I arrived to Tibet with mixed feelings. In the one hand I was very excited to see this religious and spiritual centre but at the same time I also had a notion that it was not going to be a very “pure” visit. Unfortunately the second hunch was the one that prevailed.
If you come to Lhasa expecting to find something REMOTELY close to what Brad Pitt saw in seven years in Tibet.... well boy (gal).....you are in for a very, very and VERY BIG disappointment. (Of course I used this example to exaggerate!! But.. it makes a point)
The first thing that you are aware is that you are in the CHINESE city of Lhasa. At the airport you pass through at least 5 uniformed people checking that all your papers are in order. From there on you are plainly put... in a city. And quite a big one. Many factories, many business’, many markets, and many people in a modern and continuously expanding city. It is divided in “Old city Lhasa” which is run down and where most Tibetans live, and there is also “Chinese Lhasa” were the large Chinese population works and lives in a more modern and dynamic environment.
When you go for example to Potala Palace (The ancient Buddhist headquarters for the region) or some of the other temples and monasteries what immediately strikes you the most, is the ENORMOUS amount of Chinese tourists. This place looks more like fricking Disneyland! Lines and lines of them. There is simply no intimacy when you visit this magnificent places... It was sad and honestly disappointing. Not remotely close to what you would think or you would expect. Instead I spent a good amount of time walking the Tibetan part of town and that became much more interesting to me.
In the end I try to see as much of the “Real Tibet”. My driver and guide took me to some small local Tibetan restaurants where I had pretty good food (Spicy!). Actually I ate Yak for the first time (at least the very first time I am aware)...very tasty.
In the last stretch I was honestly happy to head back home.
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