TIBET Banner

བོད་ (Tibet) - Land of the Dalai Lama

Travel pictures from Tibet

by Dr. Günther Eichhorn

Itinerary

Tibet Map


[Access Statistics]


In May, 2004 I visited Tibet. I had arranged for a guide and driver for seven days through Pacific Delights Tours. On the way to Tibet I stopped in Chengdu in China, to visit the Panda reserve and breeding center. From there I flew directly to Lhasa. Lhasa is at an altitude of 3,600 m (11,810 ft). This makes you run out of breath at even the slightest exertions. I usually walk quite fast, but at this altitude I had to slow down considerably. Other than that I didn't have any problems with the altitude in Lhasa. In Gyantse at 4,000 m (13,100 ft) I did have more of a problem, I had a very bad night's sleep. Altogether I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't have any serious problems. Even at the highest mountain pass at 5,200 m (17,060 ft) I had no problems, other than shortness of breath.

I stayed in Lhasa for two days. The highlights in Lhasa are the palace of the Dalai Lama (the Potala), the Jokhang (the most revered temple in Tibetan Buddhism), and the Summer palace of the Dalai Lama (the Norbulingka). Just outside is the Drepung Monastery, once the worlds largest monastery with some 10,000 monks.

From Lhasa we drove to Tsedang. There we visited the Samye Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in Tibet, founded in the late 8th century. It is one of the more beautiful monasteries. It has four stupas arranged around if in four of the holy colors. From Tsedang we visited the Chongye valley. Here are the Tombs of the Tibetan Kings, burial mounds from around 1000. From there we went to the Yumbulagang Monastery. This was the most beautiful and interesting monastery I visited. It has reputedly the oldest building in Tibet from the 7th century. The original building may date back 2000 years. It is situated on a cliff at about 4,500 m (14,760 ft) altitude. It is a bit strenuous to walk up there at the altitude, but well worth it. After that we visited the Tandruk Monastery. It has a fantastic wood carved altar, reputedly the largest in the world (though I doubt that claim). This monastery is also among the oldest in Tibet from the 7th century.

From Tsedang we drove to Gyantse. This trip was over the first of several mountain passes. This one (Kamba-la) was about 4,800 m (15,750 ft) high. It was an interesting drive up to the pass along a steep switchback road. The pass was in the clouds, with snow on the ground. From there the road went along a large mountain lake (Yamdrok-tso), one of the holiest lakes in Tibet. The lake is at an altitude of around 4,500 m (14,760 ft). From there we climbed another pass (Karo-la) up to about 5,000 m (16,400 ft) and then to Gyantse. In Gyantse is the largest chörten (stupa) in Tibet, the Gyantse Kumbum. It is quite impressive, located in the Pelkor Chöde Monastery. It is from the 15th century.

On this road there was extensive road construction. The road had mostly been build, but none of the bridges. It meant that at every little brook coming down the mountain (of which there were many), we had to leave the road, drive through the stream, and back to the road. This was wild driving!

From Gyantse we drove to the Sakya Monastery. This was one of the largest monasteries before the Chinese invasion. It has the tombs of several Dalai Lamas. From there we went back to Shigatse for an overnight stay. In Shigatse is the Tashilhunpo Monastery, a very impressive one with many wall paintings of Buddhas and the tombs of several Panchen Lamas.

From Shigatse we returned to Lhasa. This drive was the most eventful of them all. We drove over the highest mountain pass at about 5,200 m (17,060 ft). The road was in really bad condition. It was a one lane road with traffic in both directions. Passing was only possible in certain places. There were several areas with large holes in the road where traffic was backed up. Combine this with snow on the road, and you have a recipe for a big traffic jam. Trying to move two mile long lines of trucks past each other on a one lane road takes a long time. Everybody tries to move ahead as soon as there is a bit of an opening, which immediately blocks the one lane road again. One truck did make it when he tried to pass another on the one lane road. He fell of the precipice and was lying about 150 m (490 ft) below the road. From there we drove back to Lhasa. On the way we passed the Yungdrungling Monastery. It is a monastery of the Bön religion, the pre-Buddhism religion in Tibet.

The weather was mixed, sometimes sunny, often rainy. At the higher elevations it was frequently snowing. Temperatures were somewhat chilly.

Tibet has been invaded by China in 1952. It has been occupied by China since then. The few times I talked with Tibetans, it was clear that they resented the Chinese occupation. China is settling millions of Chinese in Tibet in order to get Tibet under closer Chinese control. By now the native Tibetans are already in the minority. In business, Chinese have significant advantage over Tibetans.

Tibetan is a language with their own script, quite different from Chinese. Since the Chinese occupation, Chinese is the official language. Anybody who doesn't speak Chinese is at a severe disadvantage. Recently, the Chinese have made some concession as far as the language is concerned. For instance, direction signs show names in Tibetan as well as Chinese and English scripts.

Traditionally, at least one son of every family would become a monk. This was their version of population control. Because of that, almost every village had a monastery. In the beginning of the Chinese occupation, the Chinese systematically destroyed the Tibetan monasteries. They destroyed over 90% of them. Only recently have they started to support them in order to increase tourism. Even though most of the monasteries are destroyed, the ones that are left are exceptional. I was especially impressed by a small monastery from the 8th century, sitting on a small peak near the Tombs of the Tibetan Kings.

Religion plays a large part in Tibetan life. Especially in Lhasa, but also in other cities and towns you can see monks, and other worshipers with their prayer wheels. Most buildings have some arrangements of sticks with colored prayer flags on their roof. Similar arrangements are seen in many places along the roads, on mountain passes or on hill tops. The flags are printed with Buddhist sutras. They are strung up to purify the air and to pacify the gods. When the flags flutter, prayers are thought to be released to the heavens. The colors of the flags are significant. They are:
red: represents fire
green: represents wood
yellow: represents earth
blue: represents water
white: represents iron.

White scarfs are used for greeting people (I was given one when I arrived. They are also used to drape over statues in temples and monasteries.

Buddhism in Tibet uses considerably more colors in decorating their temples and monasteries than Buddhism in other countries. The most important temple in Tibet is the one in Lhasa. Worshipers are everywhere in Lhasa. Most are older people, but there are younger ones as well. There are also many Buddhist priests in Lhasa, old ones as well as many younger ones. It seems as if there are still plenty of young men who want to become priests. Both pilgrims and monks use prayer wheels during their worship. In the temples you can see the prayer drums. Pilgrims walk by them and set them rotating while praying.

One interesting part of the temples and monasteries is the use of Yak butter. It is used for most everything, from material for candles to intricate decorations to lubricating prayer drums. It never smelled really bad, but sometimes you could smell it somewhat.

Using colors is not only prevalent in temples. Trucks and farm vehicles are also often colorfully decorated. One decoration symbol that is used frequently is the swastika. It is from here that the Nazis imported this symbol. In Tibet it is a sign of good luck.

I didn't get to talk to Tibetans very much. Only in Lhasa did I have the chance to go out and talk with people. During the tour I didn't have the opportunity to talk with anybody. You would have to take more time in order to get more chances to meet local people.

The scenery in Tibet is of course stunning. Unfortunately the weather was not very good while I was there, so I didn't see as much of the mountains as I would have liked. But what I did see was impressive. The highest mountain that I saw was about 7,000 m (23,000 ft).

Local buildings are usually single story buildings. They are build around a courtyard. On the outside they usually don't have many windows, if any at all. The houses in each village are usually of the same design, with different designs in different villages.

The food was quite good. This was somewhat of a surprise, since the guide book that I had warned that Tibetan food is not very good. It looks as if this has recently changed for the better. Two things however were not really to my taste. One of them was dried Yak cheese, the other was tea with Yak butter. The dried Yak cheese was hard as stone. I tried to keep it in my mouth for a while to soften it, without success. I would have broken my teeth if I had tried to chew it. It also was completely tasteless. Tea with Yak butter on the other hand does have taste, but not a taste that I could get used to that quickly. I tried it ones and decided that I definitely don't want to try it again anytime soon.

The local beer is very good and very inexpensive. One big surprise was their selection of imported beers. From the USA they had the ubiquitous Budweiser, but in addition to that they had Pabst Blue Ribbon. This is an old US beer that is slowly making a comeback in the USA. It is my favorite beer here in the US.

It was an interesting trip. Too bad I didn't have more time to see the country and meet the people. It is sad to see how a whole culture being destroyed by an occupying country. I h ope they'll survive, but it doesn't look good.

All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn


Temples, Monasteries, and Fortresses

fortress airport lhasaA fortress near the airport of Lhasa. It was destroyed by the Chinese when they invaded Tibet in 1952 (623k)
buddha statue carvedA Buddha statue carved out of a wall. It is from the 11th century. It is on the road from the airport to Lhasa. (576k)
arrangements sticks prayerThese arrangements of sticks and prayer flags can be seen everywhere in Tibet. (857k)
view barkhor squareA view of Barkhor Square with the Jokhang in the background. (493k)
jokhang holiest tibetanThe Jokhang, the holiest of Tibetan Temples, viewed from Barkhor Square. (583k)
big incense burnersOne of the big incense burners in front of the Jokhang. (567k)
yak butter lightsYak butter lights in a prayer room in front of the Jokhang. (445k)
barkhor square incenseBarkhor Square with the incense burners in front of the Jokhang going full blast. (385k)
view barkhor koraView of the Barkhor Kora, the pilgrimage circuit around the Jokhang. This is the most important pilgrimage circuit in Tibet. It is full of stalls of various vendors. (715k)
potala palace dalaiThe Potala, the palace of the Dalai Lama. (585k)
view potala potalaView of the Potala from Potala Square. (676k)
potala over modernThe Potala over modern downtown Lhasa. (1439k)
view norbulingka summerView of the Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama. (663k)
huge prayer wheelA huge prayer wheel on top one of the buildings of the summer palace. (408k)
small temple parkA small temple in the park around the summer palace. (911k)
view over drepungView over the Drepung monastery. (859k)
main building drepungThe main building in the Drepung monastery. Note the mirrors in the yard. (538k)
closeup mirrors usedA closeup of one of the mirrors. They are used to collect sunlight to head water for tea. (494k)
roof decoration drepungRoof decoration in the Drepung monastery. There little towers can be seen in many monasteries and temples. (443k)
view chörten stupaA view of a chörten (stupa), prayer drums and a pilgrim in the Drepung monastery. Notice the Yak butter lubrication dripping down from the prayer drums. (616k)
prayer drums drepungPrayer drums in the Drepung monastery. (598k)
very old prayerSome very old prayer drums in the Drepung monastery. (620k)
interior temple drepungThe interior of a temple in the Drepung monastery. It is usually fairly dark, since the Yak butter lamps don't give much light. (382k)
interior drepung monasteryInterior of the Drepung monastery. Note the colorful decorations. (613k)
painting lama drepungPainting of a Lama in the Drepung monastery. He is from the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism. (667k)
colorful buddha statueColorful Buddha statue in a temple in the Drepung monastery. (855k)
hundreds buddha statuesHundreds of Buddha statues in the Drepung monastery. Many temples have these arrays of Buddha statues. (866k)
prayer books neatlyPrayer books, neatly stacked in the Drepung monastery. They are pages, connected with fabric, and folded together. The stack of pages is then folded in cloth. This room held hundreds of these prayer books. They can be found in every temple. (531k)
yak butter candleYak butter candle in a temple in the Drepung monastery. (356k)
worshiper drepung monasteryA worshiper in the Drepung monastery. It one prayer wheel is good, two must be even better. (379k)
worshiper reading buddhistA worshiper reading Buddhist scrolls like the one stacked in the temple. (561k)
view mountains behindView of the mountains behind the Samye monastery. About 2/3rd up the mountain on the left side is the 8th century Chim-puk Hermitage. (395k)
main building samyeThe main building of the Samye monastery. (546k)
blue stupa samyeThe blue stupa in the Samye monastery. (757k)
green stupa samyeThe green stupa in the Samye monastery. (697k)
white stupa samyeThe white stupa in the Samye monastery. (744k)
red stupa samyeThe red stupa in the Samye monastery. (558k)
wall paintings mainWall paintings in the main building of the Samye monastery. (690k)
details buddha paintingsDetails of the Buddha paintings in the Samye monastery. (542k)
tomb kings chongyeTomb of the Kings in the Chongye Valley. One of the tomb from around 1000 AD (609k)
yumbulagang monastery highYumbulagang Monastery, high on a cliff. (407k)
getting closer monasteryGetting closer to the monastery. It was well worth the climb. (614k)
interior yumbulagang monasteryInterior of the Yumbulagang Monastery. (565k)
buddha statue yumbulagangBuddha statue in the Yumbulagang Monastery. (786k)
buddhist scrolls yumbulagangBuddhist scrolls in the Yumbulagang Monastery. (591k)
prayer drums outsidePrayer drums outside the Yumbulagang Monastery. (439k)
main temple tandrukMain temple in the Tandruk Monastery. (406k)
entrance tandruk monasteryEntrance to the Tandruk Monastery with two huge prayer drums, each over 3 m (10ft) high. (612k)
huge prayer drumHuge prayer drum in front of the temple in the Tandruk Monastery. (447k)
well tandruk monasteryA well in the Tandruk Monastery. The monks were drawing water while we were visiting. (461k)
decorations windows outsideDecorations on the windows on the outside of the Tandruk Monastery. (544k)
huge wood carvedA huge wood carved altar in the Tandruk Monastery. My guides said it is the largest wood-carved altar in the world. I somewhat doubt that, but it certainly is a masterpiece. (889k)
detail buddha statuesDetail of one of the Buddha statues in the wood-carved alter in the Tandruk Monastery. (751k)
mask temples tandrukA mask in another one of the temples in the Tandruk Monastery. This was the only monastery where they had masks and masked statues. (442k)
veiled buddha statueA veiled Buddha statue in the Tandruk Monastery. (674k)
fortress hill overlookingA fortress on a hill overlooking Gyantse. It was destroyed by the invading Chinese and is only now being restored. (392k)
gyantse kumbum largestGyantse Kumbum, the largest chörten (stupa) in Tibet. (571k)
monks temple pelkorMonks in a temple in the Pelkor Chöde monastery in Gyantse. They are making decorations from Yak butter. (517k)
monk making yakA monk making Yak butter decorations. (504k)
buddha statue lotusBuddha statue on a Lotus throne in a temple in the Pelkor Chöde monastery. (721k)
buddha statue holdingBuddha statue holding a lotus flower in a temple in the Pelkor Chöde monastery. The colors, texture and design of this one was especially appealing to me. (713k)
view pelkor chödeView of the Pelkor Chöde monastery in Gyantse. (565k)
mound prayer flagsMound with prayer flags over the Pelkor Chöde monastery. (380k)
monks sakya monasteryMonks in the Sakya monastery. (605k)
roof window decorationsRoof and window decorations in the Sakya monastery. (654k)
tomb dalai lamasTomb of one of the Dalai Lamas in the Sakya monastery. (768k)
view tashilhunpo monasteryView of the Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse. (736k)
tashilhunpo monasteryIn the Tashilhunpo monastery. (554k)
inside tashilhunpo monasteryInside the Tashilhunpo monastery. (703k)
swastika floor inlaySwastika floor inlay in the Tashilhunpo monastery. (702k)
view temples tashilhunpoView of one of the temples in the Tashilhunpo monastery. (508k)
view temples tashilhunpoView of one of the temples in the Tashilhunpo monastery. (641k)
view wall coveredView of a wall covered with wall paintings. (674k)
buddha wall paintingsBuddha wall paintings in the Tashilhunpo monastery. (707k)
wall paintings protectorsWall paintings of Protectors in the Tashilhunpo monastery. (724k)
closeup protector paintingsCloseup of one of the protector paintings. (657k)
closeup buddha paintingsCloseup of one of the Buddha paintings with the Buddha on a Lotus throne. (599k)

People

tibetan woman lhasaA Tibetan woman in Lhasa. (408k)
local woman typicalLocal woman. This was the typical dress that women in the cities and villages wore. (401k)
couple local menA couple of local men watching us try to fix the car, one of them with a prayer wheel. It seems as if they are using prayer wheels even in regular local life. (552k)
family front sakyaA family in front of the Sakya monastery. (506k)
china often seeIn China you often see men relaxing like this. You have to be used to sitting down like that with your feet flat on the floor. (979k)
school kidsSchool kids. (397k)
school girls uniformSchool girls in uniform playing in the street. (492k)
local street sceneLocal street scene with a pool table outside. (1416k)
bottles stored barBottles stored in a bar. Notice the Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon. The bottles lying in the rack are beer bottles, not wine bottles. (1581k)
local family highLocal family in one of the high valleys. (641k)
local nomads highLocal nomads in one of the high valleys. (629k)
life stock herdLife stock herd in one of the high valleys. (657k)
yak herd localYak herd and local nomads in a high mountain valley. (526k)
farm work noticeFarm work. Notice the colorful decorations on the animal. (680k)
local passengers waitingLocal passengers waiting for their bus to continue. (439k)
local man waitingLocal man waiting for the bus to continue. He was of a different ethnic background. (504k)
pilgrim lhasa prayerA pilgrim in Lhasa with a prayer wheel. (421k)
pilgrim seemed differentAnother pilgrim. This seemed to be from a different ethnic group than most Tibetans. (354k)
older worshiper lhasaAn older worshiper in Lhasa. Some of the prayer wheels are very elaborate. (527k)
old woman prayingAn old woman, praying with her prayer wheel on her walk around the Jokhang. (488k)
group tibetan monksA group of Tibetan monks with prayer wheels. (513k)
buddhist monk elaborateA Buddhist monk with an elaborate prayer wheel. (517k)
beggars lhasaBeggars in Lhasa. (483k)
buddhist monks askingBuddhist monks asking for alms. (473k)
tibetan monk plasticA Tibetan monk, with a plastic shopping bag. (385k)

Roads and Transportation

bicycle rickshaw lhasaA bicycle rickshaw in Lhasa. (622k)
hauling sacks hand-drawnHauling sacks on a hand-drawn cart. A lot of transportation is done by hand. (1528k)
street vendor lhasaA street vendor in Lhasa selling vegetables and spices. (596k)
bicycle transport fullyBicycle transport, fully loaded. (1255k)
local transportLocal transport. (1220k)
local transportation meansLocal transportation means. (614k)
street scene lhasaStreet scene in Lhasa. (1229k)
pabst blue ribbonPabst Blue Ribbon was one of the most common imported beers in Tibet, with lots of advertising. (562k)
street sign directionsA street sign with directions in Tibetan, Chinese, and English. (395k)
utility vehicle colorfullyA utility vehicle, colorfully decorated. (613k)
local truck colorfullyA local truck, colorfully decorated like many local vehicles. Notice the swastikas on the roof. (536k)
local transportLocal transport. (920k)
overland bus restOverland bus at a rest stop. (450k)
bus way mountainA bus on its way to the mountain pass. The peak ahead was the highest peak we saw, over 7,000 m (23,000ft). (519k)
our toyota landcruiserOur Toyota Landcruiser broken down in the middle of the road. (595k)
main road alongThis is the main road along lake Yamdrok-tso. This is representative for the road conditions in that area. (502k)
trucks main roadTrucks on the main road. Traffic on that road was pretty atrocious. (525k)
switchback road leadingSwitchback road leading up to the Kamba-la pass. (393k)
top kamba-la mountainTop of the Kamba-la mountain pass in the clouds. (435k)
prayer flag moundPrayer flag mound on top of Kamba-la. (464k)
snow road mountainSnow on the road up to one of the mountain passes. (342k)
prayer flags mountainPrayer flags on a mountain pass. (585k)
prayer flags topPrayer flags on top of the highest mountain pass that I drove over at 5,200 m (17,000ft). (460k)
truck rolled mountainThis truck rolled down the mountain while trying to get by oncoming traffic on a one-lane mountain pass. (1220k)
closeup truck rolledCloseup of the truck that rolled down the mountain. (617k)
traffic jam one-laneTraffic jam on a one-lane mountain pass road. It took hours to get through the oncoming traffic. (590k)
worst part roadThis was the worst part of the road. This hole caused the hour long traffic jam. (612k)

Houses

local village roadLocal village with road construction in the foreground. There was lots of road construction going on. (1630k)
local storeA local store. (1195k)
local houseA local house. (558k)
local houseLocal house. (1325k)
typical tibetan houseA typical Tibetan house. They are one-storied, have few windows on the outside and are build around a courtyard. (589k)
local house differentAnother local house in a different style. (708k)
house prayer flagsA house with prayer flags on the roof. (434k)
house decorations includingHouse decorations, including a swastika, a symbol of good luck. (390k)
tibetans use everythingTibetans use everything that their cattle provide, including cow dung. They put the cow patties on the walls of their houses to dry. They are used as fuel for heating and cooking. (838k)

Nature

brahmaputra largest riversThe Brahmaputra, one of the largest rivers in India starts here in Tibet. (529k)
large sand duneA large sand dune in the Brahmaputra valley near Samye Monastery. (576k)
view mountains alongA view of the mountains along the Brahmaputra valley between Lhasa and Tsedang. (699k)
mound prayer flagsMound with prayer flags in the mountains. (618k)
prayer flag mountsPrayer flag mounts on both sides of the Brahmaputra. (958k)
yamdrok-tso holiest lakeYamdrok-tso, the holiest lake in Tibet. (394k)
colorful cliffs westColorful cliffs west of Shigatse. (992k)
view highest peakView of the highest peak in the area (7000 m, 23,000ft). (483k)
lupines blue flowersLupines. These blue flowers gave a lot of the desert a nice blue color. (562k)
hawkA hawk. (539k)
vulturesVultures. (399k)
yak huge creaturesA Yak. These are HUGE creatures. And the wild ones are supposed to be even larger that the domesticated ones. (417k)


Page last updated on

བོད་ (Tibet) - Land of the Dalai Lama on aerobaticsweb.org


© Dr. Günther Eichhorn
Retired
Email Guenther Eichhorn

* Aerobatics website
* Soaring website
* Landings Aviation Server