In May, 2004 I visited Tibet in the Himalayas. I had arranged for a guide and driver for seven days through Pacific Delights Tours. On the way to Tibet I stopped in Chengdu in China, to visit the Panda reserve and breeding center. From there I flew directly to Lhasa. Lhasa is at an altitude of 3,600 m (11,810 ft). This makes you run out of breath at even the slightest exertions. I usually walk quite fast, but at this altitude I had to slow down considerably. Other than that I didn't have any problems with the altitude in Lhasa. In Gyantse at 4,000 m (13,100 ft) I did have more of a problem, I had a very bad night's sleep. Altogether I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't have any serious problems. Even at the highest mountain pass at 5,200 m (17,060 ft) I had no problems, other than shortness of breath.

I stayed in Lhasa for two days. The highlights in Lhasa are the palace of the Dalai Lama (the Potala), the Jokhang (the most revered temple in Tibetan Buddhism), and the Summer palace of the Dalai Lama (the Norbulingka). Just outside is the Drepung Monastery, once the worlds largest monastery with some 10,000 monks. The Potala Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From Lhasa we drove to Tsedang. There we visited the Samye Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in Tibet, founded in the late 8th century. It is one of the more beautiful monasteries. It has four stupas arranged around if in four of the holy colors. From Tsedang we visited the Chongye valley. Here are the Tombs of the Tibetan Kings, burial mounds from around 1000. From there we went to the Yumbulagang Monastery. This was the most beautiful and interesting monastery I visited. It has reputedly the oldest building in Tibet from the 7th century. The original building may date back 2000 years. It is situated on a cliff at about 4,500 m (14,760 ft) altitude. It is a bit strenuous to walk up there at the altitude, but well worth it. After that we visited the Tandruk Monastery. It has a fantastic wood carved altar, reputedly the largest in the world (though I doubt that claim). This monastery is also among the oldest in Tibet from the 7th century.

From Tsedang we drove to Gyantse. This trip was over the first of several mountain passes. This one (Kamba-la) was about 4,800 m (15,750 ft) high. It was an interesting drive up to the pass along a steep switchback road. The pass was in the clouds, with snow on the ground. From there the road went along a large mountain lake (Yamdrok-tso), one of the holiest lakes in Tibet. The lake is at an altitude of around 4,500 m (14,760 ft). From there we climbed another pass (Karo-la) up to about 5,000 m (16,400 ft) and then to Gyantse. In Gyantse is the largest chörten (stupa) in Tibet, the Gyantse Kumbum. It is quite impressive, located in the Pelkor Chöde Monastery. It is from the 15th century.

On this road there was extensive road construction. The road had mostly been build, but none of the bridges. It meant that at every little brook coming down the mountain (of which there were many), we had to leave the road, drive through the stream, and back to the road. This was wild driving!

From Gyantse we drove to the Sakya Monastery. This was one of the largest monasteries before the Chinese invasion. It has the tombs of several Dalai Lamas. From there we went back to Shigatse for an overnight stay. In Shigatse is the Tashilhunpo Monastery, a very impressive one with many wall paintings of Buddhas and the tombs of several Panchen Lamas.

From Shigatse we returned to Lhasa. This drive was the most eventful of them all. We drove over the highest mountain pass at about 5,200 m (17,060 ft). The road was in really bad condition. It was a one lane road with traffic in both directions. Passing was only possible in certain places. There were several areas with large holes in the road where traffic was backed up. Combine this with snow on the road, and you have a recipe for a big traffic jam. Trying to move two mile long lines of trucks past each other on a one lane road takes a long time. Everybody tries to move ahead as soon as there is a bit of an opening, which immediately blocks the one lane road again. One truck didn't make it when he tried to pass another one on the one lane road. He fell of the precipice and was lying about 150 m (490 ft) below the road.

From there we drove back to Lhasa. On the way we passed the Yungdrungling Monastery. It is a monastery of the Bön religion, the pre-Buddhism religion in Tibet.

The weather was mixed, sometimes sunny, often rainy. At the higher elevations it was frequently snowing. Temperatures were somewhat chilly.

Tibet has been invaded by China in 1952. It has been occupied by China since then. The few times I talked with Tibetans, it was clear that they resented the Chinese occupation. China is settling millions of Chinese in Tibet in order to get Tibet under closer Chinese control. By now the native Tibetans are already in the minority. In business, Chinese have significant advantage over Tibetans.

Tibetan is a language with their own script, quite different from Chinese. Since the Chinese occupation, Chinese is the official language. Anybody who doesn't speak Chinese is at a severe disadvantage. Recently, the Chinese have made some concession as far as the language is concerned. For instance, direction signs show names in Tibetan as well as Chinese and English scripts.

Traditionally, at least one son of every family would become a monk. This was their version of population control. Because of that, almost every village had a monastery. In the beginning of the Chinese occupation, the Chinese systematically destroyed the Tibetan monasteries. They destroyed over 90% of them. Only recently have they started to support them in order to increase tourism. Even though most of the monasteries are destroyed, the ones that are left are exceptional. I was especially impressed by a small monastery from the 8th century, sitting on a small peak near the Tombs of the Tibetan Kings.

Religion plays a large part in Tibetan life. Especially in Lhasa, but also in other cities and towns you can see monks, and other worshipers with their prayer wheels. Most buildings have some arrangements of sticks with colored prayer flags on their roof. Similar arrangements are seen in many places along the roads, on mountain passes or on hill tops. The flags are printed with Buddhist sutras. They are strung up to purify the air and to pacify the gods. When the flags flutter, prayers are thought to be released to the heavens. The colors of the flags are significant. They are:
red: represents fire
green: represents wood
yellow: represents earth
blue: represents water
white: represents iron.

White scarfs are used for greeting people (I was given one when I arrived. They are also used to drape over statues in temples and monasteries.

Buddhism in Tibet uses considerably more colors in decorating their temples and monasteries than Buddhism in other countries. The most important temple in Tibet is the one in Lhasa. Worshipers are everywhere in Lhasa. Most are older people, but there are younger ones as well. There are also many Buddhist priests in Lhasa, old ones as well as many younger ones. It seems as if there are still plenty of young men who want to become priests. Both pilgrims and monks use prayer wheels during their worship. In the temples you can see the prayer drums. Pilgrims walk by them and set them rotating while praying.

One interesting part of the temples and monasteries is the use of Yak butter. It is used for most everything, from material for candles to intricate decorations to lubricating prayer drums. It never smelled really bad, but sometimes you could smell it somewhat.

Using colors is not only prevalent in temples. Trucks and farm vehicles are also often colorfully decorated. One decoration symbol that is used frequently is the swastika. It is from here that the Nazis imported this symbol. In Tibet it is a sign of good luck.

I didn't get to talk to Tibetans very much. Only in Lhasa did I have the chance to go out and talk with people. During the tour I didn't have the opportunity to talk with anybody. You would have to take more time in order to get more chances to meet local people.

The scenery in Tibet is of course stunning. Unfortunately the weather was not very good while I was there, so I didn't see as much of the mountains as I would have liked. But what I did see was impressive. The highest mountain that I saw was about 7,000 m (23,000 ft).

Local buildings are usually single story buildings. They are build around a courtyard. On the outside they usually don't have many windows, if any at all. The houses in each village are usually of the same design, with different designs in different villages.

The food was quite good. This was somewhat of a surprise, since the guide book that I had warned that Tibetan food is not very good. It looks as if this has recently changed for the better. Two things however were not really to my taste. One of them was dried Yak cheese, the other was tea with Yak butter. The dried Yak cheese was hard as stone. I tried to keep it in my mouth for a while to soften it, without success. I would have broken my teeth if I had tried to chew it. It also was completely tasteless. Tea with Yak butter on the other hand does have taste, but not a taste that I could get used to that quickly. I tried it ones and decided that I definitely don't want to try it again anytime soon.

The local beer is very good and very inexpensive. One big surprise was their selection of imported beers. From the USA they had the ubiquitous Budweiser, but in addition to that they had Pabst Blue Ribbon. This is an old US beer that is slowly making a comeback in the USA. It is my favorite beer here in the US.

It was an interesting trip. Too bad I didn't have more time to see the country and meet the people. It is sad to see how a whole culture being destroyed by an occupying country. I h ope they'll survive, but it doesn't look good.

See the separate pages with nature and birds:

Nature in Tibet
Birds in Tibet

All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn, unless otherwise noted.

Temples, Monasteries, and Fortresses
fortress airport lhasa
A fortress near the airport of Lhasa. It was destroyed by the Chinese when they invaded Tibet in 1952 (852k)
buddha statue carved
A Buddha statue carved out of a wall. It is from the 11th century. It is on the road from the airport to Lhasa. (806k)
arrangements sticks prayer
These arrangements of sticks and prayer flags can be seen everywhere in Tibet (1174k)
view barkhor square
A view of Barkhor Square with the Jokhang in the background. (689k)
jokhang holiest tibetan
The Jokhang, the holiest of Tibetan Temples, viewed from Barkhor Square. (802k)
big incense burners
One of the big incense burners in front of the Jokhang. (782k)
yak butter lights
Yak butter lights in a prayer room in front of the Jokhang. (630k)
barkhor square incense
Barkhor Square with the incense burners in front of the Jokhang going full blast. (541k)
view barkhor kora
View of the Barkhor Kora, the pilgrimage circuit around the Jokhang. This is the most important pilgrimage circuit in Tibet. It is full of stalls of various vendors. (973k)
potala palace dalai
The Potala, the palace of the Dalai Lama. (811k)
view potala potala
View of the Potala from Potala Square. (918k)
potala over modern
The Potala over modern downtown Lhasa (1.8M)
view norbulingka summer
View of the Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama. (897k)
huge prayer wheel
A huge prayer wheel on top one of the buildings of the summer palace. (571k)
small temple park
A small temple in the park around the summer palace. (1233k)
view over drepung
View over the Drepung monastery. (1157k)
main building drepung
The main building in the Drepung monastery. Note the mirrors in the yard. (740k)
closeup mirrors used
A closeup of one of the mirrors. They are used to collect sunlight to head water for tea. (680k)
roof decoration drepung
Roof decoration in the Drepung monastery. There little towers can be seen in many monasteries and temples. (629k)
view chörten stupa
A view of a chörten (stupa), prayer drums and a pilgrim in the Drepung monastery. Notice the Yak butter lubrication dripping down from the prayer drums. (846k)
prayer drums drepung
Prayer drums in the Drepung monastery. (822k)
very old prayer
Some very old prayer drums in the Drepung monastery. (844k)
interior temple drepung
The interior of a temple in the Drepung monastery. It is usually fairly dark, since the Yak butter lamps don't give much light. (536k)
interior drepung monastery
Interior of the Drepung monastery. Note the colorful decorations. (834k)
painting lama drepung
Painting of a Lama in the Drepung monastery. He is from the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism. (931k)
colorful buddha statue
Colorful Buddha statue in a temple in the Drepung monastery. (1178k)
hundreds buddha statues
Hundreds of Buddha statues in the Drepung monastery. Many temples have these arrays of Buddha statues. (1169k)
prayer books neatly
Prayer books, neatly stacked in the Drepung monastery. They are pages, connected with fabric, and folded together. The stack of pages is then folded in cloth. This room held hundreds of these prayer books. They can be found in every temple. (729k)
yak butter candle
Yak butter candle in a temple in the Drepung monastery. (494k)
worshiper drepung monastery
A worshiper in the Drepung monastery. It one prayer wheel is good, two must be even better. (530k)
worshiper reading buddhist
A worshiper reading Buddhist scrolls like the one stacked in the temple. (784k)
view mountains behind
View of the mountains behind the Samye monastery. About 2/3rd up the mountain on the left side is the 8th century Chim-puk Hermitage. (562k)
main building samye
The main building of the Samye monastery. (742k)
blue stupa samye
The blue stupa in the Samye monastery. (1041k)
green stupa samye
The green stupa in the Samye monastery. (960k)
white stupa samye
The white stupa in the Samye monastery. (1021k)
red stupa samye
The red stupa in the Samye monastery. (779k)
wall paintings main
Wall paintings in the main building of the Samye monastery. (938k)
details buddha paintings
Details of the Buddha paintings in the Samye monastery. (737k)
tomb kings chongye
Tomb of the Kings in the Chongye Valley. One of the tomb from around 1000 CE (836k)
yumbulagang monastery high
Yumbulagang Monastery, high on a cliff. (577k)
getting closer monastery
Getting closer to the monastery. It was well worth the climb. (849k)
interior yumbulagang monastery
Interior of the Yumbulagang Monastery. (768k)
buddha statue yumbulagang
Buddha statue in the Yumbulagang Monastery. (1063k)
buddhist scrolls yumbulagang
Buddhist scrolls in the Yumbulagang Monastery. (827k)
prayer drums outside
Prayer drums outside the Yumbulagang Monastery. (612k)
main temple tandruk
Main temple in the Tandruk Monastery. (570k)
entrance tandruk monastery
Entrance to the Tandruk Monastery with two huge prayer drums, each over 3 m (10 ft) high. (836k)
huge prayer drum
Huge prayer drum in front of the temple in the Tandruk Monastery. (638k)
well tandruk monastery
A well in the Tandruk Monastery. The monks were drawing water while we were visiting. (652k)
decorations windows outside
Decorations on the windows on the outside of the Tandruk Monastery. (739k)
huge wood carved
A huge wood carved altar in the Tandruk Monastery. My guides said it is the largest wood-carved altar in the world. I somewhat doubt that, but it certainly is a masterpiece. (1226k)
detail buddha statues
Detail of one of the Buddha statues in the wood-carved alter in the Tandruk Monastery. (1038k)
mask temples tandruk
A mask in another one of the temples in the Tandruk Monastery. This was the only monastery where they had masks and masked statues. (628k)
veiled buddha statue
A veiled Buddha statue in the Tandruk Monastery. (914k)
fortress hill overlooking
A fortress on a hill overlooking Gyantse. It was destroyed by the invading Chinese and is only now being restored. (559k)
gyantse kumbum largest
Gyantse Kumbum, the largest chörten (stupa) in Tibet (805k)
monks temple pelkor
Monks in a temple in the Pelkor Chöde monastery in Gyantse. They are making decorations from Yak butter. (729k)
monk making yak
A monk making Yak butter decorations. (691k)
buddha statue lotus
Buddha statue on a Lotus throne in a temple in the Pelkor Chöde monastery. (983k)
buddha statue holding
Buddha statue holding a lotus flower in a temple in the Pelkor Chöde monastery. The colors, texture and design of this one was especially appealing to me. (988k)
view pelkor chöde
View of the Pelkor Chöde monastery in Gyantse. (770k)
mound prayer flags
Mound with prayer flags over the Pelkor Chöde monastery. (541k)
monks sakya monastery
Monks in the Sakya monastery. (836k)
roof window decorations
Roof and window decorations in the Sakya monastery. (892k)
tomb dalai lamas
Tomb of one of the Dalai Lamas in the Sakya monastery. (1062k)
view tashilhunpo monastery
View of the Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse. (1008k)
tashilhunpo monastery
In the Tashilhunpo monastery. (776k)
inside tashilhunpo monastery
Inside the Tashilhunpo monastery. (977k)
swastika floor inlay
Swastika floor inlay in the Tashilhunpo monastery. (960k)
view temples tashilhunpo
View of one of the temples in the Tashilhunpo monastery. (696k)
view temples tashilhunpo
View of one of the temples in the Tashilhunpo monastery. (896k)
view wall covered
View of a wall covered with wall paintings. (908k)
buddha wall paintings
Buddha wall paintings in the Tashilhunpo monastery. (965k)
wall paintings protectors
Wall paintings of Protectors in the Tashilhunpo monastery. (986k)
closeup protector paintings
Closeup of one of the protector paintings. (924k)
closeup buddha paintings
Closeup of one of the Buddha paintings with the Buddha on a Lotus throne. (849k)

tibetan woman lhasa
A Tibetan woman in Lhasa. (574k)
local woman typical
Local woman. This was the typical dress that women in the cities and villages wore. (573k)
couple local men
A couple of local men watching us try to fix the car, one of them with a prayer wheel. It seems as if they are using prayer wheels even in regular local life. (770k)
family front sakya
A family in front of the Sakya monastery. (704k)
china often see
In China you often see men relaxing like this. You have to be used to sitting down like that with your feet flat on the floor. (1207k)
school kids
School kids. (551k)
school girls uniform
School girls in uniform playing in the street. (681k)
local street scene
Local street scene with a pool table outside (1.7M)
bottles stored bar
Bottles stored in a bar. Notice the Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon. The bottles lying in the rack are beer bottles, not wine bottles (1.9M)
local family high
Local family in one of the high valleys. (898k)
local nomads high
Local nomads in one of the high valleys. (856k)
life stock herd
Life stock herd in one of the high valleys. (905k)
yak herd local
Yak herd and local nomads in a high mountain valley. (724k)
farm work notice
Farm work. Notice the colorful decorations on the animal. (927k)
local passengers waiting
Local passengers waiting for their bus to continue. (618k)
local man waiting
Local man waiting for the bus to continue. He was of a different ethnic background. (709k)
pilgrim lhasa prayer
A pilgrim in Lhasa with a prayer wheel. (597k)
pilgrim seemed different
Another pilgrim. This seemed to be from a different ethnic group than most Tibetans. (502k)
older worshiper lhasa
An older worshiper in Lhasa. Some of the prayer wheels are very elaborate. (741k)
old woman praying
An old woman, praying with her prayer wheel on her walk around the Jokhang. (690k)
group tibetan monks
A group of Tibetan monks with prayer wheels. (719k)
buddhist monk elaborate
A Buddhist monk with an elaborate prayer wheel. (725k)
beggars lhasa
Beggars in Lhasa. (682k)
buddhist monks asking
Buddhist monks asking for alms. (653k)
tibetan monk plastic
A Tibetan monk, with a plastic shopping bag. (547k)

Roads and Transportation
bicycle rickshaw lhasa
A bicycle rickshaw in Lhasa. (844k)
hauling sacks hand-drawn
Hauling sacks on a hand-drawn cart. A lot of transportation is done by hand (1.9M)
street vendor lhasa
A street vendor in Lhasa selling vegetables and spices. (816k)
bicycle transport fully
Bicycle transport, fully loaded. (1463k)
local transport
Local transport. (1492k)
local transportation means
Local transportation means. (842k)
street scene lhasa
Street scene in Lhasa (1.5M)
pabst blue ribbon
Pabst Blue Ribbon was one of the most common imported beers in Tibet, with lots of advertising. (774k)
street sign directions
A street sign with directions in Tibetan, Chinese, and English. (563k)
utility vehicle colorfully
A utility vehicle, colorfully decorated. (832k)
local truck colorfully
A local truck, colorfully decorated like many local vehicles. Notice the swastikas on the roof. (741k)
local transport
Local transport. (1135k)
overland bus rest
Overland bus at a rest stop. (627k)
bus way mountain
A bus on its way to the mountain pass. The peak ahead was the highest peak we saw, over 7,000 m (23,000 ft). (733k)
our toyota landcruiser
Our Toyota Landcruiser broken down in the middle of the road. (819k)
main road along
This is the main road along lake Yamdrok-tso. This is representative for the road conditions in that area. (698k)
trucks main road
Trucks on the main road. Traffic on that road was pretty atrocious. (725k)
switchback road leading
Switchback road leading up to the Kamba-la pass. (562k)
top kamba-la mountain
Top of the Kamba-la mountain pass in the clouds. (617k)
prayer flag mound
Prayer flag mound on top of Kamba-la. (664k)
snow road mountain
Snow on the road up to one of the mountain passes. (480k)
prayer flags mountain
Prayer flags on a mountain pass. (822k)
prayer flags top
Prayer flags on top of the highest mountain pass that I drove over at 5,200 m (17,060 ft). (641k)
truck rolled mountain
This truck rolled down the mountain while trying to get by oncoming traffic on a one-lane mountain pass. (1426k)
closeup truck rolled
Closeup of the truck that rolled down the mountain. (844k)
traffic jam one-lane
Traffic jam on a one-lane mountain pass road. It took hours to get through the oncoming traffic. (811k)
worst part road
This was the worst part of the road. This hole caused the hour long traffic jam. (828k)

local village road
Local village with road construction in the foreground. There was lots of road construction going on (2M)
local store
A local store. (1466k)
local house
A local house. (768k)
local house
Local house (1.6M)
typical tibetan house
A typical Tibetan house. They are one-storied, have few windows on the outside and are build around a courtyard. (818k)
local house different
Another local house in a different style. (970k)
house prayer flags
A house with prayer flags on the roof. (618k)
house decorations including
House decorations, including a swastika, a symbol of good luck. (547k)
tibetans use everything
Tibetans use everything that their cattle provide, including cow dung. They put the cow patties on the walls of their houses to dry. They are used as fuel for heating and cooking. (1129k)

This page contains 138 pictures

The total number of pictures online on my website from Tibet is 150

Page last updated on Sun Jun 30 16:49:02 2019 (Mountain Standard Time)

བོད་ (Tibet) - Land of the Dalai Lama on

© Dr. Günther Eichhorn
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