Wow, even the flight to Tibet was amazing!!! We were fortunate to be flying on a somewhat clear day and the sight of the Himilayas was breath taking. The drive from the airport into the holy city of Lhasa was like driving by a series of postcard pictures. We all suffered slight symptoms of altitude sickness for the first few days...nothing serious...mostly dizziness, headaches and loss of appetite.
We had full days as we wanted to do as much as possible while my mom and Chism were still with us. Our explorations included: 1) The Barkhor Circuit which is basically a walk around the Jokhang area that pilgrims do while in prayer. The Jokhang is the most revered temple in all of Tibet. 2) We took a day trip out to Dreprung Monastery where a monk invited us into his quarters for yak butter tea...yeah, that's right...we were invited for tea from a monk! Definately a Tibetan highlight!!! By the way, anyone interested in making yak butter tea can just throw about 5 cups of hot water, 1 cup of yak butter, 2 tablespoons of a mystery white powder, and 1 cup of prepared tea in a blender and turn it on high for 20 seconds. Sounds disgusting??? Yep, it sure is! But who says no to a monk?! 3) Darren stood in line for 8 hours (starting at 3:45am) to get us tickets to the Potala (the former residence of the Dalai Llamas). The sites inside included the tomb of the 5th Dalai Llama which consists of 3700kg of gold! 4) We took a day trip out to Ganden Monastery. Chism, Darren and I walked the high kora (which is a pilgrimage circuit). The path took us to the peak of the mountain that overlooks the Monastery...the view was beyond words. Towards the end of our day at Ganden we heard the gong signalling meditation time for the monks. We were able to enter a chapel with about 100 monks to listen and watch them chant in meditation...again, beyond words.
5) Mom and Chism left and the next day Darren and I headed back out to the Drepung Monastery to take part in the Shotun festival. We left at 3:00am to get good seats on the side of the mountain. The estimated turn out was 25,000 people! Here's a tip you can pass along...when on the side of a mountain with 25,000 other people, chain, weld, duct tape or even swallow all valuables because aparently they are bound to go missing. Yes, our bag was stolen, and yes our passports were inside (along with our camera). Being in Tibet with out a passport and not speaking any Chinese may very well be the worst feeling in the world. Thankfully the Chinese police are very efficient and with the help of some interpreters as well as a couple of trips to the police station our passports were miraculously found along with our bag. The theif had aparently taken our camera, my sunglasses and headlamps and ate all our snacks (?!) and then ditched the bag (after throwing in some items that he/she had apparently stole from others including some sunblock, a map and a travel guide written in Chinese). Soooo, at the end of the day we came away with the bag and passports and will shop for a camera in Kathmandu.