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Lhasa

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  1. We made it to Tibet. Even though I've read a lot about this area, its
  2. geography was intriguing to me. Desert surrounded some of the area
  3. around the airport, and the climate seems really dry. Seeing how
  4. Chinese/Tibetan farmers carve out an existence in the most
  5. inhospitable conditions is still mind-blowing even after two weeks.
  6. It's been raining rather faithfully each morning though.
  7.  
  8. In some other good news, I'm not dying of altitude sickness. Lhasa
  9. rests at 11,800 feet above sea-level, but due to where we've been
  10. travelling over the past few weeks, our gradual climb has let me
  11. acclimate just fine. Only one of us in our entire group is showing any
  12. symptoms and with another day of rest they'll be find.
  13.  
  14. Naturally we've been visiting the many famous temples and monasteries
  15. of this historic city. Yesterday we went to the Jokhang temple in the
  16. center of the city. It was founded in the 7th century by one of the
  17. great kings of Tibet, Songsten Gampo. It was reportedly built in honor
  18. of the Shakyamuni Buddha to house statues brought from China and Nepal
  19. by the king's new wives (one of whom was Princess Wen-Cheng, legendary
  20. in that her dowry sparked the tea-horse road).
  21.  
  22. It was interesting that we were still able to visit it, considering
  23. that the monks who had self-immolated last week had done it at this
  24. site. Tons of checkpoints had been set up and in addition to increased
  25. police presence, several PLA squads had been posted around different
  26. parts of the square and throughout the commercial district surrounding
  27. the temple. All of them were in riot gear, with shotguns or staves
  28. being carried. It was pretty eerie, especially when I noticed that at
  29. least two out of each squad were carrying portable fire-extinguishers.
  30.  
  31. Security is tight across the entire city. A ban has been created on
  32. all foreign journalists and our group has been given two guides that
  33. are required to travel with us for most of our movements through the
  34. TAR. Last night I managed to break free for a bit and along with two
  35. others, I walked to the Potala palace, the traditional home of the
  36. Dalai Lama until his departure in 1959. It's one of the most iconic
  37. images of Lhasa/Tibet and I'm really glad I got a chance to see it as
  38. it stands today.
  39.  
  40. Today we visited the Dregpu and Tsera monasteries. These institutions
  41. once housed over 10,000 monks each before the PRC occupied this
  42. region. Now they each have a little under 1,000. I'm relearning a lot
  43. that I'd forgotten about Buddhism and picking up on a few new things.
  44. Today we saw the monks of the Tsera monastery congregate to debate
  45. scripture. It was interesting and encouraging to see that many of the
  46. monks were within a few years of my age.
  47.  
  48. Being here really puts perspective on this turbulent time in Tibet's
  49. history. This region is being heavily colonized by Han Chinese, and
  50. only 200,000 out of the 600,000 living in Lhasa are Tibetan. The
  51. landscape of Tibet is changing, and being on the ground really
  52. punctuates this for me.
  53.  
  54. Hope everything is going well for those of you across the pond. I
  55. can't believe that it's already been over two weeks. I'm not sure what
  56. day of the week it is in most given moments.
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