrimage. This starts sometimes far away, at one end of Tibet. Why? For the sins from this life and the previous ones. With the prayer beads like a bracelet on their wrist, with protectors for knees and shoes, with handles made of wood or metal in their hands they will prostrate until Lhasa, at the Jokhang temple. Standing they will put their hands together, raise them to their forehead, face, chest, take a step, lean and slide on their hands until their forehead touches the ground, then they slide their hands above their heads. 
If they are in front of the temple they will move one of the 108 prayer beads. They get up, leaning against those handles, take a step and again the salute, the prostration, in all this time saying the prayer words: Om Mah Nee Pad Meh Oon (written Om Ma Ne Pad Me Hung). When they are close to the city they have to go around the old Tibetan city clockwise and after that they could enter it and go toward the Jokhang Temple. They will go around this one too, they will prostrate countless times in front of it and they will bring their smell gift (juniper branches over burning charcoals in a clay oven painted in white, outside the temple). And in the morning they will enter the temple and they will bow their heads in every chapel, every inch of a fresco and every statue, they will touch all the vestments, bring their gift of dee (di- yak female) butter (with a spoon or pouring it from a thermos) in the big vats with burning mucks that are in front of the different Buddhas (of the Past, of the Present, of the Future, Compassion, Longevity, Wise, Medicine, Science, etc.) At every altar they offer some money.
Others are doing kora: they go around the temple turning the small prayer wheel in their right hand and the prayer beads in their left hand, one for each prayer of Om Mah Nee Pad Meh Oon. The same word is found on a prayer wheel hand printed, rolled and sealed by the nuns in the prayer wheels, all of them turned clockwise. Their prayer is for everybody: for the gods (Om) demigods (Ma), people (Ne), animals (Pad), hungry ghosts (Me) and living things from hell (Hung). It is permanent because it is written on the prayer flags that are hung in the wind and every time they move it's like they are saying the words.
They are so absorbed in their prayer that it seems only their bodies are moving, their souls gone with the prayer. I was standing in front of Jokhang Temple trying to take some pictures, they were moving around obstacles, their sight lost in the distance.

There are other monasteries where they are doing a pilgrimage, turning the big prayer wheels strung around the walls of the temple or on the mountainside, they worship the image of the Buddha that appeared on rocks (and man painted over so you could see better).

The few monks (they can become monks after a long and complicated approval process from the Chinese government, that puts a cap on the number) spend their time praying together three times a day in the Main Hall, emptying the vats of the solidified butter into some big bags (the Tibetans will buy this "blessed" butter to use it in their homes), sweeping and cleaning the barley seeds that are put around the statues by the Tibetans in hope that next year they will have a good crop, gathering the offered money and putting them in locked box (they will be taken by the Chinese government, together with the ones resulted from selling the entry tickets), printing the scriptures by hand (the words spoken by the previous Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama, Gamen Lama) sewing new vestments for Buddha and the scriptures, making mandalas from colored sand, debating the scriptures (Sera Monastery). 

The young monk learns by himself and when he meets in the afternoon with the other ones - he has to answer some questions (or cautions, as Tsewang says). The one who answers sits on a pillow in the courtyard. The one who asks stands: holding the prayer beads in his right hand he starts asking the question, and by the end of it he slides the beads on his left arm, toward the shoulder, raises his left foot and his right arm, punctuating the question mark with slap of his hands and a stamp of his foot. This is to awaken the ones from hell. It the young monk's answer is correct, it will help the ones who are suffering.

There are main holy places: the houses and caves where different Lamas prayed and lived, the high places, the four salt water lakes and they are all a reason to do a kora, no matter how long it takes: an hour, a day, a week (Yamdrok Lake).
Tibetans celebrate their birthday on New Year's Eve (they have a lunar calendar). The child receives his name from the monastery's abbot or from a High Lama, a name that can be different from the parents'. Young people who want to start a family live together and after the first child is born they will have a religious ceremony of marriage and the baptism of their child (unfortunately they have a high divorce rate because of the arranged marriage and modernization). People past 80 years of age can wear white garments or sewn on their clothes the sign of the sun and the moon (a circle over a crescent) And when they die they have three types of burial: fire, water and sky. The first one is easy to understand. For the latter two it is the idea of returning in the nature, by giving back to living things: fish and vultures.

Life in the city
On the main street there are many stores, one next to each other: here is a traditional tailor shop, next to a restaurant, next to a pharmacy, to a butcher's shop with yak meat on the counter. On the side streets there are stands with fruits (apples and mandarines), wool, clothes, jewelry, footwear, food. From time to time you can hear Tibetan music. People are moving in every direction. The majority of women are dressed in a traditional way: a dark colored skirt ankle length, with an striped apron in front, and a short coat that closes on the right side, lined with lamb fur. On their head they can wear a headkerchief or the modern ones, a fedora (they are also wearing high-heels). All of them have long hair (plaited in two long braids or in a low bun).
The Amdo women (a region of Tibet) wear their hair braided in many thin braids that in the end are braided together and clipped with a jewelry. On their head, around their ears and their waist they wear their precious things: turquoise and agate big as river stones, sometimes set in silver. The Amdo married men have long hair braided with a cord that ends in a tassel (black or vivid red) that they arrange around their head and the tassel on the left side of the face. They wear a very long coat, tied around the hips with a scarf, with longer than arms sleeves, the right one hanging behind their back (the winter ones are lined with lamb fur, the summer ones have two sides). I saw an old man carrying a baby in that coat! The children (infants and older) are wrapped up in blankets and tied on the backs of their mother. When they worship at  the temple, they also lean on one side, so the child could touch with his forehead the holy objects. The ones who are walking, they behave themselves, they follow their parents example, have the same respect for religion, wait for the adult to give them their attention, to hold his hand. Holding hands is for every age and sex.

Between all the sallow faces you can see sometimes the round, white face of a Chinese, usually with an arrogant expression. Less than that a European face (it is winter time and low season). Frequently you can see military faces (young Chinese, some of them with their first mustache, looking all over the place to find the seeds of revolt), policemen and SWAT (they have women in their ranks). The former ones are mixing between pilgrims, interpose themselves between temple and the ones who prostrate (big no-no), talk with disdain to women, though their husband is present, forbidding standing. Only their presence and it creates tension!
The traffic is continuous, fluid, the rickshas ring their bell to let you know they are free, cars turn around in the middle of the intersection, motorcycles snake through, and the garbage car has a song: when people hear it they come with their waste bags, boxes, pails and empty them while it is rolling.

Life in the country side
Their homes are from rocks or adobe, rectangular, with two floors. On the first floor live the animals, whom with their being will heat the humans living quarters from above. In the middle there is a hearth or a stove, with the cooking vessels close by. Under the windows and all around the walls are benches covered with carpets, that in the night time are used as beds. In front of them are low tables made of painted (with floral or religious models) and lacquered wood, that are used as cupboards. At the one pane windows there are multicolored frames and drapes in electric colors. The ceiling is covered in various fabrics or nice quilts. 

The yard is surrounded by a tall wall on which they dry cakes made of dung and straw. They have different qualities: of yak, of cow, of sheep or goat. Once they are dry, they fall down and are deposited in an orderly fashion on the top of the wall. They are an efficient combustible, but it burns fast.
The shepherds walk and spin the washed and gilled wool that is woven as a wreath on their wrist. The spindle has a cross on the lower part around which they will spin the thread. The women walk from one hamlet to the other knitting. The weights are carried in a basket tied with a scarf across the shoulders. Transportation can be a cart pulled by a small horse or a donkey, but the majority have a motorcycle or a small tractor that pulls a tow.
The children learn to read and write with their families or with the monks. They learn through songs and repetition. We were in Old Tingri and we were going out to eat, when I heard a child voice singing. I looked up and saw a little girl, next to a pane-less window,  trying to take advantage of the last rays of sun. She was singing and following a text. Beside her, her mother was weaving at a loom.

As usual I admire the inventiveness of people who don't have much. The horse eats his grain in a cut out basketball. In the winter time they wash their clothes in a tire that has one side sealed up with an old tire tube.
Traditional food
Butter tea
You make black tea, put salt and butter, mix them in the blender, pour some more hot water or tea and serve. If you take a sip, they will refill it.
In a bowl mix some barley flour, a little sugar and butter tea and then mix with your pointing finger clockwise, until all the tea is absorbed. Then you keep your thumb on the outside of the bowl and mix with the other four fingers until you make a big clot named bac. You break a piece that you knead some more between your fingers, leaving their impression on it and then you eat it.
You can eat tsampa as a soup, adding some flour in the butter tea. It is nutritious and satiable.
Barley wine (chang)
It is served in little ewer with a long neck at room temperature. Before drinking Tibetans dip their middle finger in the glass and then, touching it with the thumb, they sprinkle for Dharma, Sakya (?) and Buddha. It is a light, perfumed and a little bit sweet wine.
It is a drink made of yogurt, mixed or not with a fruit (banana, apple, peach), some sugar and water. Very good!
What I liked
I liked Tsewang. A young woman with a talent for languages (beside English she understands punjabi, Nepali, Chinese - which she will officially study after we leave). She asked us to consider her as a relative, to ask for her help anytime, to ask any questions (and she added, because these are the rules, with the exception of political ones). This didn't stop her to answer with Tibet at Maria's question "Nevertheless, what country are we in?", to tell us not to take pictures of the military because they will confiscate the memory stick and that are signs of unrest in East Lhasa. She developed a relationship with the children, especially with Maria, played with them, made a cake for Ioan's birthday. The majority of information that I wrote is from her (and much more, religion related). Thuje chey, Tsewang! (pronounced thu-chee-chyeh)
I liked the traditional food, the Tibetans way of being calm, pondered, patient.
But maybe what I liked most was the trip through Tibet. The vistas were from postcards. Sunrise in the 5050m Pang-la pass, Yamdrok lake with its turquoise color, the heights with their prayer flags, the hamlets with their few people. 

The road to Everest has at least 5 checkpoints and on the hill it is written with stones Zhong Guo (China). But after you pass them and climb the hillock on which is a plaque "Mt. Qomolangma Base Camp  5200m" (in American - Everest Base Camp 17,060ft) and you see the snow blowing from the top of it thoughts choke you: of thanksgiving, God helped us; of joy, we are here; of relief, we survived the altitude and cold; of marvel of how beautiful things are; of pride, we brought here a little of Romania.
We leave on a different road, a Martian landscape: as long as you can see white round rocks scattered on sand and somewhere lost, a creek with frozen banks. We get out of the creek's bed and follow the road, up and down. A herd of wild goats starts running. Further on a hawk circles some yaks. We get away from the tallest mountain in the world for a few hours now and still we can see it at sunset. We stop for a last photo and say our good byes.
"Kha lee shoe Tibet! I'm leaving, Tibet!"
"Kha lee pay! I'm staying."

1 comment:

  1. Tibet...They go around the temple and it is called kora. I could not help but looking into any linguistic connection with the Romanian HORA (the same going around ). Any how as far as the soldiers keeping a strong presence in the Autonomous Region of Tibet. now that they "eliberated them" they have to be kept "eliberated".How many years were the "eliberated" Romanians kept under surveillance after the WWII by their big brothers the Russians. Other than that evry thing is cool. E.R. Roc NY USA


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