Tibet in 2010 – see through the heart

If I would have arrived at Tibet ten years earlier, the place might have been in my ideal stage. Raw, pure, undisturbed. I would have been a passenger who peeked into local people’s lives, not a tourist who came here to see what meant for tourists.

Over the past decade or so, Tibet has been “improved” to meet the “modern” world. As modernization goes, it never has the patience to think ahead of time the unintended consequences of the changes. The changes, started by a few, quickly got caught on by many and created a momentum that alters the environment at an alarming rate. Tibetans did not have many chances to present their land and culture in the way they might choose. Instead, scenic spots, which could be anything and anywhere on this magic land, were commercialized according to the previously “proven” tourist industry formula.

Fortunately, Tibet’s harsh conditions slowed down the wave of changes and deterred some new immigrants who paid little attention to the local culture. Strong religion also helped to take some places off the limit of the overly aggressive tourism industry.

The day I arrived in Lhasa, I was startled to realize that the Potala Palace, always seen in photos as isolated high above, was in the middle of a city! Once I accepted the fact, I started to see the details that lie in the shadow as they have always been for hundreds of thousands of years.  At the first glance, Tibet may not look like what I have dreamed of. Deep inside, it still is. As my travel buddy John said, I tried to direct the journey. My camera lens was carefully positioned to avoid the crowds and the numerous stands selling factory made souvenirs. The greed can be ignored. The empty promises from the tour company can be dealt with. Luckily for me, John understands these people and skillfully handled the situations. Unlucky for him, he was in Tibet to look for a purer world and quickly realized that he could not escape the old one after all. Passing beyond the initial ignorance, surprise, annoyance, disappointment, disgust and even anger, I told myself whatever the modernization did; it could not take the nature away.

And amazing nature it is! After hours of hours traveling through dangerous road and enduring the lack of oxygen, nature rewarded us with the view of a pure emerald lake nested in the mountains. It is not the kind of beauty one can caress, or write a sentimental poem for.  Its size makes it impossible to take a full mental picture and ink into one’s memory. While every minute you stayed there your body struggled with discomfort from the high altitude, you were glued by its magic. When I walked away from the crowds, sat down at its bank, I could see the surface sparkled with sun light, the shades of blue and green from far to near the shore, and the color of rocks beneath the clear water. I could hear the waves and wonder whether they sounded the same thousands of years ago.

There were plenty stories, both ancient and current, about the lake’s magic of making people fall in love while they were visiting. If love consists of precious memories shared by only the two people involved, the lake’s magic is indisputable. It is hard, if not impossible, to describe how it felt at its presence to those left at home. I imagined all these years ago, when the first group of people, after days or even months walking through the wilderness, saw the lake for the very first time. Their jaw dropped, eyes widely open. They probably looked at each other and failed to find words to describe its beauty. Thus they called it the holly lake. Years later when they sat around the fire in front of their tents, one might have had asked, “Remember the time when we saw the lake?” The other nodded, “Yes. I do.” They both slid into silence. Their hearts were once again filled with the same awe when they saw the water glistening under the sun.

That is – the magic of Tibet.





Potala Palace


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