January 9, 2018


I was happy to have been able to visit Lhasa Oct. 14-17, as part of our trip to China. It's not always possible, but our timing was excellent. The start of the Nineteenth Party Congress meant that we had to leave, but it didn't affect our itinerary. Other groups there did have a shortened visit. Our plane flying in was more than half empty and the flight out was completely full. We visited the Potala Palace, had a home visit, and toured the Johkang Temple, the Sera Monastery, and the Papungka Monastery.

The terrain. Lhasa is situated in a broad valley at just under 12,000', surrounded by dry, brown hills rising to over 16,000'. The valley is home to the wide and braided Lhasa River that flows east and then south to join the Brahmaputra River, which flows to the Bay of Bengal. The city sprawls across the flat valley bottom, not quite filling it. In contrast to the enormous and concentrated cities we'd already visited, this city seems small, almost intimate. It was very sunny and the air was dry, so that it was warm in the day, even though we were at elevation.

The people. Tibetans look and dress a little differently from Chinese. I was struck by a few instances of dress and hair style that reminded me of pictures of people who live in the Andes. I have no theory about that. As in China proper, people were friendly and interested to see us tourists.

Security. We were reminded of the sensitive nature of Chinese possession of Tibet before the visit, which was made only more sensitive by the approaching Party Congress. The photos don't show this, but the plaza of the Johkang Temple was patrolled by police, soldiers, and fire fighters in flak jackets, and all of the market streets surrounding it had police checkpoints controlling access. 

The plaza below Potala Palace, with the "Tibet Peaceful Liberation Monument," has all sorts of propaganda images on walls and fences, highlighting the beauties and benefits of the Chinese nation. They clearly were political, and perhaps not particularly clever, since none of the people depicted looked like Tibetans.

Security was tighter at this airport than any others on the trip, with an explosive swab at the door to the departures hall. A squad of soldiers marched through as we were waiting to check our bags.

Flickr has an album of photos.

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