Monday, September 29, 2014


Youthful and energetic, our guide in Lhasa climbs to 19,000 feet regularly, without oxygen. His usual clients are European and American trekkers often going to Everest Base Camp; he had a break in his schedule which he filled in with us. He's the handsome guy on the left. Our driver, on the right, was exceptionally devout and had his prayer beads going at all possible times. He refrained while driving, however I noticed his lips moving constantly while at the law against praying while driving.

Guide on the left; driver on the right
We saw monasteries in Lhasa; 4 of the major sights. My lasting impression of these structures is the number of stairs we had to climb. In the thin air, hauling myself uphill was difficult and I lagged behind and even skipped a couple of things due to excessive gasping. The monasteries have gorgeous locations with breath-taking views. Most of them are very colorful and have prayer flags fluttering all over.

Monks abound and they almost all had some kind of tiffin box, lunch bag and a Nestle tea thermos. If they weren't eating, they seemed to be counting money. The devotees give offerings in the form of money and yak butter candles. In every separate room inside the buildings, we had to pay a photography fee; taking photos throughout meant an outlay of around $25 - $30 for each camera in each monastery. The monks are not slouches in the business of finance.
Monks with lunches and thermos bottles
In several places we were lucky enough to hear chants..these are quite moving and beautiful to hear. You sort of drift off into the sound after a while. We sat for half an hour or so at Drepung Monastery watching a philosophical debate. We didn't know what was going on but our guide explained afterwards that a question had been posed and all the young monks attempted to answer it. The older monks used gestures indicating if the answers were right or wrong. As a sample question, he suggested they might ask, "Which came first - the chicken or the egg?"
Dogs are everywhere in Buddhist countries. They don't euthanize strays; they breed and run around freely everywhere. They weren't as plentiful in Tibet as they were in Bhutan where they have become a serious problem.  This little guy was a real beauty with his gorgeous coat and beautiful eyes.
These people below are pilgrims from the Himalayas. The women wear the large breast plates/belt to protect themselves and their critical organs from the bitter cold wind. Notice my shirt buttoning sequence which nobody told me about (Debra says she did and I ignored her or smiled and nodded which means I didn't hear) and I only noticed at the end of the day and several hundred pictures later. As usual, I look like some kind of half wit.
This is the toilet (the square behind Zuzu) at Drepung with one of the greatest views in the whole monastery. You can see for miles. And Zuzu wore white to clamber around this place. The guide asked us to stop taking photos in this direction because there are police keeping an eye on the place.
As the grounds are under construction, these are the kinds of pathways we were walking on.

And this was the view from the restaurant - the better restaurant of the two. They do need a bit of help with their foodservice operation. As we sat eating, 14 dogs congregated around us, several of them breaking into snarling fights. The food was ghastly - I worried even about the small amount of rice we consumed just to be polite. 
And this was the restaurant..doesn't look so bad in the photo. It was bad.

People around Lhasa have prayer wheels turning slowly in one hand and the beads are working in the other.
In Jokhang square.
Debra below turning the big wheels. In some buildings there were monster wheels which it took several people to turn. You build up karma by turning and praying. Senior citizens hang out near these wheels and spend a good deal of time circling the temples, turning the wheels and praying for everyone as is done in Mahayana Buddhism.
We had gorgeous weather and most days the clouds over the mountains were spectacular.
Zuzu shopping for a yak skull. Unfortunately/fortunately you can't bring them back into the States otherwise we might have been hauling one of these around for weeks.

A striking looking Japanese tourist. I liked the reflection of Debra in his glasses.

Late August, early September is a great time to visit Lhasa if you're lucky with the weather. There were few western tourists and a lot of Tibetan pilgrims. In a turn-the-tables switch, we found ourselves often included in people's photos. Many had fancy iPhones and would show us our pictures after they took them. We spent about 15 minutes posing with various members of this family. 

At the Portola Palace, I couldn't handle the 1000 stairs up and waited for the other three under a tree in the shade. It took the group a couple of hours to go up and back so I had plenty of time to cool my heels and people watch. Kids came over and tested their English on me; several elderly women joined me and a couple of Mom's with babies on their backs. I talked to monks, fellow tourists and tour guides. The experience reminded me of the need to always allow a little time in the travel schedule to just sit around and take in the scene. I tend to over-schedule us and swear I'm going to stop doing that. 

When we spotted this yak from the car, Zuzu cried out, "Stop the car! Debra - get a picture of that yak. Run after it if necessary!" It caught her fancy. Fortunately for Debra, the yak shifted around but stood fairly still and she got her shot. Shortly after, we stopped at a restaurant and had our choice of yak many ways: boiled, steamed, sizzling, sauteed, deep fried or in a momo to name a few. Useful creatures, yaks...kind of remind me of Al Capp's shmoos, not in appearance but in their utility*.

"A Shmoo laid eggs and bottles of Grade A milk in an instant, and would gladly die and change itself into a sizzling steak if its owner merely looked at it hungrily. Its skin was fine leather, its eyes made perfect buttons and even its whiskers made excellent toothpicks. Shmoos multiplied much faster than rabbits, so owning a pair of Shmoos meant that any family was self-sufficient. 

*From the website:

Yak Products
Meat: The most economically important product from the Yak is its juicy, flavorful, and healthy meat. The flavor can be compared to sweet beef flavor with no gaminess and no greasy after taste. While being 95% fat-free, its delicate, delicious flavor comes from its unique distribution of fatty acid percentages. Yaks are extremely low in palmitic acid that is bad for our health (30% less than beef as a percentage of fats and 120% less than beef as a percentage of meat.) Yak meat is also much lower in calories, saturated fats, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Simultaneously, Yak meat is much higher in stearic and oleic acids that are good for us (35% higher than beef as a percentage of fats.) Yak meat is also higher in protein and solids (less water) than beef. All these "Faks™" combine to suggest that Yak meat may be the healthiest meat you can eat, certainly better than beef, or even buffalo, elk, or skinless chicken. Yak is even lower in fat than salmon. All this is accomplished on a grass/forage diet alone, with no grain, hormone, steroid, or antibiotic feed supplements. Furthermore, Half-Yak meat chemistries and flavor are almost identical to pure Yak meat. For your own homegrown meat supply, there is no choice that is healthier and tastier than your own Yak or Yak-cross meat.
Wool and Hair Production is an added bonus for this wonderful species. Whether you card and knit with your own wool, or simply choose to sell your wool, you will appreciate this wool that is comparable to angora or cashmere in its superiority and feel. Yak wool is said to be worth $16 per ounce carded and cleaned or $4 per ounce uncarded. Yaks will average one pound of wool per year that must be combed out each spring if you choose to harvest this product. Yak guard hairs are almost identical in texture to human hair and are used for wig production.
Milk: In China, Yak x Holstein or Yak x Hereford cross cows are milked for their very rich milk which is used primarily for production of butter and cheese. The export demand for these products is greater than supply. In this country there is no Yak-cross milk or milk by-product market developed as yet. This could become a future production opportunity for American breeders.
Yak Leather, Hides, Skulls and Tails: Yak leather can go to normal leather processing. Other specialty markets are currently being developed for this wooly, longhaired hide, as well as processed skulls and tails.


  1. Excellent diary - love the shirt, hope you enjoyed the yak.

  2. More beautiful and interesting photos. The cloud one reminds me of the one at the top of your blog.
    But at the other end of the world.

  3. One Thousand steps would have been enough to make me catch the first flight back to the States. :-)

  4. yuk - the yak!! I'm glad I don't have to eat Yak. I much prefer shmoos.
    That restaurant looks like it had been bombed. Did it have an "A" in the window?