On the roof of the world

Lhasa has been on our mind since long: we thought about it when we applied for our visa to China. We longed to be here while we had to convince the staff in a Chinese travel agency to sell us plane tickets to Tibet. We dreamed about Lhasa when we drank our first yak butter tea, hiked at the border of Sichuan and Gansu and when we rode horses for the first time in our lives – all of this at high altitude to prepare for the Tibet adventure. You see, the expectations were high. How does it feel to finally be here?

Well, first of all, we feel dizzy. At almost 3,500 meters above sea level, Lhasa is a real challenge. We feel as if we had aged a good thirty or forty years the moment we left the plane and we barely make it to our room on the top floor of our hotel. Potala Palace, majestic and once the residence of the Dalai Lama, has almost as many stairs as the Annapurna Base Camp trek. Yet, each and every altitude-plagued visitor group is allocated only a very short time window. If you are planning a trip to Lhasa, make sure your visit to the palace is not on the first day!

Potala Palace, once the residence of the Dalai Lama and a highlight of our visit to Lhasa despite the many stairs

Potala Palace, once the residence of the Dalai Lama and a highlight of our visit to Lhasa despite the many stairs

We are also stunned by the beauty of Lhasa’s old town, the monasteries and palaces and by the devotion of the Tibetan people to Buddhism. The golden-roofed Jokhang temple forms the heart of the city. The pedestrian path around it is always busy with pilgrims and locals walking the kora, a religious walk around sacred places, swinging their prayer wheels. We are drawn into this walk again and again, listening to the constant humming and the swooshing sound of pilgrims throwing themselves on the ground to pray in the most sportive fashion.

Our schedule is packed with the many things to see in Lhasa. Our (mandatory) guide also takes us to the Summer Palace (Norbulingka Palace),  Ramoche Temple and to the Sera and Deprung monasteries just outside the city. At Sera monastery, we get to watch apprentice monks practising debate, a question-and-answer ritual and very popular tourist attraction.


What else do we feel? Well, sorry China, but we are also angry. Lhasa is the only place where we are allowed to walk around without our guide. Yet, no one needs to worry that we might do anything unwanted or ask unwelcome questions; there is police everywhere. Our bags are checked every time we enter the main square. Surveillance cameras are more abundant than in London’s subway stations, or at least it feels like that. Yet, I hope that many more of you are going to visit this amazing city to learn about Tibet and its people.

Time of visit: September 2013
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This article was published on perelincolors.com

11 thoughts on “On the roof of the world

  1. Anne

    A guide in Beijing told us that there’s nowhere that a surveillance camera can’t see you in the city. I’m not sure if it’s completely true, but I started noticing cameras all over the place after that. Your pictures are awesome!


    1. perelincolors

      I can imagine that about Beijing! In Tibet, we saw cameras even in the smallest villages, like there was nothing but a dirt road and a few houses and yet it was all under watch by a camera.


  2. allthingstibetan2014

    I’ve heard first hand about those prying, omnipresent cameras and security guards in Tibet. And having grown up on the other side of the border, in exile, I would find it terribly unnerving to be constantly under surveillance. I do look forward to reading more about your travels in Tibet, particularly in the remote villages. The pictures are absolutely beautiful and I think you’ve captured the Tibetan way of life so well through them.


    1. perelincolors

      Dear allthingstibetan2014,
      I feel humbled to have you as a reader of these accounts. I am embarrassed that I, as a foreigner, have been able to visit a place that is so dear to you while many of your people cannot go there at all. I am really interested to learn more about Tibetan culture from your blog, and I hope many others will follow you too to learn how special and precious it is. Thank you so much for reading.


  3. liapettersen

    This is the first time I’ve been drawn to continue reading from line 1 about traveling. You put it in such a way that it was impossible for me not to feel a certain need to visit the place. With your words, I can feel your need to see and experience how other cultures make it through life and your love for adventure is evident.

    Liked by 1 person

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