A photographic series prompted by the 2008 Tibetan Unrest. In particular, this is a response to fear filled government reaction to the protests and the tightening of travel restrictions on foreigners entering Tibet. I'm also pretty sure this is the photo series that causes this site to be inaccessible in China.
Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north of the Himalayas, and the home to the indigenous Tibetan people and some other ethnic groups, such as Monpas and Lhobas. With an average elevation of 4,900 metres (16,000 ft), it is the highest region on Earth and has in recent decades increasingly been referred to as the "Roof of the World".
During Tibet's history, it has been an independent country, divided into different countries, and a part of China each for a certain amount of time. Tibet was first unified under King Songtsän Gampo in the seventh century. A government nominally headed by the Dalai Lamas, a line of spiritual leaders, ruled a large portion of the Tibetan region at various times from the 1640s until 1950s. During most of this period, the Tibetan administration was subordinate to the Chinese empire of the Qing Dynasty. The 13th Dalai Lama proclaimed Tibet independent in 1913, but this declaration was not accepted by China, nor recognized by any country as a de jure independent nation. As a measure of the power that regents must have wielded, it is important to note that only three of the fourteen Dalai Lamas have actually ruled Tibet; regents ruled during 77 percent of the period from 1751 until 1960. The Communist Party of China gained control of central and western Tibet (Tibet area controlled by the Dalai Lama) after a decisive military victory at Chamdo in 1950. The 14th Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959.
Two women spinning a giant prayer wheel in a small temple in Lhasa.
Wikipedia as usual, does a better job than I ever could explaining what prayer wheels are precisely. It was quite a wonderful surprise stumbling upon these women. They were still happily spinning away thirty minutes after taking this photo.
News on the Olympic front: The flame arrives in San Francisco, this after a couple of protestors scaled the Golden Gate Bridge and hung a Free Tibet banner. All the while China responds in their predictable ridiculous rhetoric with "We express our strong condemnation to the deliberate disruption of the Olympic torch relay by 'Tibetan independence' separatist forces regardless of the Olympic spirit and the law of Britain and France". Will be interesting to see if the torch makes it through San Francisco on Wednesday.
An image from the second floor of the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa. This was shot around 8am after slowly taking in the ground floor, huddled together with all of the Tibetan pilgrims mid-prayer. Most of the inner spaces are lit only by candle, so suddenly coming upon these beams of sunlight was quite shocking.
The Jokhang is the same temple in front of which monks disrupted a foreign media tour with emotional pleas right after the Lhasa protests and riots.
The Potala Palace as seen from a rooftop, early morning. The old, eastern, Tibetan part of Lhasa is very low — at most four stories per building as can be seen in this photograph.
I never made it inside the Potala Palace during my stay. The logistics of getting tickets combined with the somewhat sad nature of it being in a state of disuse left me content to view from afar. I spent my afternoons contemplating below and off to the side of the structure — in its shadow — which was powerful and satisfying enough for me.
Watching the pilgrims prostrate themselves on the sidewalk in front of the palace is breathtaking in a way only selfless devotion can be. The fact that many repeat this over and over, some for spans of hundreds of kilometers is even more inspiring. If you're the ritualistic masochistic type and interested in trying it out, here's some steps on how to properly prostrate oneself.
A monk walking through Drepung Monastery. It's hard not to think of Drepung as a city unto itself — with its castle like architecture, labyrinthine passages, nooks, corners and the bustle of everyday life of the monks.
Driving out into the mountains north east of Lhasa, a small shack, power lines and the always powerful Tibetan sky.
After 2 hours of the most awkward of rides on a small bus packed full of pilgrims, people and babies and old women flowing into the isles, everyone compressed, a million stares, a Tokyo rush-hour train dance in all directions, this view emerged. From behind a small mountain-side temple, prayer flags and the valley below.
Two travelers and a local girl on the edge of Lake Namtso, the highest salt water later in the world. The lake stretches so far that from the edge it looks like you're at the foot of an ocean. The path around the lake is a well known kora in Tibet. The full walk around Namtso takes 18 days.
The first rays of sunlight hitting the valley floor a few hours northeast of Lhasa. A string of prayer flags intersects the top half of the image.
Four Tibetan nuns. Their nunnery was close to our base camp around 18,000 feet. They were wary of me (being smelly and male) but absolutely smitten by my travel companion — clinging to her and holding her hand and hugging her incessantly. They fed us yak butter milk tea, which approximates the taste of drinking a vat of popcorn smothered in artificial butter. Yet tradition states one much drink several cups, so we forced the liquid down into our poor stomachs.