A century ago, a visit to
Lhasa took stamina, nerve and a good deal of luck. Isolated
by formidable geographic barriers and guarded by its government,
the Tibetan capital was truly a Forbidden City. Few Westerners
met the challenge, but the tales they returned with tantalized
the imagination of the world. Tibet was the epitome of all
that was magical, mysterious and unknown.Today, visiting
Tibet is considerably easier, but the adventure remains.
Hidden behind the Himalayas and rising nearly five kilometers
above sea level, Tibet is a land unlike any other, a magical
realm of vast open spaces, clear light and pure color, dominated
by an intensely blue sky. Two kinds of people live in this
timeless setting: farmers settled in small villages who
grow barley and other crops, and the roving nomads, drokpa,
who wander the higher regions with their herds of yaks and
sheep.Since the 8th century, Tibet has been devoutly Buddhist,
merging influences from Indian Buddhism, Tantra, and the
indigenous religion called Bon into a complex synthesis
of beliefs. Tibetan Buddhism has inspired centuries of splendid
art and architecture, serving as the cornerstone of Tibet's
unique and highly developed culture.
A Visits to Buddhist
monasteries and temples are an integral part of any journey
to Tibet. Worshippers move slowly through dimly lit chapels,
refilling flickering butter lamps. Faith manifests itself
in many ways: flags printed with prayers for the wind to
spread; main walls of flat stones engraved with mantra;
chorten or symbolic monuments scattered across the countryside.
Tibetans are a deeply religious,
open, spontaneous people, admirably good-humored and quick
to joke. Visitors to Lhasa invariably marvel at the non-stop
smiles. Traveling in Tibet is not always easy, but it rewards
with glimpses of a land and life unlike any other.