Libmonster ID: U.S.-1274
Author(s) of the publication: E. Y. ZHUKOVA

A real journey, dear Amazon, 
 It starts before the floorboard creaks. 

I. Brodsky

Closed on all sides from the outside world by a wall of high mountains, Tibet is still a mysterious country. For most of its history, it has been inaccessible to foreigners, not only because of the difficult passes, but also because of the difficult political situation in this part of China. In addition, they were afraid that overseas visitors would bring with them wars and destruction, a decline in morals and epidemics... A few brave souls managed to get on the roof of the world, and they brought with them stories of strange rituals, legends about powerful magicians who can cause hurricanes and earthquakes, about courageous people living in their own closed world.

But time passes, and the situation changes. More and more scientists and diplomats, writers, artists and tourists visit this mountainous country. So we-a group of Moscow students of Oriental studies - were able to fulfill our long-standing dream.

Our journey began in one of the stuffy Beijing evenings at the Western Railway Station of the Chinese capital. This is where the Lhasa train departs. The guides went through the cars, checked the tickets, and at the same time asked all passengers to sign a certificate stating that they understand what surprises can be presented by climbing to an altitude of 3000 m and above, and that risk takers will be responsible for their own lives and health. I must say that Lhasa-far from the highest place in Tibet-is located at an altitude of 3600 m above sea level, and staying at such an altitude is sensitive even for a healthy person.

It was the morning of the second day, and we decided to pass it by by walking around the train cars. Interestingly, the train itself is heterogeneous in composition not only from a technical point of view: here and compartment cars, and reserved seats, and sitting, and passengers in it go very different. In the compartment cars, you will probably hear English, French, German and even Russian. Most likely, the Chinese will only be personal interpreters, personal guides and guides; passengers will be, with a few exceptions, tourists from Europe and the United States, who now come to Tibet in large numbers.

Outside the door leading to the reserved cars, only Chinese speech is heard. Exceptions are rare, and our small group of Russian adventurers turned out to be one of them. And the "Sinicization" of the language environment in a reserved car is explained by the fact that guests of the Middle Kingdom prefer to travel with the greatest comfort, and its residents do not consider it advisable to lock themselves in separate compartments, especially since this pleasure is much more expensive.

We bypass the last company of gamblers (how else can the Chinese, who are famous for their excitement, pass the time on the road, if not for playing cards?) and here for the first time we are faced with the fact that the door is locked. If you have already decided , we go to the end, ask the guide to open the door, and pass through. It immediately becomes clear that we have crossed another invisible border, because these few cars are no longer filled with Europeans or Chinese, but with Tibetans. The inhabitants of the roof of the world are noticeably different from the Chinese in appearance: they are slightly taller, their skin is very dark, and their long hair, which is worn by both men and women, is braided and decorated with bundles of colored threads and beads. Chinese, which sounds in the sitting cars, is diluted with the native language of Tibetans and becomes softer and more drawling. A significant number of Tibetans, especially young people, speak Chinese quite fluently and speak it as a second mother tongue.

There was still about a day to go, and the third day was particularly rich in impressions. The last part of the train route passes through the territory of Qinghai Province and the Tibet Autonomous Region, that is, already through the lands historically related to Tibet. The feeling of something completely new appeared already in the early morning, when instead of the usual city buildings, fields, hills and interspersed forests, we saw mountain peaks and valleys spread out in the foothills. We had started climbing the Tibetan Plateau during the night, and now we were climbing higher and higher by the minute. The pressure dropped, the air became more and more rarefied, and soon the oxygen supply systems began to rustle in the cars. In order to avoid fainting and severe headaches, it was recommended to spend this day in a horizontal position, which we actually did. "Where did the impressions come from, then?" - you may ask. The answer is simple: for the rest of the journey, all the most amazing things happened not in the train itself, but outside its windows.

The temperature, judging by the measuring instruments, did not fall below fifteen degrees Celsius, but outside the window constantly flashed islands of snow - that's the vicissitudes of altitude! Although it was not limited to islands alone: in the valleys it lay in waves,as if a huge cold sea had spread and frozen around it. Another hundred meters up, and now you can see the peaks crowned with snow caps. There were also mountains that looked like they were made of sugar, snow-white from the bottom to the top. Until our arrival, we couldn't tear ourselves away from

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a breathtaking view of rocks and rocks, snow and ice and a bright blue sky. In the evening, when the sun decided that there was more to see in other lands, we arrived in Lhasa.

The very name of the capital of Tibet literally means "Place of the gods". Well, the path to deity is always a thorny one. We felt this already at the train station. Recent passengers-locals, tourists, business travelers-began to trickle through the station doors in a small stream of people, behind which we were waiting for the first surprise - a solid line of armed men in uniform (after the uprising that took place in Tibet in 2008, the Chinese military is constantly present in all major cities and controls movement along the main roads). Local residents were allowed to pass without questions, some Chinese people had their documents checked, and they talked to their personal tour guides... The station was rapidly emptying. We also wanted to pass, but suddenly one of the soldiers stopped us, saying that without a guide, even if we had permission, we could not go out into the city. We were not allowed to return to the station building, and we were not allowed to go into the shade (the sun is noticeably hot at this height). Fortunately, our guide showed up pretty quickly, and soon we were literally put in the car with our backpacks and taken to the city.

Even before loading, there was the first opportunity to look around. The sight of Lhasa was like sparkling wine spattered on the mountainsides, and the association was not accidental, as the first day in the Tibetan capital was intoxicating. We quickly arrived at the hotel, left our things in the rooms and went for a walk around the evening city. So began a few hours of "free flight" around one of the most sacred cities in the world. What was the first thing that caught your eye? Personally, I like people. Along the way, we often passed monks in scarlet robes and ordinary citizens, many of whom were dressed in national costumes, and not for show, not for the sake of tourists. Everyday wearing of national clothing is considered common here. The main detail of the costume is a full-length robe, belted with a bright silk belt, usually worn only on the left shoulder, and the right sleeve is thrown back. The length varies depending on the gender of the wearer: male is shorter, female is longer. The predominant colors are dark blue, brown, and gray. Under the robe, a shirt or blouse that differs from it in color is worn, usually with a high collar. The color spread here is already much larger than that of dressing gowns. Women often complete the costume with colorful striped aprons.

Caught up in my observations, it took me a moment to notice that we were walking down a wide street centered on the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama's winter residence, a sacred place where daily crowds of pilgrims flock. At night and during the day, hundreds of people walk around the palace. Many metal drums with the words of sacred mantras stamped on them are placed in large numbers along the walls of the palace: they do not stop spinning for a minute. Many Tibetans carry miniature drums of the same type with them all the time. So, on our trek around the Potala, we were surrounded by the faint rasp of spinning drums, the rustle of beads being played, the whisper of many lips repeating sacred words, and the soft sound of metal hitting the paving stones. The presence of the last element of this sound palette is explained in this way: many pilgrims, walking around the palace, first fall to their knees every few steps, and then stretch out on the ground at full height, leaning on their palms. Those who decide to make more than one lap often get tin pads on their knees and palms.

After completing the lap of honor, we return to the hotel: before tomorrow we need to gain strength - we go to the mountains!

Our destination for the next few days will be Shigatse City and the monasteries located both in the city itself and in its surroundings. The way there is long - about eight hours of wandering in the highlands.

We left early in the morning. The road wound through mountain slopes, peaks, and precipices. Our first stop was at what our guide called one of the many "places of fortune" that Tibet abounds in. These are the places of confluence-many centuries ago-of Buddhism and the ancient Bon religion, from which the custom of building pyramids of stones remained. Tibetans erect makeshift altars made of stones and branches stuck in the ground, and leave offerings to the spirits of the mountains to enlist their support throughout the difficult journey. The most common gifts to spirits are colored ribbons that are tied to branches and stones, but sometimes they are presented with knives and bowls for aromatic oils.

From the hillock on which the altar was located, we descended to the swirling waters of the river. Before us in all its glory appeared the Brahmaputra, which a few hundred kilometers away connects with the legendary Ganges, forming a common delta with it.

The next stop is a high-altitude observation deck, another "place of luck", but with its own specifics. If the previous one was small, deserted and quiet, then the situation here is completely different. Monks saunter along the spacious stone terrace, occasionally tossing dried herbs into the blazing open stoves. Fragrant smoke spreads around, enveloping all visitors with the smells of thuja and juniper. I have already mentioned the ribbons that are gifts to spirits, but if in some places they are tied to dry branches of trees, then here colorful scraps are laid on the ground in a dense carpet. Even our guide left her own silk scarf as a gift to the spirits.

It would seem that it is time to continue our journey, but the main "point of the program" of this place is to turn away for a while from the motley human crowd and turn your gaze to the mountain peaks, whose ridge encircles the horizon, resembling the toothy mouth of a mythical dragon. If you look closely, you can distinguish in the distance a white fang that stands out from the rest and is dusted with snow. It is familiar to every student from the geography course-this is Mount Everest. Sad as it may seem, we will have to break away from this panorama, because other wonders, new peaks and depths await us, although now they are more spiritual than physical in nature.

We spent the next few days in the realm of gods and spirits, wandering through the high mountain monasteries of Shigatse, Giyanze, and Sagia. By the way, the time on the road was not wasted, because it is difficult to ignore but-

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your impressions are right where they are waiting for you at every turn. For example, on the way to the observation deck described above, I began to look at the dwellings of Tibetans. Now, on the way to Sagia, settlements were more frequent, and there were more opportunities to take a closer look. A traditional Tibetan house is usually a one-or two-story rectangular building with a distinctly protruding cornice, which is usually painted in black or blue. Both door and window openings have a rectangular shape, which is also customary to emphasize the protrusions of masonry or a colored pattern. At each of the four corners of the flat roof, you can see small square turrets, and it is customary to whitewash the walls of houses. Having already mentioned that it is customary to paint cornices and window openings in bright colors, I will add that many people hang a fringe of coarse yak wool along the edges of the cornices, and on the roofs of corner turrets you can often see horizontally stuck poles with ribbon garlands tied to them. The use of wool to decorate the exterior of buildings is explained by the fact that ordinary Tibetans are mainly engaged in agriculture, including sheep and yak breeding, and the latter are given an extremely important role. Yaks are used as pack animals, their milk is used to make cheese and butter, their meat is used for food, many different fabrics are made from wool, products from their bones, and yak manure is used as fuel and even building material. Therefore, it is not strange that fringes are made from the wool of these animals to decorate the house, and skulls are often hung over the door as a talisman.

The main treasure of Tibet is its monasteries. For all their diversity, they also have one thing in common - the atmosphere of continuous transmission of a certain spiritual principle from hoary antiquity to our days, from ancient ancestors to the hands of people living today. In temples and monasteries, a person who goes there does not leave the feeling of dozens of eyes watching him with distracted calmness. Dozens and hundreds of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, spirits and gods have been looking down on people from the walls of Tashlungbo and Par-kor for many hundreds of years. Hundreds of manuscripts are held with great reverence in the spacious halls of the Shigatse Temple. Once these sacred writings were brought here from India and translated into Tibetan. Now Indian scholars and clerics come to Tibet for these treatises, as many of them are irretrievably lost in their homeland. The Tibetan tradition has carefully preserved both the words frozen in many parchments and the faces of the Buddha that have remained in the centuries.

We have just visited the resting place of the first three lamas in Shigatse, and now we are on our way back to Lhasa. We return by a different route, and the views are completely different. Which of the pearls of Tibet will we see now? This time we are talking about a magnificent creation of nature - a series of sacred lakes: Yamdrok-tso, Nam-tso and Baksum-tso ("tso" means "lake"). Tibetans hold these lakes in such high esteem that they almost never take water from them, and there is no question of dumping anything into these waters. Each of the lakes has its own mythological property, and if one is believed to be inhabited by evil spirits, then the other gives health and good luck, while the rest may be inhabited by the spirits of the dead. Along the banks of the sacred lakes, small stone pyramids are lined up, which are formed from small pieces of rock by those who want to enlist the support of the forces that own the lake.

The morning sun glints across the sparse lake waves, and the afternoon finds us in Lhasa. Today we are going to the Potala Palace, which is not just located on a hill: the residential part, where the Dalai Lama once lived, is raised above the surface so much that in order to get to the entrance even to the lowest halls, you will have to spend extra strength on the climb. And it's not a matter of good or bad physical fitness as such, but in the rarefied air. Even after a few days of getting used to it, visitors to Tibet get tired quite quickly from the steep ascents. But the Potala is just the place to ignore fatigue, as your time inside should not exceed one and a half hours. This rule is due to the fact that the number of people who want to visit the palace is huge. And this is not only and not so much tourists as pilgrims, no less than others who want to walk through the halls where the Dalai Lama once thought and did his business.

The palace consists of red and white parts. In red, the Dalai Lama lived and spent short hours of rest, in white, he received ordinary visitors and foreign guests. Tourists are not allowed in the red rooms, out of nine hundred and ninety-nine, only a few dozen can be viewed, including prayer rooms with exquisite images of Buddhas, deities and Bodhisattvas made of wood and stone, embassy halls filled with gifts brought to the Dalai Lama from different lands, as well as tombs of previous Dalai Lamas made in the form of stupas.. At the moment, the fourteenth Dalai Lama is alive and well, whose portraits can be seen in every Tibetan house. The Potala Palace contains the bodies of all his predecessors, except the first, second, third and fifth Dalai Lamas.

The final stage of the tour is a rooftop walk. Its surface reminded me of concrete, and I asked the guide what kind of material it was and how it was made. Instead of answering, she pointed to a group of people with stone mallets in their hands: as it turned out, they were on their way to fix the roof. Soon they were divided into two teams, which were supposed to take turns repairing the crack that appeared a couple of days ago. The secret of making the material that interested me turned out to be this: a thin layer of crushed stone, slightly sprinkled with water, was poured onto the roof base, after which several dozen people got up to a strip of scattered stone and hammered it for long hours with heavy mallets until it turned into concrete. Moreover, these titanic efforts are not paid, but many are willing to work for free, and local monks are forbidden to even touch the money.

An hour and a half in the lama's chambers is coming to an end, and now we have a long descent ahead of us. After passing through a maze of stairs and passageways, we once again find ourselves on the streets of Lhasa. Our trip time is also running out. All you have to do is take your ticket out of your pocket and take the train from the land of gods and myths to the northern capital, where other spirits live.


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