Being here on the roof of the world is quite the experience. Lovely in many ways, harsh in others. Challenging, heartbreaking, mysterious, complex…these are a few words that come to mind. Over and over I thank the Father that He brought me to this place, and not without help. Back home are friends, family and dear ones that I want to share this experience with. So, come engage your senses and learn a little bit about Lhasa!
Brow sweating, tung burning, flavors dancing. Lhasa tastes so spicy! Rice calms down the fire, as well as noodles, bread, tofu or soup. A typical Tibetan dish consists of meat, potatoes, rice, and spices. Tonight I had my first taste of thick, salty butter tea (made with yak butter). This morning, I had my first Chinese breakfast, a hard-boiled tea egg, sweet black bean porridge and a roll with pork, mushroom and sauce inside. Delicious! Fruit stands across the street are a great place for bananas, oranges and pears. Many small restaurants are just outside the school gate, so it’s been really fun trying Chinese and Tibetan foods with new friends.
Bike bells jingle, car horns blare, students laugh, prayer wheels spin and pilgrims quietly chant their prayers. At the center of the city, foreigners and locals bargain in the outdoor markets. I strain my ears to distinguish the new languages I’m hearing everywhere and make sense of the sounds. Chinese, Tibetan and a combination of the two are spoken here. A cacophony of stray dogs in the distance is becoming familiar at night as I fall asleep. Water boils on the gas stove each morning until the kettle screams, informing me that the water is purified and drinkable.
On clear mornings, the sky is a vibrant blue with towering mountains surrounding the periphery. When the wind comes, it kicks up the dry, brown dirt and swirls it into the backdrop. Colorful prayer flags blow in the breeze. Intricately painted door frames and windows pop out against the whitewashed, sun-baked walls. Cows wander freely (I was riding my bike next to one in town the other day!). Meeting the eyes of an elderly, weathered face, I see a deep unrest mingled with exhaustion from a lifetime of merit-seeking. Monasteries, shrines, rock piles and superstition are prominent colors of the city’s fabric. Old Tibetan tradition meets new Chinese development.
But don’t sniff too hard if you’re anywhere close to yak butter. Used for butter tea, artwork, religious offerings, moisturizer and many other things, yak butter has an overwhelming and distinct smell. Indescribable. Tea, incense, dust, spices, my sunscreen…these are the other aromas of Lhasa. Perhaps I won’t fully know or appreciate the smell of Lhasa until I’ve arrived back to the states and open up my suitcase=)
Rough wood of old tattered furniture (something I love!) is found in many Tibetan restaurants, with thick rugs placed on top for cushioned seating. Silks, colorful scarfs and sheep’s wool blankets litter the outdoor markets. Smooth tea thermoses are hot to the touch. Lotion is my new best friend, as my hands are constantly chapped from the dry, high-elevation air. Sun beats down overhead and warms to the toes.
I hope this gives you a sense (or a few senses!) of life in Lhasa thus far. Lhasa’s flavor is a complex one that I hope to better understand over the next few years…