Wednesday, September 29, 2010

TIBET pics: Lhasa!

Lhasa, Tibet is the capital and one of the most holy cities of the Tibetan Plateau. Today, it's streets are an odd mix of Han Chinese capitalism and Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims making the rounds of their pilgrim circuit, called a kora. We spent about 4 days here, seeing the sites and getting used to the elevation. Then we moved on in a slow journey to the Tibetan-Nepalese border. Here are some of my favorite photos from the city. If you'd like to see the whole album of Lhasa photos, click here. It will be a few days before I can post the rest of the journey, so I hope you enjoy these for now!

The best way to get into Tibet from China is by the new train. This train was finished around 2006ish (I can't remember) and is considered an engineering masterpiece. It runs from Beijing to Lhasa and is the highest rail way in the world. We took it for 24 hours from Xining to Lhasa.

The train helps give you even more time to adjust to the high altitude. Many who fly into Lhasa suffer from altitude sickness immediately. We felt a little fuzzy, but were really ok in Lhasa. Our altitude problems came later in the journey, at Namtso Lake and Mount Everest (which you'll see pics of!) Anyway, the train cars are equipped with oxygen that's pumped into the cabin, plus if you're feeling the height too much, you can put your face in front of an outlet and turn it on to get a nice shot of O. I woke up w/a headache in the middle of the night and took this pic of how high we were: 4,920 meters or 16,141 ft!

A shot from the train. We passed amazing scenery of green hills and blue lakes, sheep and yak grazing nearby, shepherds and nomads staring at the train as we passed. It was lovely. You're so high up that it really looks and feels like you can just reach up and touch the sky.

The family sharing a cabin w/me on the train. It's WONDERFUL on long train rides to have nice, polite travel companions. I was very blessed. They were sweet.

The Potala Palace, the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas, including the current one before he had to flee the country. It's one of the architectural wonders of the world and is so beautiful. My tour mates and I all gasped in joy when it came into view as we drove into the city.

Little boy on the pilgrim circuit, called the Barkhor Kora, in Lhasa.

Tibetan Buddhist pilgrim completing a kora near Jokhang Temple, the most holy temple in Tibet. This mast is covered with prayer flags. She would have been chanting "Om Mani Padme Hum" as she walked.

a monk inside the courtyard of the Jokhang Temple, Lhasa Tibet.

The amazing skies from the rooftop of the Jokhang Temple! One of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen in my life. It made me want to run and jump and try to fly.

View of the Potala Palace from the rooftop of the Jokhang Temple (and me posing...)

a stall along the Barkhor. This pilgrim kora is lined w/similar stalls, selling prayer beads/flags, and all sorts of other Buddhist trinkets. It's really fun to do some shopping in!

the deep blue sky above

We asked our tour guide to take us to a local shop for souvenirs, and it was located beneath this artists' workshop. Here they are making Thanka paintings, a style of art special to Tibetan Buddhism. It was really neat to wander about and see them working. turns out that being so close to the sky also means you're closer to the sun! Even though I put on sunblock that morning, I forgot to reapply and was toasted by the end of my first day. At least I wasn't the only one, all of us in my tour group were red for several days!

climbing up to the Potala Palace

a young monk placing a money offering on a tree outside the Potala Palace.

Pilgrims outside of the Potala Palace

Yak Burger!!! We ate yak in many forms, mostly tried to find the traditional Tibetan food, but sometimes you can't help but fall for the silly tourist a yak burger. Ignore my ridiculous burn lines.

This was at Sera Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa. Each afternoon, the monks studying there gather for debate. We were concerned that it was part tourist spectacle, but from what we've heard afterwards, it seemed to be the real thing. It was really interesting to watch them debate doctrine! They would slap their hands together when they made a point in a special way, and flick their prayer beads at each other when they disagreed!

a view of the Potala Palace rising above Lhasa from rooftop of Sera Monastery.

So we wanted to do a little exploring while we were there...this is me sneaking into a temple...respectfully.

Sometimes it amazes me how similar we all are. These three guys were soooo funny; they all seemed to be friends, were just hanging out, shooting the bull, laughing at each other and making jokes w/passersby. Their laugh was one of those cute old men "hee heees" kind of laughs. They reminded me of the men you'd see hanging out in a front lawn in New Orleans.

This is one of my favorite pics. This is inside of Norbulingka, the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas. Unlike the Potala Palace, several Dalai Lamas built their own residences (instead of it just being one big building), and so you can go inside the residence of the current Dalai Lama. It was finished being built only a few years before he was forced into exile, but it feels like such an honor to walk through the halls where he once walked as a young man, to see his study room, and to think about the great changes that came in such a short time.

Here is a pilgrim in the gardens of the complex.

These are two of my lovely travelmates; Sara and Phil. Sara is half British, half Italian and Phil is French--but they are both living in the UK. They were a wonderful couple and have become some of my favorite people. Here they are showing off our lunch menu, which had full roast lamb and full roast pig as options.

On the last night in Lhasa, Phil, Joe and I braved the pouring rain to go get one last look of the Potala Palace. The palace is shown on the back of all Chinese 50 yuan bills, so I took a pic of that. It was a fun night.

Phil, me and Joe (another travel companion) in the rain. Their significant others stayed dry back at the hotel...more pics of my travel mates will come later.

Last days of travel

I'm spending my last night in Germany...trying to stay up late so I can sleep through the flight. Tomorrow I land in NYC to spend some time w/my dear friends Adrienne and Marcus, then finally home to Tennessee this weekend!

So far, I traveled to:
Xinjiang, China (Urumqi, Turpan, Kashgar)
Tibet, China (Lhasa, Namtso Lake, Shigatse, Gyanste, Shegar, Mount Everest Base Camp, Old Tingri, Zhangmu, etc)
Kathmandu, Nepal
Frankfurt, Germany (also Mainz, Germany on a day trip)
Dublin, Ireland
London, England

I've taken 10 flights so far, with 3 more to go (I have a layover on the flight from NYC to TN). It's been a lot of up and down time in the air.

I can't believe that this epic journey has gone so well, and I still can't believe that it actually happened! I've been on the road for almost 2 months and am happy to be on my way back home.

Friday, September 24, 2010

final pics post of Xinjiang

Ok, I've indulged quite a bit on the sharing of Xinjiang pics....but after months of not being able to post pics from China, it's all I can do! Coming soon will be a post of my trip with my sister to DUBLIN and LONDON, and gradually pics of Tibet, Kathmandu, Germany, and the Ireland/England trip.

These are all lame pics of me among these amazing places. For this last post on Xinjiang, my final thought: The amazing thing about Xinjiang was that it's so far off the current backpacking beaten path and the culture is so rich and vibrant. Staying with a local family who I dearly love really allowed me to get submerged, however briefly, in the culture. At a time when discussions of Islamic/Christian relations were raging in the States, I got to see the celebration of Ramadan begin in a mainly Islamic culture with a lovely Muslim family. My friends were so open with me about their faith and we got to talk for hours about what we share and how we differ. I love them so much for this, and for their great hospitality to me. I love the deep flavors of Uighur food, the fierce spirit of the Uighur people as they try to maintain their culture in the midst of difficult issues threatening both their language and their heritage, the stunning beauty of Islamic art and architecture, the still visible links to their past on the Silk Road, and the amazing warmth that they extended to visitors. I love the sound of the wind in the desert and the early morning calls to prayer. I love the arid dry heat and the ice-capped mountains on the horizon. I love their dances and music.

Although soon I will move on to gushing about Tibet, I must say that despite being in some of the world's most beautiful locations and loving every moment in the high altitude of the Tibetan Plateau--Xinjiang holds the deepest place in my heart due to the connections that I was granted with it through my friends. It was really a wonderful part of my journey.

Me in the night market in Urumqi

Me and Yultuz goofing off in a restaurant

Me (tiny at the bottom) in the night bazaar in Urumqi

Me with Yultuz and Kunduz in the night bazaar in Urumqi

Being cranky that a french supermarket was set up in the oh-so-cultural night bazaar in Urumqi. Blah to globalization.

In the Jiaohe ancient ruins

at Flaming Mountain

in the Taklamakan Desert (oh yes, this pose will reappear throughout the journey...might as well have some consistency to the "look where I was" silly posing pics)

sitting for hours watching the sun slowly rise in the Taklamakan Desert after a night of camping.

resting in the Taklamakan Desert

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pics: Xinjiang, China FOOD

Xinjiang has some of the most flavorful food in China. Everything that I ate was absolutely delicious...even if it was a little surprising when it arrived! Here are some of the best pics!

Uighur bread is called Nan and is AMAZING! Probably ties for my favorite bread internationally (tied with Indian Naan). The crust is hard...and the middle becomes thin and cracker like, while the outer ring is soft inside and chewy. Many are sprinkled with sesame seeds or dried onions on top. Sometimes they spread a spicy sauce on top...but I like mine plain.

In the night market in Urumqi....lamb for sale...allll for sale! Makes you appreciate our nice plastic wrapped trays of meat at the supermarket!

Nuts and dried fruits are big for snacks...sooo yummy.

Where they cook their lamb kabobs...these are attached to all the Uighur restaurants and often really decorative.

A Uighur specialty...lamb kabobs. These are sold by Uighurs as street food all over China, but were especially delicious in Xinjiang.

This is lamb intestine stuffed with rice and peppers (surprisingly quite good--tasted like jambalaya), and lamb lung (the white chunks).

Breakfast at the Sidik's home. They were so nice to me and breakfast was so lovely every morning.

Uighur tea is served with cinnamon and in really pretty porcelain bowls.

Uighur bagels! You can't find bagels anywhere in China and then I came to Xinjiang and they were EVERYWHERE! They aren't quite like bagels...not as chewy..but they're still delicious in their own way!

In the night market in Kashgar, these lamb bones are considered to be incredibly curative for any medical problems you have...especially if you have back problems, you're supposed to get some of these.

This was funny to's their Red Bull drink...but as Red Camel!