The day had barely begun. It was freezing cold.
The great square of Barkhor was filled with pilgrims delighted to visit the capital, in particular the Buddhist monastery of Jokhang, for almost all Tibetans, the most important in the nation.
The square has a considerable dimension, but the unshakeable faith of the natives made them gather, above all, next to this temple that marked its eastern boundary.
“Many of them fulfill their dream of coming here for the first time.” says Lobsang, the local guide at the service of the Chinese agency that we had to turn to in order to enter the autonomous and semi-interdicted territory. “Some travel from the farthest reaches of the country.
To do this, they spend a good part of their savings. The Jokhang is the spiritual center of Lhasa and Tibet. Tibetans here renew the meaning of their lives.”
Hired by the occupant's company for speaking English and other languages, the host poorly disguised the almost zero motivation with which he performed his duties.
Whenever he could, he left us with the excuse of any other work obligation and left us to his fellow countrymen. It was the reason why, once again without him, we visited the Sera Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa.
These abandonments proved liberating. In such a way that, to their delight, we started promoting them ourselves.
Lobsang also informed us that we were two of a derisory twenty foreigners at that time in Tibet.
The Tibetan Purity of Being
The gentle and affable curiosity they showed us, as we walked through the crowd, those weary but radiant pilgrims proved practically exclusive.
We do not exaggerate if we confess that no other Asian people have surprised and rewarded us like this one.
Isolated at the top of the world, between the 3.500 and 5.000 meters of the Tibetan Plateau, sheltered behind the record-setting Himalayas and other mountain ranges almost as high, for centuries, Tibetans remained safe from European colonization and cultural epidemics that would infect others stops on the Asian continent.
The beauty of her way of being was the first thing that caught our attention.
Without resorting to chains of clothing stores or the like, Tibetans produce and combine coats, tunics (showers) and pullovers of the most different materials, colors and cuts. Complement the clothes with exuberant hairstyles of their strong black hair.
Sometimes they wear hats or other artifacts that hide their often enigmatic or charismatic faces.
Indigenous peoples who speak more than a few local dialects or dare to try it are rare.
Despite living in an extreme and punishing place on the planet, Tibetans open the hearts and doors of their nation to those who feel they have arrived and are contemplating them for good.
Secure visitors with big, unconditional smiles, warm attempts to approach in their own language, and a proud response to almost every request from outsiders.
At least, that's what happened while it was practically just us to establish contact with them.
We do not guarantee that the same will happen when, at other times, the number of visitors eager for souvenirs increases.
The Dazzle of Tibetans by Photographs Taken by Foreigners
We thought that Indians liked to be photographed by Westerners. In Tibet, we discovered a photographic passion to match. Whoever we asked, the answer was almost always positive.
Before our cameras, which we always recognize as intimidating, the models from the plateau pose proud and graceful.
They look at us with their eyes almost closed but, even so, expressive and the large roses are thickened by hypoxia and the respective increase in red blood cells, by ultraviolet radiation and the strong daytime thermal amplitude.
Some of the natives present in Barkhor Square shared the desire for us to photograph them with friends or family. Several, had never seen or touched a camera.
It was with a mixture of surprise and fascination that we realized that, after photographing them, they struggled to remove from the screens, with their fingers, the images they yearned to examine.
Successive Turns of Faith to the Jokhang Monastery
While this strange gathering took place, next to the front façade of the Jokhang monastery, the religious bustle continued.
Some monks and many more unordained believers repeated Buddhist prostrations that were almost gymnast in nature. They opened them standing up, with their hands together in front of their faces.
Soon they knelt on the stone floor and, finally, they stretched their entire body on small mattresses, with the help of plastic plates that allowed them to slide their hands until their arms were fully extended.
The monastery of Jokhang is 25.000 m.2 of extension. We see thousands of faithful inspired by Tibetan Buddhist belief there fulfilling part of the Early, a ritual that makes them walk around the massive building with well-identified limits by four ovens placed in as many corners of the complex.
Some believers execute him walking. Others take on more serious challenges and prostrate themselves meter after meter. The next step of faith is a visit to the temple's main hall.
This hall houses the statue of Buddha Jowo Shakyamuni, the most revered object of Tibetan Buddhism, with strong presence also in neighboring Nepal.
It was during our own Early – amateur or tourist – that we detected serious disturbances to the harmonious Tibetan social and religious coexistence.
And the Chinese Profanation of Tibetan Life and Faith
Halfway through the walk, we noticed, on the roof of a building, two Chinese soldiers and two Chinese policemen, at least the military, protected with helmets and armed with machine guns.
In Barkhor Square, from time to time, small battalions passed through the crowd from top to bottom or from side to side, on routes obviously followed to impose presence, respect and fear.
Shortly afterwards, in front of the line formed by the faithful about to enter the Jokhang monastery, Chinese police officers beat a group of defenseless Tibetans with a baton, free of charge.
We had just arrived and our heads were still threatening to implode as we landed directly in the 3500 meters of Lhasa after taking off from the 500 meters of Chengdu, in the Chinese province of Sichuan.
Not even the painful altitude sickness prevented us from observing and feeling compassion and revolt for the destruction that the already long occupation of Beijing caused to one of the most unique and dazzling cultures to the face of the earth.
Effective Chinese control of Tibet extended from 1644 onwards, into China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing. In 1912, the Xinhai Republican Revolution dethroned this dynasty.
He offered the Dalai Lama the title that had been confiscated from him.
For the next 36 years, the 13th Dalai Lama and his successors, despite the territorial claims and annexations of neighbors such as British India and China's Kuomintang government, ruled an independent Tibet.
China's Awaited Annexation
In 1950, after the Civil War, the Communist People's Republic of China annexed Tibet and sought to negotiate the 17-Point Agreement with the newly installed 14th Dalai Lama, based on future Chinese sovereignty and a guarantee of Tibetan autonomy.
The Dalai Lama and his government repudiated the agreement. exiled in Dharamsala, in India.
Later, during the Great Leap in Front of Mao under the Cultural Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans were killed and many monasteries destroyed.
Since then, actions and protest campaigns, both Tibetan and foreign, have followed one another. Nothing deterred Beijing from chiseling the territory at will.
We move into the wide square that precedes the grandiose Potala Palace, former official residence of the Dalai Lama. We appreciate the statue of the two golden yaks that stands out.
We soon returned to Lobsang's company, also Jacob and Ryan, a Swede and an American who in the meantime had arrived in the company of the tour guide.
“Before, there was a beautiful meadow here, with a lake that froze every winter.
It was a delight for the kids who came here to play. But of course the Chinese had to blow it all up and fill this with their local Tianamen Square.
Now it's just stone and cement everywhere. Nothing of Nature, nor of soul."
Potala Palace, the Tibetan Monument of Impotence
We climb huge staircases side by side with Tibetan visitors and explore the Potala, without a doubt one of the most breathtaking Asian palaces, with its thirteen floors, more than a thousand rooms, ten thousand shrines and two hundred thousand statues.
We explore it hall after hall, including those most used by successive Dalai Lamas up to the self-imposed exile of the 14th.
We absorb and inhale Tibetan Buddhist spirituality from an unavoidable aroma of yak butter, long used to ensure lighting and heating in the huge building and throughout Tibet.
On the way out, Lobsang sums up in a much more dramatic outburst than before, his frustration and that of his fellow countrymen. “Tibetans are used to difficult lives.
We support Chinese characters that force us to put much larger than Tibetan characters in our stores.
We put up with their increasingly open stores instead of ours, the beatings and even the deaths of our family members.
The only thing we will never endure and hope to change is that disgusting flag flying from the top of our holy palace!”