By Melsam Ojha
In September, I was on a trip to observe enchanting Lhasa city in China and also conduct cultural exchange on behalf of China Cultural Centre and Jyapu Society in Nepal. While proceeding from Gongkar Airport to Lhasa city in North, I was heartily welcomed by the fine misty rain and smiley zhang flower beside highways. On the way, due to overcast and curtains of surficial fog, I could barely observe few miles and my intense curiosity felt as if I was at magical event. I was fascinated with infrastructure development – tunnel highway and railway at hypoxic altitude are rainbows in clouds. The magnetizing statue of Tibetan dance erected beside the highway can be accounted towards the preservation of culture. Finally, after half an hour drive, I reached Lhasa – peacefully situated on the bank of holiest Lhasa river and Duilong river.
Early morning of the next day, as I removed the curtain, the best air quality flowing down from the snow capped mountain embraced me. After a while, the sunrays showered bath on those magnificent peaks and gradually awakened Lhasa city for new achievements. I rushed to the other delegate’s room to capture the views of southern mountain across the Lhasa River and found Princess Wencheng was indeed true. The mountains around Lhasa city can be compared to eight lotus petals. To get insight of popular places around Lhasa such as the Tibet Museum, Norbulinkha, Jhokang Monastery and Potala Palace were allocated for two separate days in our itinerary by the Cultural Association of Tibet Autonomous Region. These are also the major places of attractions for thousands of tourists across the globe.
Tibet Museum: Preserving Culture
My visit to Tibet Museum was focused mainly to get insight of Tibetan Opera but it is a knowledgeable source to Tibetan medicine, scripts and astronomy as well. Beside these, the utensils of local people and statues of Buddha are on display.
The legend behind Tibetan Opera was the fund raising cultural activities for construction of bridges on major rivers by a high-ranking monk Thangthong Gyalpo in cooperation of seven beautiful singers during 14th century. According to the interpreter, some local people still highly regard the seven singers as Goddesses whose portrays are also showcased. I was informed that eight different styles of Tibetan Opera are in practice. The masks with different colors are also one of the major attraction in the museum. On 27th joyful evening, I met several opera artists with such masks at Tibet Mass Art Gallery during cultural exchange event.
Norbulinkha : Man-made Treasure Park
While being on the glorious premise of our sister Bhrikuti, the grandest man-made treasure park could not be missed out. Its artistic aspects, the blend of local and inland architecture are highly admirable. Flocks of tourists had already approached as I reached the heritage after lunch while some families were rejoicing in park with delicious Tibetan snacks beneath the trees.
The newest palace, Dadan Mingjur Palace was built for the comfort of 14th Dalai Lama and is more magnificent than any other palace. About three hundred mural artworks that trace Tibetan history, the life story of consecutive kings are composed. It is one of the great cultural values and was listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2001. Norbu Linkha used to be a part of local administration office. Local people remember the renovation accomplished by Thupten Gongphel, a serf and gardener who later became administrator of Tibet Autonomous Region with his hard work.
Jhokhang Monastery : Respect for Goats
On the midday of 28th September, I moved towards the religious and business centre of Lhasa where wooden-built Jhokhang Monastery and Barkhor Street is situated. Thousands of Tibetan Buddhist prayers were at the site burning incense stick and herbal aroma were purifying visitor’s mind. I had a long time query regarding the statue of goats on the roof of monastery. The guide quenched my thirst with brief information that goats were utilized for the construction of monastery during the reign of Songtsang Gampo in 7th century and are highly admired. Inside the monastery, a sitting statue of 12th year Sakyamuni Buddha carried by Princess Wencheng from Changan is showcased. As I observed the statue of Bhrikuti, I was highly excited and paid respect from inner-core of our heart. Other delegates also bowed their head.
Nearby Jhokhang Monastery is the Barkhor street – an ancient and circular business complex where Nepalese merchants also traded. I circulated around the unique business street and observed prayer wheels, thankas, pasmina, beads along with modern technical items on sale. It was quite interesting to bargain despite the language barrier since calculator worked for me and shopkeepers. Some shopkeepers even pledged Buddha that he was honest and it would his last affordable price.
Potala Palace: Creative Works of Bygone Centuries
The eye-opening abode on top of the red hill is one of the architectural wonder for both materialistic and spiritual world. Its construction was initiated by Tsong sang Gampo and other Dalai Lama contributed for its enlargement. The colors of Potala Palace on the sunny morning of 28th September were glowing just like red and white roses in the vivacious garden. It’s striking red and white color represent palace for religious and secular works, respectively. For the resistance against earthquake, the outer layers of walls are made of soft white thatch – baima. I observed meeting halls, passed by tomb halls (all Dalai Lama’s except 6th) shrines, libraries, prayer rooms, monks’ dormitories and courtyards. In one of the hall, there were statues of SongTsang Gampo and his three queens on his right, including Princess Bhrikuti.
I was wondering about a splendid curtain hung on the southern wall of the palace. To my query, our tour-guide mentioned that it is made of yak fur which naturally contracts in winter and expands in summer. One another respectable view that I observed while passing from one hall to the other was an old Tibetan lady exchanging hundred Yuan note righteously. Furthermore, the bewildering subject for me was the creative works and minds in the construction of all those golden statues of the bygone centuries.
Cultural Exchange: Raising Understanding Level
In my opinion, one of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood. The Jyapu Society and the two Nepalese students at Confucius Institutes at Kathmandu University contributed towards friendship. Their outstanding performance despite the altitude sickness won the heart of the local people with grand applauses. The artistic dance by Tibetan performers in their costumes – loose and large flexible sleeves with shoes; fully decorated with golds, jade, corals approached and shuddered the stage. The opera presented with Tibetan masks were reflecting their various emotions and moods which I could understand as I had earlier acquired basic knowledge. Usually outdoor opera are performed indoor these days due to the technological advancement. The cheerful expressions of opera artists entertained me and other delegations with deep impression.
The melodious sound of zhanian that was instilled in my mind was propagating as I was gazing at Potala Palace while leaving sister’s premise. On the way back to the airport, Zhang flowers beside tidy highways were waving good bye to me and appealing for revisit. I wished them to flourish all over the plateaus to bring more prosperity in the life of Chinese people. The historic, cultural and religious monuments when preserved can be a touristic destination and economic source to propel people’s life towards prosperity. The dedication and preservation efforts of developmental leaders have attained people’s admiration, undoubtedly.
(Melsam Ojha is a commercial pilot and currently pursuing degree in political science. His various interests include travel and culture promotion)