China · 12 Days · 17 Moments · May 2018

Maya in Tibet

19 May 2018

A last scenic flight over Sichuan mountains on my way home.

18 May 2018

My last evening in Lhasa. The sight of Potala Palace makes my hearth beat a little faster, and I have a sense of being somewhere special. One spectacular journey is coming to an end and I want it to end here, in front of the symbol of a Tibet which is disappearing, or maybe only shifting into something different. But, eventually, isn’t all the world around us nothing but an illusion?

17 May 2018

More of Tashilhunpo, the largest monastery of the Gelug sect in Tibet. Here I was offered a protective amulet by one monk, and some leftover fruit by another, who was collecting the daily offerings and sharing them with his fellows. Above, another Tibetan blue blue sky. Oh, so impossibly blue, like in fairytales! I’m gonna miss this sky once I leave the country.
Back in Shigatse, we visited the Tashilhunpo monastery, founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama, since then the traditional palace of Panchen Lamas, the second highest rank of Tibetan Buddhism. In the cobbled lanes around the aged buildings we encountered pilgrims proceeding on a clockwise circuit through a line of upper chapels and monks going around their businesses. In the early evening, around six pm, monks dressed in yellow robes and traditional hats gathered in the main assembly hall for chants. What a magic atmosphere! I feel blessed to have witnessed, even if for a brief moment, such a powerful celebration of faith.

16 May 2018

And here it is, Qomolangma. It’s Mt Everest, guys!Seen from the old Rongbuk monastery, now uninhabited. And it’s just magnificent! (So, basically, a long long time ago the Indian plate drifted north and collided into the Eurasian plate; the impact pushed one over the other and threw them both skywards. The Himalaya, like the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Pamir are the result of that collision, and I’m so glad it happened, ‘cause a view like this may not change your life, but it does stretch it a little ;)
We’re going higher and higher past tiny villages with more yaks that humans, and ruins of old monasteries scattered at the foot of the mountains. The sky seems wider and closer now! 5288 meters was the highest I’ve ever been in my life (out of a pressurized flying machine ;)

15 May 2018

The greenest dam I’ve ever seen, a selfie with the Mountain goat, a stupa in Gyantse and then I found out that I was 5000 meters high AND 5000 kilometers from Shanghai, and still way to go. What a trip!
On the road to Shigatse we skirted the river Brahmaputra that springs up here on the Himalaya, then stopped at the magnificent Yamdruk Lake before reaching 5288 meters when we crossed the Kharola pass to see the Kharola glacier.

14 May 2018

Monks debating philosophy and Buddhist texts at Sera monastery, each movement making a point in this lively practice performed daily in the debating courtyard.
Here is one of the most dramatic and powerful building in the world, the Potala Palace, once the hearth and soul of Tibetan Buddhism. Rising thirteen storeys and nearly 120 meters high, it was believed to be the tallest building in the world until the first sky-scrapers were built. It has 1000 rooms, which can’t be photographed, and lots and lots of very steep staircases lead up from one level to the other until they reach “the Eastern Sunshine Apartment” in the White Palace. This was the Dalai Lama’s bedroom, “ and I can imagine the young Tenzin Gyatso making his early prayers as the first rays of the sun reached these gold-tipped rooftops, well before they reached anywhere else in the city “ ( Michael Palin, Himalaya).

13 May 2018

“I want Lhasa to be as dark and different as I’d long imagined it, a remote place of romance and possible menace” writes Michael Palin in his book, Himalaya. “ (But) Chinese have well and truly won aesthetic control of this ancient city”. Yet, Old Lhasa can still be found in its people, in all the pilgrims, old and young, that in the early mornings and evenings do the kora around the Jokhang temple showing a faith which is so strong to be disturbing for Western minds, and fascinating in equal measure.
Drepung monastery, where 10,000 monks used to live and study before the Cultural Revolution. Now they are around 300. It is the largest of all Tibetan monasteries and one of the three major Geluk monasteries of Lhasa together with Sera and Ganden. It lays five kilometers from the western area of Lhasa, at the foot of Mount Gephel.

12 May 2018

Lhasa, here I am! 😍the first afternoon is all about acclimatization, even if I haven’t experienced any symptoms of altitude sickness so far. Just walking around the old town, breathing this thin air while trying to absorb all that is different is an awesome experience. Kids are smiley and curious, they come closer to say Hello before running back to their mothers.

11 May 2018

Train Z6801 from Xining to Lhasa. It had been a comfortable 22-hour journey through the Tibetan plateau and the altitude was never a problem, thanks to the pressurized cabins I guess. It can be hard to book tickets for this train so I ended up with the second class, which was pretty good. Lots of chit chats with my Chinese companions, who adopted me as the only foreigner on board, lots of food and pictures with kids. The view had been amazing for the whole trip! ( The only sad moment was seeing lots of Chinese army -and when I say lots I mean hundreds and hundreds of them- getting on board at one of the stations. They will be all dispatched in Lhasa).
The Dongguan Grand Mosque 🕌 in Xining. It is one of the largest in China and 300.000 people are said to gather in its prayer halls during Ramadan. The umbrellas set in the courtyards are a unique sight!

10 May 2018

*Slightly* overloaded...Ready to go, first stop Xining, in Qinghai province.

7 May 2018

...and the Darth Vader’s hat I bought in Disneyland thinking I would never use it might become the Top choice for Mt Everest 🤣