Instant Noodles and Prostrating Buddhists!

Well, we’ve now come to the end of our time in Tibet and it has been truly fascinating. The monasteries, temples and palaces we have seen have highlighted just how important their faith is to Tibetan people and it’s a bit of a culture shock to people from the UK, who tend to live their lives relatively freely without many religious restraints.

On our last day in Lhasa we visited what is probably the most important temple in Tibet and the sheer amount of pilgrims there proved that. The temple is called Jokhang Temple (House of Buddha) in Old Lhasa, about a 5 minute walk from our hotel.

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Construction of this temple was started in the 7th Century by King Songsten Gampo to celebrate his marriage to his wife from the Chinese Tang Dynasty, who was a Buddhist. The famous Buddhist Master Atisha also taught here in the 11th century and it has been considered the most important temple in Lhasa ever since.

The inside of the temple is packed with relics and Buddhist Statues with the most venerated of which being the Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha statue. Many of the statues were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but most have been rebuilt – parts of the original 7th Century woodwork also still remains, but again, most of the temple has been restored and rebuilt over the years.

We couldn’t spend much time inside the temple due to the amount of people making their way through it but the smell of burning Yak butter and incense was a bit overwhelming at times so we didn’t really want to stay inside for too long. There were also hordes of people outside the temple – most of the pilgrims were praying, chanting and ‘prostrating’ themselves on the ground.

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Prostration is an important part of Tibetan devotion to Buddhism. To earn merit with Buddha and the gods Tibetan people prostrate themselves by lying face-down on the ground and stretching out their arms and legs. They also touch their hands to the foreheads (representing the mind), mouths (speech) and chest (body) each time. It was strange and fascinating to watch – we also saw people doing this outside Potala Palace and apparently people ideally prostrate themselves 100,000 times a year!

This act of prayer is not only limited to temples but they also do it on roads, streets and pavements.

The rest of our day consisted of getting prepared for our 48 hour /3000 mile train ride to Beijing in the morning. We’ve booked hard sleepers and decided to buy as much as we could to make ourselves feel comfortable on the train – i.e. loo roll and wet wipes as we won’t be able to shower until we get there! We also stocked up on fresh fruit, water, chocolate, biscuits, cereal bars and instant noodles to keep us going over the two days!

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We discovered these boxes of instant noodles last night – they have absolutely no English instructions but we guessed that we just had to mix the sachets that came with the box and pour in hot water! We tried them out in the hotel and despite us pouring in far too much water they actually came out okay and were rather tasty!!

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Our train journey is sure to be an experience as hard sleepers are basically a cabin with no door and 6 bunks to share with complete strangers! Plus, Richard and I couldn’t get beds in the same carriage let alone cabin so God knows how we’re going to amuse ourselves during the trip! We’ll probably just go to our separate cabins at night and sleep with one eye open until we can rejoin each other the next day!

In a strange way, we’re sort of looking forward to this railway adventure! More than that of course, we’re looking forward to arriving in Beijing, which we are expecting to seem like a million miles away from Tibet with a completely different atmosphere.

Our main observation of Tibet is that people’s lives are completely dictated by their Buddhist religion. It literally influences everything they do from the day they are born until after they die. It seems that this faith helps even the poorest of Tibetan people get on with their lives without complaint – particularly the extremely friendly rural Tibetan’s who have nothing but a smile!

The other side of the Tibetan coin (and something that we have had hints of during our stay) is how the Chinese Government is trying to surpress Tibetan peoples faith and spirit. Their most sacred of places such as the Jokhang Temple and Potala Palace have been attacked by them numerous times over the years, the Dalai Lama is in exile and all of the places that Tibetan’s hold dear have been turned into ‘museums’ and tourist traps by the Government. The monks can’t even live in peace without having to deal with thousands of tourists imposing on them every day. Even the train we are about to get to Beijing is a symbol of the Chinese ‘show of power’ and domination of Tibetan China. Apparently, more has been spent on this trainline than on healthcare and education over the last ten years!

The guided tours we had over the last few days also gave us the impression that in China – and particularly when it comes to Tibet – you simply don’t ask questions. We weren’t allowed to ask anything remotely ‘political’, even if the lack of an answer left a great big gaping hole in your understanding of the particular temple or monastery you were visiting. People here, also just seem to accept that.

It’s a shame because aside from all the politics and problems, Tibet is one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. The scenery is absolutely stunning and the Himalayan backdrop gives the whole place a dramatic and mystical feel. If you ever get the chance to come here and can look beyond the problems that this region faces, the way you see the world is certainly set to change!

We’ll be ‘off the map’ for a few days, so keep your fingers crossed that we ‘survive’ the train and we’ll soon update you from Beijing!

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2 Comments

  1. August 31, 23:58 #1 Auntie Pat

    Good on you auntie Mags, leavin’ a wee message and all. Still thoroughly enjoying all yiou sdventures. Really love the sound of Nepal. What time is the next bus? Lol. God bless or should I say Buddha bless! Xx

  2. August 29, 11:08 #2 margaret D.

    Good luck in Beijing. enjoying your adventure!!1 take care xxx

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