Have you ever wondered what a proud and strong spirit looks like in the face of adversity? Travel to Tibet through my pictures and stories of these religious, devoted, compassionate, and giving people, and discover more about the people of Tibet.
PEOPLE OF TIBET – AN AMAZING PHOTOJOURNALISM OPPORTUNITY
The best definition I found to describe Tibetans is “people with a strong spirit”.
Throughout my travels, I have met many amazing people and cultures, but I’ve never before seen people that are so quick to smile and laugh like Tibetan people. The people of Tibet are the kindest and most genuine people I’ve met.
Despite the difficulties of living in one of the most repressed and closed societies in the world, I was met with smiles and a sense of welcome. If you have the chance to visit Tibet, you will clearly see signs of occupation on every corner. Yet Tibetans still maintain an easy smile and a peaceful spirit.
I strongly recommend to read next to the Truth Behind the Occupation in Tibet, and the reasons it made me write a compassion letter to Dalai Lama.
Historically, Tibet was an independent country, and legally, it has the right to be free.
Meeting some pilgrims in front of Potala Palace
PILGRIMAGE TO VISIT THE TEMPLES IN LHASA FOR PRAYERS
They came from all over Tibet to celebrate the New Year at the sacred sights.
There was a line of people waiting to enter the Jokhang Temple, money and yak butter in hand. People were milling around the square, taking cell phone pictures of their pilgrimage. Others were in a procession navigating around the temple grounds while praying.
Potala Palace was built in 1645 and it is the highest ancient place in the world, with the highest point reaching 12,300 feet (3,750 meters) above sea level, towering 300 feet (100 meters) above the city of Lhasa. Potala Palace is considered one of the wonders of the world.
The Potala Palace has stood for centuries as a testament to the Tibetan people and their beliefs. Thousands of pilgrims from around the world come every year to pay homage to this grand estate and the symbol it stands for.
Pilgrim praying in front of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa Man praying in front of Jokhang Temple Monks in front of the Jokhang Temple Family of pilgrims in front of Potala Palace in Lhasa
THE TRADITIONAL STYLE OF PEOPLE OF TIBET
It was obvious from the clothes that there were groups from very different regions. The colors, the hairstyles, the skin tones, the clothes…it was so amazing!
You can also notice that each community has it own traditional clothing for both, men and women and it is easy to distinguish the people from their clothing, which can be made of silk wool, cotton, and sheepskin.
Most Tibetans wear robes. Being a high altitude area, the traditional Tibetan clothes are thick, very warm and loose with a wide waist and long sleeves and shirts.
You can notice that some clothes have a space in the chest so they hold food and also, children.
When it is hot a layer of clothes can be taken off and tied on the waist to adjust the body temperature. At night they can also take one or two layers of clothes and it can be used as a sleeping bag.
THEY WERE AS CURIOUS ABOUT ME AS I WAS ABOUT THEM
Visiting the landmarks in Lhasa was fascinating, but my favorite part was wandering the streets of Lhasa watching, connecting with and photographing people.
As fascinated as I was about their culture and beauty, they were equally curious about me. Kids and adults, would stop and look at me and smile.
I would often hear a “Hello” from someone walking. When I responded, “Hello”, it was often greeted with giggles.
Most could not speak English, but even the kids knew “Hello”. Many times they would ask to take a photograph with me, or ask me to take a photo of them.
I don’t know if it was my long blonde hair, the way I dressed (bundled against the cold), or my fair skin that made me an attraction.
My husband was feeling like a superstar from the last superhero movie. A tall, blond and blue-eyed American guy walking around Lhasa is not very usual and it was so fascinating to just watch their smile and genuine behavior. Not only from the kids but also the adults who would look, smile and ask to take a picture with him. It never happened with us before.
WINTER IS THE BEST TIME TO MEET PEOPLE IN TIBET
Yes, I visited Tibet in January and it was cold. Really cold. Painfully cold!
It was cold to the point that I wanted to buy all the traditional clothes I saw because they looked so much warmer and cozier than my North Face triclimate jacket for snow weather, plus 5 additional layers of clothes I was wearing.
During New Year, Lhasa becomes filled with beautiful and colorful people wearing traditional handmade clothing and shoes. Despite the cold, my visit to Lhasa was amazing.
Since the land in Tibet is frozen and the farmers and nomads can’t do much farming they go on a pilgrimage to holy places like the temples and monasteries in Lhasa.
The people of Tibet come from everywhere, including very distant areas such as Kham and Amdo.
The best part of visiting Lhasa during the winter is that there are almost no tourists.
I enjoyed this so much and every day I wanted to join the pilgrims on their koras (spiritual walk) around the Jokhang Temple and just observe their beauty and devotion to Buddhism.
Mostly in winter, the days are very sunny, with an unbelievable blue sky and a few clouds.
Have I mentioned it is quite cold in the morning and evening already? But during the daytime the temperature is nice.
But if you want to visit Lhasa at another time of the year, that’s also fine. Lhasa is a great destination to visit all year round!
I definitely want to go back to explore more of the mountains and the villages outside Lhasa. The pictures my guide showed were stunning. But maybe it would be a good idea to go in another time of the year when it is slightly warmer. It is not even recommended to visit these remote areas during wintertime.
WHO ARE THE PEOPLE OF TIBET
The population of Tibet is estimated to be 6 million people.
They primarily speak Tibetan languages and Chinese. The population is composed of several different ethnic groups and features distinctive regional traditions and dress.
Many Tibetan’s lives are dedicated to religion and it is part of everyday life, from chanting mantras and prostrating in a local square to walking the ‘kora’ around a temple or sacred site.
Most Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism while a small percentage believe in Bon (the oldest spiritual tradition of Tibet).
A devotee prostrates themselves by laying face down and arms stretched forward.
They then stand up and walk forward to where their hands touched and prostrate themselves again. I saw all ages of people doing this (~8 years to 60+ years).
It is very common to see people turning prayer wheels, which hold scriptures or prayers inside.
Turning the prayer wheel is equivalent to reciting scriptures and it has become routine for Buddhists in Tibet.
Monks practicing Tibetan Buddhist debate
PEOPLE OF TIBET ARE VERY GIVING PEOPLE
Tibetans are very giving people and live out of compassion and detachment. The people that I saw visiting the sacred sights brought donations and offerings.
I saw people from all corners of Tibet. Most appeared to lead very simple lives in remote villages. They brought donations and offerings of what they had.
Many donated money by placing it at statues in the temples and monasteries and it was also very common for pilgrims to offer yak butter. Among yak butter’s many uses is for lamps in a temple or monastery. In fact, the scent of yak butter was pervasive in the sights that we visited.
The perception that I had was that these people were giving, not what they could afford to give, but what they wanted to give.
They were giving unconditionally for their faith and their desire for merit and progress on their path to enlightenment.
4 WAYS TO BE RESPECTFUL TO THE PEOPLE OF TIBET
- GO TO TIBET WITH AN OPEN MIND – Remember that you are a guest in an occupied country. Be respectful of the laws and rules that the government has imposed. Observe!
- ALMOST ALL THE TIBETANS ARE DEEPLY DEVOTED TO THE DALAI LAMA – The 14th Dalai Lama’s exile and treatment by the Chinese government are sources of grief and anger among many Tibetans. Images, literature and talk of the 14th Dalai Lama are prohibited. Respect this very sensitive topic and do not put Tibetans in danger by openly discussing it.
- WALK ON THE RIGHT DIRECTION – While you are visiting, the palace, monasteries, temples or walking Barkhor Street – clockwise.
- INTERACT WITH THEM – Tibetans are very friendly and as curious as we are about their culture, they are about us too. Share a meal with people of Tibet or a butter tea, they will be very happy about it. I also found Tibet to be the best place for people pictures. Make an eye contact, smile and ask for permission. The majority will smile back and allow a photograph, and showing them the photo you just took will make them happy.
THE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR I USED DURING MY TRIP TO TIBET
Here is a list of the photography gear I used during my trip to Tibet and I recommend:
- Canon 70D I have been shooting with this camera for a long time and I just love the quality of the photos and videos
- Canon 18-135mm lens is my favorite and my go-to lens for landscape, city and street photojournalism.
- Canon 70-300mm I use these lens when shooting from distance and I just love how sharp and stable and lightweight
- DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone takes great pictures, besides the amazing videos. It is not allowed to fly a drone in many places, therefore I only use it in a very few places that allows it.
- Samsung Galaxy 10 is the phone I use and also has an amazing camera for when you are far from your camera and still want to get great quality pictures.
- SanDisk 128GB Memory Card – If you are like me and take many pictures and do videos, remember to have an additional memory card. You will need some extra storage capacity and it is the best way to protect the images transferring from your camera.
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WHERE NEXT? My top picks to make your trip the best experience
Tibet Travel Guide
Guidebook to Tibet
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