We arrived in the Lhasa train station, weary after a long ride. But the air was fresh, the sky was a rich blue and the mountains around the city were magnificent. We met our Tibetan guide, headed to our hotel and we spent the evening relaxing and getting used to the altitude. Some of us strolled around the streets near our hotel and all of us turned in early. The next day we visited two of the most important sites for Tibetan Buddhism–Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace.
Jokhang Temple was within walking distance of our hotel and when we arrived we saw Tibetan pilgrims prostrating themselves in front of the temple’s entrance. Many of them travel from all over Tibet to see the ancient life-sized statue of the Buddha that’s inside the temple. We entered and smelled incense and the smell of yak-butter candles burning. The inside of the temple was dark and was full of murals, statues, shrines, and mandalas.
The Potala palace overlooks the entire city of Lhasa and was the home of the current Dalai Lama before he fled to India. It is a true palace that has hundreds of rooms and temples. Climbing the stairs up to the palace was difficult since we still hadn’t acclimated to the thin air. There was a lot of huffing and puffing and weary looks on people’s faces. But it was worth it since the temple is intriguiging and the view from the top was breath-taking (literally!).
After the palace, we had lunch at a local restaurant that was run by a group of Nepalese cooks. We sat on the rooftop of the cafe, enjoyed the sun and fresh air as well as curried vegetables and yak meat. Tibet is a wonderful place.
We spent the morning and early afternoon in Chengdu which is in Sichuan Province (home to tasty-spicy food). Then we left the hotel for the train station. We boarded a train that would take us from Sichuan all the way to Lhasa, Tibet. This is a 45 hour (that’s right, 45 hours) train trip that goes through Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai Provinces and then makes its way down through Tibet. We had sleeper cars with four of us assigned to a cabin, a set of bunk beds on each side of the cabin. At first the trip was fun but everyone got weary after the first day. We passed the time by talking, journaling, playing cards, and by doing a lot of sleeping. The train would briefly stop at stations in each province and everyone would rush out to buy food, jog, and get fresh air. We watched as the landscape transitioned from Sichuan’s farmlands, to Gansu’s high desert to Qinghai’s steppe and finally to Tibet’s mountainous high desert. All of these landscapes were breath-taking.
We arrived at the Lhasa train station in the late afternoon of our second day and headed for out hotel which is situated in Lhasa’s old town. We had dinner together and then everyone went off to get caught up with emails and phone calls home. Tomorrow we will explore the Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama.
We arrived at the base of the mountain in the mid-afternoon and took a winding trail up into the forest. At the base there was a good number of tourists and hawkers selling Buddhist wares (beads, icons, etc) but as we climbed higher the sounds changed from the sounds of the crowd to the sounds of nature with birds singing and water rushing over rocks. We stopped at the QinYin (“Pure Sound”) Pavilion and took some pictures of the rushing water and the pavilion that sat above it as well as the small monastery that stood behind it. We checked into the monastery and each got a simple but good room. Then, about half of the group decided to keep hiking up the mountain.
At first the hiking was easy as the path followed a river that flowed down from the mountain. We passed through a monkey preserve and saw macaques up in the trees and pestering hikers. Indeed, one of them jumped on Colton’s head! After the preserve the steps started to go straight up and, I mean, STRAIGHT UP. We hiked up to a small temple and kept hiking through thick forest stopping every now and then to catch breath and enjoy the vistas. The sun started to sink behind the mountain and we had been hiking for an hour and a half, so we decided to turn back.
On the way back we stopped at the “Hard Wok Cafe”, a small rustic cafe owned by a Chinese couple and situated on the mountainside. At first, we only ordered a round of local beer, but then we ordered cold noodles, tofu milk, fried bananas, and apple-honey crepes. From there we hustled down the mountain as it got dark. We made it back to the monastery, took showers, and relaxed.
The next morning we had a simple breakfast of rice porridge, hard-boiled eggs, and steamed buns and then hiked up to Wannian monastery where we saw throngs of Buddhists paying homage to Buddhist saints and Mount Emei’s patron saint, Puxian. Puxian was instrumental in spreading Buddhism from India into China and is depicted as riding an elephant with six tusks.
We hiked down from Wannian and headed to Le Shan to see the giant Buddha–the world’s largest–which is carved into a high river bank. We took pictures of it from boats on the river and then headed back to the dock.
Today we enjoy the city of Chengdu and tonight we take a very long train-ride into Tibet!!!!
Dali is a city nestled in the mountains of Yunnan Province which is situated in southwest China. We flew into Yunnan’s capital city–Kunming–and then jumped on a bus that took us on a long and bumpy ride through the countryside and up into the mountains. We arrived in Dali Old Town and saw the old city wall that still surrounds much of the city. From the wall you can see the North, South, East and West gates that have been standing since the Ming Dynasty. The Old Town is situated between mountains and Erhai lake and has a long and interesting history. Most importantly, the city is full of the Bai people, a Chinese ethnic minority group. The Bai are famous for handcrafted clothing and for tie-dye cloth that is colored with locally grown indigo. You can spot the Bai people since they tend to wear rich blue-colored clothing and white hats. On our second day in Dali we got to see a performance in which Bai performers enacted some traditional dances and a wedding ceremony. We also visited a Bai fishing village and were stunned to see them using trained cormorants to catch fish. In general, Dali has a great laid-back feel that is refreshing after being in a busy city like Shanghai. In addition, there are many cafes that serve western food and many of us were ready for a good ol’ western breakfast!
Shanghai's Skyline along the Huanpu River
Our first full day in China started off by walking through the busy streets of Shanghai, a city of 23 million people. The very first thing we noticed was the amount of Chinese people that stare, take pictures, and videotape our group of 20 Americans. We stick out like a sore thumb and everyone’s eyes are glued on us. We had to make our way through the Chenghuangmiao Market to get to the Yuyuan Gardens. Inside the Yuyuan Garden it was full of traditional Chinese architecture, statues of dragons, deer, and frogs, as well as many ponds with coy fish. The ponds had bridges to walk across and they were surrounded by rocks, trees, and flowers. The narrow walkways through the garden gave it a traditional feel. The garden was beautifully located in the heart of Shanghai’s busy streets. Once leaving the garden we walked around the marketplace for a while looking at all the trinkets and clothing the street shops had to offer. It was very busy which made it somewhat tricky to cover the entire market. Later on we went to an acrobatics show. The show was impressive and quite entertaining. Some highlights of the show were when there were 6 motorcycle riders inside a small circular cage weaving in and out of each other’s paths. There were many acrobatic skits and the performers contoured their bodies in ridiculous ways stacked on top of each other 20 feet in the air. The show was a great end to our first full day in China.
We jumped on a plane in Detroit and flew for 13 hours to Shanghai, flying up over Canada andRussia and down through Mongolia and Northern China. We passed the time by watching movies, sleeping, and chatting. Once we landed in Shanghai we met our tourguide–Jack–and were off to have dinner. On the way, Jack told us about Shanghai and pointed out landmarks as our bus navigated through traffic on newly-built expressways. He told us that Shanghai has a population of 23 million people, close to the population of Australia! We checked into our hotel, exchanged some money, and sent emails home. Facebook is banned by the Chinese government, so it looks like there won’t be any status updates for a while…
After checking in, some of us crashed while others went on a short walk around the neighborhood in which our hotel is located. We peeked in on small, late-night eateries, cafes, and got a sense of the buzzing city that Shanghai will be in the morning.
Today we’ll see YuYuan Gardens, Chenghuangmiao market, the Bundt and will finish out the day with an acrobatics show. More details to come!!!!
The JBIP study tours will be leaving soon after graduation this year. Watch here for updates on the adventures of the QU group heading over to China and Tibet.
We are at our final destination, Beijing. I am sad the trip is almost over, it has been a WONDERFUL experience. Probably one of the best trips of my life. Beijing is a huge city and there is definitely a lot to do here. I can’t see much difference from Beijing to any other big city. It is crazy to experience such different extremes coming from Kunming where we encountered so much poverty and primitive habits to this urban jungle. Personally, I love big cities, so I am a having a blast here.
My favorite part of Beijing was definitely the Great Wall. It was so surreal to be there, I’ve been looking forward to seeing it for a long time. There are no words to describe and pictures cannot do justice to how pretty, grandiose, and peaceful the view is from there. Some of the girls and I got to ride on the cable cart that Bill Clinton rode back in 1988! We felt pretty special.
I also loved the “Birds Nest” and the “Water Cube” at the Olympic Village. The architecture of these venues was very impressive and unique. The track in the “Birds Nest” was covered, but still some of us ran around it. After the Olympic venues we got to go for a Peking duck lunch, that was delicious. The food here in Beijing was definitely my favorite, plus it is where you can find all kinds of exotic foods. In the past couple days I got to add scorpion, chicken hearts, and sting ray to my list of wild delicacies I’ve tried.
Well, there is a lot more to tell but we are about to get in the Airplane on the way home. China will be missed, a lot. JBIP office thank you so much for putting this together, and parents thank you for “sponsoring” us, we had the time of our lives! See you soon.
Hanging out with the Terracotta soldiers
This city was the original capital of China when it was initially unified under the First Emperor. It was considered a desirable location surrounded by a combination of rivers, mountains and plateau. This first emperor named Qin Shi Huang is famous for building the terracotta warrior army to serve him in the afterlife. The sight of these hundreds of terracotta figures is amazing. The museum contains three separate excavation pits and we were able to see the infantry, the headquarters with horses and charioteers, and a third chamber where archers and weapons were discovered. This site was the favorite of many of the students and it is difficult to fathom how many of these figures still lie buried under the earth.
After visiting the terracotta warriors, we saw some major landmarks of this ancient city including the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the ancient city walls. We rented bicycles and rode along the stone walls which was a refresher for some students who said they had not ridden a bicycle in years. Our afternoon ended with a visit to a local spa. Students were treated to a variety of luxurious treatments including exfoliation, sauna, hot tubs and soaking in baths of milk or wine! We also experienced a Tang Cultural Show in Xi’an which included gorgeous dancing with long scarves and silks. There were a variety of ancient musical instruments played and the male performers also demonstrated some acrobatics and sword play.
Our time in Xi’an ended with a sampling of various delicious dumplings which have been developed into an art here including dumplings in the shape of different animals. After dinner, we headed to our overnight sleeper train to Beijing. The students enjoyed this experience and hopped around to different compartments and the dining car while we traveled to Beijing.
The next day was a travel day filled with some incredible sites. We first travelled to Leshan-a city which sits on a wide river and is home to the largest Buddha statue in the world. According to legend, a powerful ruler came to Leshan and thought that the city needed protection from its demons. He decided to build a large statue of Buddha to protect all of the city inhabitants. It is an amazing site and we were able to descend a stairway along the side of the statue to fully appreciate its incredible size. One interesting thing about the statue is that the Chinese are superstitious about taking pictures of themselves “touching” different parts of the statue’s face. The goal is to manipulate where you are standing and hold out your arm so that in the photo it looks like you are actually touching the statue in a specific place. For example, touching the eyebrow means you will have a happy family while touching the forehead means you will have no worries in your life. The students had fun arranging their photos to touch the special parts of the Buddha’s face. While at the site, many of the Chinese tourists were very excited to see our large group and many asked to take photos with us.
After lunch, the group headed to Mt. Emei which is considered one of the most beautiful mountains in China. The reputation is well deserved! This lush tree-covered mountain is home to a variety of temples, monasteries and macaque monkeys. It was a combined bus trip, cable car ride and hike to reach the beautiful Wannian monastery. We relaxed in this tranquil place and enjoyed the incredible mountain air. The students enjoyed playing badmitton and ping-pong with the monks. After a restful evening, we hiked down the mountain. A group took a side hike to visit the monkey pavilion. Although we were warned by our guide that the monkeys would try to steal food off of our backpacks, we were not prepared for the incredible creativity of our monkey hosts. One monkey went into a velcro pant pocket to steal the eye-drops and chapstick of Professor Koplas and another took a Pepsi can from a student’s backpack. Apparently, all of the items were delicious as the empty containers were found while leaving the habitat. After leaving Mt. Emei, we took a flight to reach the ancient city of Xi’an.