It was another beautiful day and we all got up looking forward to our drive to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. By 10 a.m. we were finally ready to take off to “The Sun City” (nickname for Lhasa). It was 11 degrees Celcius and had rained during the night so we were all looking forward to Lhasa’s warmer weather later in our day.
Leaving Shigatse we followed a river beside the highway, which was surrounded by barren sandy mountains littered with sagebrush (garbage as well but by now we were starting to get used to this distraction). The scenery did not look like how I envisioned China or Tibet would be. When I thought of China I thought of organized vegetable fields or rice paddies from the roadside going right up to the top of their mountains. Here nothing could grow except for the odd little dry bush.
Tibetan people were very poor and to add to their poor conditions their climate was colder than their surrounding countries because Tibet’s altitude was much higher. Herders had a hard time feeding their animals and had to move around constantly to find enough food for them to eat. It appeared to me to be a very difficult country to scratch out a living. Never mind the hygiene and garbage issues, these village people were struggling to survive in harsh surroundings.
We noticed that the villages got tidier the closer they were to the cities. Maybe that was because of the reported education on hygiene taught to these people, we didn’t know. But we did notice signs with jokes about people urinating in the streets right beside the dogs. The dogs happily looked well cared for, as did their herding animals maybe because of their reincarnation belief? And as we drove further along the river, trees had been planted and were now in their full fall foliage, which was spectacular viewing.
By noon we were driving alongside the river in a deep rocky canyon. There were also goats on these mountains forging for food. Further along cows had replaced the yaks and the villagers had pierced their cow’s ears to put red wool earrings on them for decorations.
Next we toured a small village with approximately 30 families consisting of about 140 people, most of who were related. To get to the host family’s house we had to hop (back and forth) across a stream of water along a muddy pathway, avoiding the cow dung as best as possible. Finally we arrived at a house with a courtyard housing a chained up Tibetan dog and other animals such as ducks, chickens and pigs. The dog barked constantly and did not look like he was happy to see us at all. Luckily, the grandmother and grandfather welcomed us into their home. They were looking after their granddaughter who was very shy. We handed out gifts for the family, which they really appreciated.
The cooking room of the house had a dirt floor and was very dark with no light just one small window high up near the ceiling. The room looked like the inside of a cave and wasn’t far off from one. Twigs and cow dung fueled a stove in the corner and along one wall were sacks of barley or flour. The next room was where the family ate their meals. It had an uneven hard packed mud floor with benches and one table. This room was filled with flies waiting for their next meal. Their third and last room was a bedroom was for the whole family with mattresses along 3 walls. The inside wall had cabinetry to house their clothes and supplies. On top of the cabinets was a TV plus a shrine section with incense and a Tanka with some type of God I didn’t recognize at this point. This wall also had a picture of the current Chinese rulers and their TV license.
According to our guide, every family in Tibet was sent a picture of the government rulers of China and this picture has to be displayed on a wall in their home along with their TV license. No license displayed allowed a policeman or government official to just walk in the house and take their TV away. No picture of the current Chinese leaders and the family would be fined.
Between these 3 rooms was an outside patio with chairs along the outside of their house to sit on and railings on the opposite side of the house to hang their laundry up. It appeared that most of their time was spent outside on this patio. At least 6 people lived in these 3 rooms, maybe more? This family was very generous to share their home with us. And we felt very honoured to be allowed to visit them. They may be poor but they were happy and appeared to be very content, with a daily routine.
At our next stop, a gas station, the police held us up because we started to put the fuel into our car before we got permission from them. This was a big surprise to us as we had always filled up our cars and then went inside the station to pay or someone came out to collect the money. But it appeared that in Tibet at every gas station there was a policeman who wrote down who was purchasing gas. Once the policeman had this information he would give you permission to purchase gas (or not)! Well now we were in trouble because we filled up before getting permission. They had taken our driver’s licenses and car licenses away and we were in limbo until the police chief arrived at the station to decide our fate. Talk about control, no wonder the Tibetans were unhappy with the Chinese Government! We had to sit there for about ¾’s of an hour until they decided we were okay to move on.
Since March 2011, more than 100 people were known to have set themselves on fire inside Tibet in protest against the repressive Chinese occupation of Tibet. Self-immolation is a growing concern in Tibet at the moment because they were such a passive population that they would rather hurt themselves in protest than hurt others.
At 6:30 p.m. we finally arrived at the St. Regis Hotel in Lhasa! It was a fabulous five star hotel and we really, really appreciated the comfort and service it supplied. The rooms and the whole hotel for that matter were absolutely beautiful. For dinner we had steak and Caesar salad and it was delicious!!