Why You Should Travel to Tibet

Story and Photographs by Shane Ness

“Jokhang was an interesting combination of smells, colours, faces and sentiments. I felt blessed to be so close to the heart beat of Buddhism and yet so saddened by the annihilation”

Alisa Gwyn, Sydney Australia

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View of Lhasa from the Potala Palace

Why Tibet? Isn’t it dangerous? It’s not the real Tibet anymore. These thoughts did play a part in my decision to visit, but not in the way they were intended. I wanted to visit Tibet to see what is really going on there, I wanted to see the Tibet as it is today, with all its beauty, destruction and sadness however what I got, was much more than that.

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Walking The Jokhang

I was on an organised tour with Intrepid Travel, we met our crew in Kathmandu, Nepal the day before we would enter Tibet. We had our own reasons, however one rang true, we want to see it for ourselves.

We hadn’t been in Tibet for long, before we started to see the effects of the occupation. On our visit to the Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace we were quickly aware that we were being watched.

“We were even aware of one of the cameras following us around the room”.

Samantha Stocks an editor from Somerset England said.

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Intrepid Travellers in traditional Dress

Samantha, her husband Elliot and fellow Intrepid traveller Lauren had just been persuaded to wear traditional dress, by two Tibetan ladies who were hiring the clothes for tourist to try on.

“They were very charismatic ladies! Friendly and smiling. I enjoyed the interaction with the women who helped us to dress in the garments, and I hoped that the money we gave them would stay directly in their hands and not find its way into the Chinese government’s”. Samantha Stocks.

As we walked around the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, I noticed Alisa sitting with a monk.

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The Jokhang and the Tattoo

“I have a line out of the Tibetan script tattooed on my forearm. He sore my arm, reached for a pen in his bag and finished off the rest of that particular chapter in the Tibetan script”

What does your Tattoo say?

“Boundless compassion, Love and kindness”

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Intrepid Travellers walking the Kora

It is this love and compassion that the Tibetan people have, even with all the destruction and oppression they have suffered that has changed the way that I see everything. When I asked my tour if they would suggest Tibet to their friends, the answer, did not surprise me,

“I would, and I wonder whether the only thing that will really keep the Tibetan culture alive in Tibet in any form is tourism. But I would like to see more literature on responsible tourism in Tibet, so that tourists can ensure that their money goes into the hands of Tibetans for the most part” Samantha Stocks

“Yes YES ANDDDDDDD ABSOLUTELY! Before it’s completely nothing more than a country encased by a false pretence” Alisa Gwyn.

Inside Tibet: The Friendship Highway. Daily Vlog: 45

We continue our journey along the interestingly named Friendship Highway which is a 800 kilometre Highway stretching from the Capital of Tibet, Lhasa to the Tibetan (Chinese)/ Nepalese Border at the China-Nepal Friendship Bridge between Zhangmu and Kodari.

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Being on the Friendship Highway made me think. On this journey through Tibet I have made some life long friends, I have shared some incredible moments with these fellow travellers, I have left my family and friends back home and around the world to follow my dream and see Tibet for myself. I have rode the roller-coaster of emotions and have learnt so much about myself. Is that was this Friendship Highway was designed to do? Make you contemplate life, or is it Propaganda? A way for the Chinese Government to gloss over how they are treating the Tibetans, in an attempt to make it all seem ok?

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Friendship Highway

As we approached the border I was lost with in my own thoughts. Soon I would be able to Skype home and speak to my wife, soon I would be free from the restraints that China has locked Tibet down with, soon I will be in Nepal, but am I ready for that? Am I ready to leave Tibet?

I soon realise that there is a fairly good chance that I will not return to Tibet. This could be my last time that I see this country, a country that has had such an impact on me, so much that I cant even place words in any form that would describe it. So what do I do?

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Our bus reaches the end of the road, we can go no further, I can see the bridge, I can see the customs gates and all the Chinese Military holding some serious fire power. I am instructed to put away the camera, even though I would really like to show you the border I comply, these machine guns and the tension is a little intense. Our guide is stopped as we walk up to the gate and not allowed to go any further. We all say our good-byes and hope that our guide is safe.

As we crossed the Friendship Bridge I look down and see a line of bricks, symbolising the border. On the Tibetan side a Chinese Officer stands still, machine gun in hand, ready for action, a last reminder of Tibet, on the Nepalese side an officer leans against the handrail, smiling, welcoming us back into Nepal. I stop for a moment, still in Tibet, one last moment in this country. I quickly get told to move on by the machine gun holding officer, and into Nepal I enter.

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One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane.

Inside Tibet: The Tibetan Holy Mother Speaks To Me.

I wake to the sound of Yaks mooing, and prayer bells ringing, I wake to the smell of fresh snow and the Yak dung fire mixed with the smell of juniper incense drifting from the near by Rongbuk Monastery, its a uniquely Tibetan smell. I wander outside, the air is thin and the sky is so blue. I stand still in awe of Chomolungma I stand still for I am in the presence of the Holy Mother.

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Holy Mother.

I struggle to find words to describe this morning, the beauty I see before me, high mountains, covered in snow, glistening in the early morning sun, a few yaks are awake early, you can hear their bells ringing as they wander around the field. My head starts to fill with many emotions. I feel the pain of every Tibetan that I have met. I feel love towards these beautifully peaceful people and an unhealthy anger. I fight the anger off, anger is not something I want to dwell inside me. I feel peace and a feeling something like being trapped. I am confused but with a sense of clarity. I open my eyes and I see Chomolungma, I am grounded again. I return to the lodge, unable to understand what just happened.

Sun rise over The Holy Mother

Sun rise over The Holy Mother

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Peace Out,

Shane.

Inside Tibet: The Holy Mother, Daily Vlog: 43

I listen to the sounds of the himalayas, the Yaks mooing, the bells ringing from the near by Rongbuk Monastery, a dog barking in the distance, this is Tibet, this is Chomolungma “Holy Mother” this is Mt Everest.

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Chomolungma “Holy Mother” Mt Everest

Three weeks ago I was in  Gorak Shep, Nepal at the summit of Kala-Patthar standing at 5545m watching the sun rise over Mt Everest. Today I watch the sun shining over Mt Everest in Tibet.

The valley was covered in a deep layer of freshly laid snow, sparkling in the sun light, it was so beautiful, it was as if some kind of higher being had designed the perfect landscape for us to see. Carefully placing every snow flake, every Yak, every prayer flag and every ring of the prayer bells. I find myself quite in amongst the grand valley, the Holy Mother standing tall, looking over Tibet. I wonder what the “Holy Mother” thinks about what is going on in Tibet, how does the conflict make her feel? How does this grand mountain, the centre of many adventurers challenges, feel about the destruction and death through out Tibet?

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Peace Out,

Shane.

Inside Tibet: Inside The Destruction. Daily Vlog: 42

I see more cameras today, I see more guards today, I see more heart ache today, I quickly understand why. We are at the Tashilhunpo Monastery, a historic and culturally important monastery in Tibet’s second largest city, Shigatse. Tashilhunpo monastery is the traditional seat of the second highest ranked tulku lineage in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lama.

The monastery has endured a hard life, in 1791 the Gorkha Kingdom invaded Tibet and

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Cameras at the Tashilhunpo Monastery

captured Shigatse, but most recently it has been in the centre of the conflict between China and Tibet.  During China’s invasion of Tibet, two thirds of the buildings were destroyed, the hardest hit were the residences of the 4000 monks. The monastery itself was not extensively damaged, possibly because it was the seat of the Panchen Lama, who remained in Chinese controlled territory.

In 1966 the red guards  led a crowd to the monastery to break statues, burn scriptures and open the stupas. Inside the Stupas were the relics of the 5th to 9th Panchen Lamas, the crowd threw most of the relics into the river, some were saved by the locals. In 1985 the 10th Panchen Lama Choekyi Gyaltsen began construction of a new Stupa to house them in honour of his predecessors. In 1989 just six days before he died the stupa was consecrated. It was as if he was saying now he could rest.

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Shane.

Inside Tibet: Your invite inside a Tibetan Home. Daily Vlog: 41

As we wander along the streets of the old town of Gyatse, spinning prayer wheels, dodging cows and laughing at the puppies that were playing in the street we were invited inside a local Tibetan house. This was a huge honour, to see inside this Tibetan house was a sneak peak into real Tibetan Culture.

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The Cow guarding the house

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Tibetan Puppies

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Inside a Tibetan House, Drying Meat

We enter the old traditional home through the ground floor, traditionally this is where the family house their animals. This family still keep their cow here, we had to pass the very large and grumpy cow, I don’t think she was very happy to have us in her home. The room looked like it has been heavily used for many years. The timber was weathered, you could see right through the ceiling up to the floor above. We walk up the rickety stair case to the first floor. The stair case opened to this beautiful first floor court yard, it was colourful with painted murals, prayer flags hanging amongst prayer wheels. The family had meat drying, hanging from hooks scattered amongst old farming equipment. Everything looked old, really loved and used. We entered a room, dedicated to the Panchen-Lama, of cause this would be for the Dalai Lama, if it were legal. The Chinese government force the Tibetan People to worship the Panchan_Lama, a Chinese appointed Lama who lives in Beijing and is not Tibetan. He was not found the traditional way, the way that all Panchan-Lama have been discovered through out Tibetan Buddhism.

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Tibetan House and drying meat

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Inside a Tibetan House

I left, thanking the beautiful Tibetan lady not only for the invite into her home, but an insight into how these peaceful people are still living in their home, their home country that is getting strategically destroyed by China.

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Peace Out,

Shane.

Inside Tibet: The Dreadlocked Tibetan Mastiff.

Daily Vlog: 40

One of the things that I love about travelling is you never know what or who you will meet. Every time I travel I meet new and inspirational people, I see beautiful places and I experiences magical things. Today I met my first Dreadlocked Tibetan Mastiff and its entrepreneurial Tibetan owner.

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On our way to Gyatse we stopped off at this incredible lookout and there was a local Tibetan man with his giant Tibetan Mastiff. You could pose for photo’s with the dog, a unique business venture, for these now stranded Tibet people. The man was so intrigued with my hair and I seemed to hit it off with the dog as well, I even got a bit of a kiss from the giant Tibetan Mastiff.

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The Tibetan Mastiff is not a true mastiff, early western visitors misnamed it along with several other local breeds, a better name for the dog would be Tibetan Mountain dog. The Tibetan Mastiff also known as Dok-Khyi which roughly translates to “nomad dog’” and “dog which may be kept”. It was traditionally a guardian dog to keep watch over the nomadic villages flock. This giant dog almost looked like he was standing guard over Tibet, grasping to what was left of his nomadic lifestyle. He was caring for his owner and his family, yes he was no longer keeping a watchful eye over his flock, he was now putting food on the tables of his Tibetan family.

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yamdrok lake

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New friends at Yamdrok Lake

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Peace Out,

Shane.

Inside Tibet: Peace and Love in Turmoil. Daily Vlog: 39

Inside Tibet: Daily Vlog 39

We leave Lhasa on our way to one of the one of the Great Three University Monasteries in Tibet, The Ganden Namgyal Ling Monastery. This great monastery was founded by Je Tsongkhapa Lozang-dragpa between 1357-1419. It remained peaceful until it was completely destroyed during the 1959 rebellion, than in 1966 it was heavily shelled by the Red Guard the remaining monks were forced to dismantle the remains. After pictures of the Dalai Lama were banned in 1966, 400 Monks rioted. They were fired upon by PLA troops (People Liberation Army). Re-building of this once grand monastery has continued since the 1980’s.

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Ganden Namgyal Ling Monastery

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Given this monasteries recent history there was no surprise to see the heavy military presence. It all started as we approached the Wangbur mountain that the monastery sits on. We were stopped at a Police Check, asked to get out of the bus walk through a metal detector and back on the bus. It was strange as they didn’t check anything really? Just a display of power I guess?

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Burning Incense

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Ganden Namgyal Ling Monastery

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Friends on the Kora

I was on the look out for hidden cameras and I quickly started to spot them. We started our walk around the Kora a Pilgrimage around a sacred mountain and sitting high on hill there was a camera watching over the valley and the sacred Kora. As I walked I felt this beautiful feeling of calm, it was obvious that this was a very spiritual place. I let myself float into this almost mediative state and feel the peace and love from the hills. It was truly amazing. I could see all the little caves that Monks have been meditating in, I spun all the prayer wheels that were scattered around the Kora. There were prayer flags blowing in the wind, sending their prayers over the valley and over anyone who walked the Kora. This place was very special and I had a moment between myself and the mountain, it was beautiful. 

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On the Kora

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The Kora Panorama

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Once again it all hit home hard as I rounded the last corner and the monastery came into view. One of the very first things I saw was a large Chinese flag, then I quickly became aware of all the cameras watching me again. I new they were there through out the Kora, I had seen them but I guess I didn’t let it bother me, I didn’t want to loose that moment I was in. I saw camera after camera, then more and more military personnel scattered, watching over the monastery. There were these two guards standing on a roof top under an umbrella. It just all felt different again.

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Peace Out,

Shane.

Inside Tibet: Dalai Lama Summer Palace, Paranoia.

Daily Vlog: 38

Since being in Tibet I have been struggling with the amount of Chinese military control over the local Tibetan People. This suppression extends so far into daily life it affects everyone. Little things like signs for shops are written in large Chinese characters with tiny Tibetan characters underneath, to young tibetan people not allowed to visit and worship at temples. The constant reminder that China has taken over Tibet is depressing. Today I get a little annoyed and suddenly very aware that I am being watched almost 24hrs a day.

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Norbulingka UNSECO

We visit the summer palace of the Dalai Lama and I am instantly shocked. As you walk up to this once spiritual home of the Tibetan Buddhist leader you are confronted by huge LCD screen pumping out loud Chinese music. Once inside I feel calm mixed with a sense I am being watched. Every where i look i see a camera, they are everywhere and I mean everywhere, on every corner of the main wall, every walkway even in the gardens. I can see our guide feeling uneasy here, she is aware that her every move is bing watched and anything she does can be used against her and her family.

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We arrive at the Dalai Lama’s Palace, the last place that the current 14th Dalai Lama lived before he fled to India. There was no surprise here, plenty of cameras outside, but what shocked me and made me nervous was waiting inside. We were in one of the rooms, completely aware that we were getting watched by cameras every step, but what shocked me was one specific camera. I spotted this camera that would move about, it was looking around the room, this was not odd, what was odd was when it spotted me. I remember nudging my friend and whispered to him, do you think that camera is following me? I may sound a little paranoid but it was looking straight at me, with these two eyes. So I walked around a little to look at another painting in the room. I look up and again it was looking straight at me, almost trying to read my mind, looking straight at me. I looked back at my friends and they all had seen it as well. I thought to myself, surely not, so I tried again, I walked around the room a few times and every time this camera followed me. I was certain that I was being watched and that I had been picked out of the crowed of tourist in the room to keep an eye on. I couldn’t stop thinking that there was someone in a room somewhere controlling that camera, some one was watching me. This is only one time, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to the Tibetan people to be watched like they are, to know that there is someone watching your every move, controlling what you see and what you do, we could never understand how this affects your well being.

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Canggu Nuns

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I would love to hear your thoughts on the Tibet situation. What have you heard, have you been to Tibet? Have you experienced these same situations?

Inside Tibet: Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple.

Inside Tibet: Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple.

Daily Vlog: 37

Today was filled with mixed emotions, we start the day off with a visit to the Potala Palace the home of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India in the 1959 Tibetan uprising. This place has held my imagination for years. Construction of the palace was started by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1645 after Konchog Chophel one of his spiritual advisers pointed out that the site was ideal location for government as it was situated between Drepung and Sera monasteries and the old walled city of Lhasa. They believe that it may lay on the site of an earlier fortress, called either the White or Red Palace built in 637 by Songtsan Gampo.

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Posing at the Palace

As we approached this massive palace, I was in awe of its grand stature, it looked over Lhasa proudly, almost standing guard over the old city. I felt blessed that i would soon be able to see inside this very important building in Tibetan history. However I was soon brought crashing back down to earth as we were directed through bag check and after bag check, we had to walk along fenced pathways watched over by the Chinese military. As we approached the gate and yet another bag check, one of our tour members was not allowed in because she was wearing a dress. According to our guide, as long as you cove your knees you are normally allowed in. So our new friend had to purchase a pair of pants from a street seller, which the guards directed her towards. My guess is the street seller was a friend of the guards and we were just a way to get some cash off the tourists?

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The Potala Palace main entrance

Once we were all through the gates we now only had 20 minutes to make it up to the gate or we would not be allowed inside. Even then we only had 1 hour inside the Potala Palace, it is a very large building so you could not see much, you where constantly rushed through each room. You could not take photo’s inside the building either and everywhere you looked you were getting watched by cameras. I felt rush of sadness flow over me, there were only a handful of monks left, we had heard that even some of them where fake monks from the Chinese Military sent there to keep an eye over the Tibetan monks. The Chinese invasion of Tibet was very obvious here, they controlled every aspect of this once grand stature of Tibetan culture. It must be so hard for the Tibetan people.

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The epic view from the Potala Palace

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Potala Palace prayer flags

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Skulls and Potala Prayer Wheels

After leaving the Potala Palace I was not in a happy, joyful mood and I could see the same faces through out my tour group. So we decided to jump on some Rickshaws for a little fun and find some lunch. We wandered into the fast food outlet and where met by these beautiful smiling faces. They were all a little shocked to see us in there and we all had a bit of fun. But I don’t thing our bellies are quite used to the local food yet and we were all a little worried how we would handle it.

That after noon we wandered back down to the Jokhang Temple to watch the famous Debating Monks. This was a site to see, but it now looks like it is a bit of a tourist attraction, the temple was packed with Chinese tourist all very intrigued with us more than the Debating Monks. One even snuck up behind me and touched my dreads, she was very shocked when I turned around, her face was priceless.

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Making friends at the Palace

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One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane.