Gasping for Air in Tibet: First day in Lhasa.
Once known as the 'Forbidden Kingdom', few people ever got to see Tibet, even before the 21st century. 4000 meters high, it's crazy inaccessible. And the truth is there's no place in the world quite like it.
Our first day in this 'Roof of the World', we took it easy, trying simply to acclimatise. There's 40% less oxygen in Lhasa, so even walking around the hotel send the heart running. And for some strange reason, the altitude kept us up all night, gave us a raging headache, and did away with our hunger. Maddening. And I thought growing up in Mexico City (2,300 m) would have made me immune to altitude sickness.
The next day, we headed to Drepung Monastery, the biggest monastery in all Tibet, and, at one point, the biggest monastery in the world.
Though it was heavily destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, it's still the size of a small city.
And very beautiful.
Not too many monks, sadly. Only a couple, but, as seems the norm with Buddhist monks, very friendly.
And, of course, the customary praying wheels in Tibet, for kora. Kora is a buddhist form of worship in which the faithful walk in circles around sacred sites, like monasteries, temples, and the Potala Palace.
Drepung is too massive to visit in a single morning, and it fades into beautiful white buildings in the distance, stretching down the mountainside.
On the way to the Norbulingka, we spotted out first yak (Tibet's emblem mountain animal)! Yaks can only be found in the Himalayas, and (supposedly) will die if taken to lower altitudes.
From then one we headed to Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's (former) Summer Palace (even mentioning the current Dalai Lama can get you in trouble).
The greenery and lakes were damaged during the invasion, and then once more during the Cultural Revolution, but have been rebuilt since.
It is an important site for Tibetans, since it was from here that the current Dalai Lama escaped to India. They come here on important occasions (in their traditional dress!)
The Norbulingka is beautiful, a true masterpiece of Tibetan architecture and artwork.