In the early hours of a cold and frosty morning on 3rd January 2005 my mother Margery died. I had returned from India and Nepal with my friendship with Mick and Simon still intact, and fate intervened in the format of two books. The first was a gift by an old friend, a 1954 edition of Seven years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer. This was avidly read and followed by To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron. I later saw Colin Thubron at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival in April 2011.
At the festival a member of the audience asked " Did you find your journey to Kailash a spiritual encounter". To my surprise Colin replied with a single word "NO" ......Mick would have been proud. I asked Mick the same question on his return from Ayres Rock in Australia and his Thubron reply "it was big and hot".
Now there is nothing else to add to that statement, you have travelled 5,000 miles walked the Kora at 17,000 feet around one of the holiest sights, Mt Kailash, a mountain revered by a fifth of the world population and you felt nothing. Driving back from Oxford I felt deflated, I read his book again, maybe he has been asked this question hundreds of times before, and he thought, I know lets surprise them with a NO.
So what better way to emulate the spirit within both books than to journey, in remembrance, to Tibet and Mt Kailash on my 57th birthday. And my training for my 53km walk around Kailash, in the tradition of Colin Thubron .........NOTHING.
My preparation to visit one of the cruellest environments on earth, books, I devoured all I could, to understand this community, totally isolated from all outside influences. A people denied everyday materials , such as wood, which most other societies take for granted. A climate, one of the harshest known to man, you can suffer from frostbite and sunburn simultaneously in Tibet. Adjustments over thousands of years to high altitude living means that Tibetans feel unwell if they descend to the plains of China or India. Conversely, Chinese aircrews flying into Lhasa are not allowed to stop overnight lest it affects their health.
Until the Chinese invasion, their spartan way of life had hardly changed since the Middle ages. They had no electricity, no wireless, no clocks or watches, no sewing machines, no cars or bicycles. Apart from a few individuals of noble families, most Tibetans had no idea of the outside world. Tibet was a land where time stood still, its people had not yet lost their innocence. This was its allure.
So on Saturday the 3rd September 2011, this solo traveller set off from London Heathrow, bound for New Delhi, and then onto Kathmandu, to collect my visa to gain entry into Tibet. I will not bore you with details, only to say that as I sat in The Kathmandu guest house lobby on Sunday evening waiting for my courier he was late, his duty, to extort money from me, take my passport and visa, get it stamped and passed by the Chinese embassy, and return it to me within 24 hours. Where was he?, no message, nothing, I emailed my contact in Lhasa ..........April yes thats her name. Her reply "my courier had been delayed and he would be with me on Monday", my flight was on Wednesday morning.
Monday 5th September 2011 A young lad who had arrived on a scooter, dismounted and walked through the hotel reception towards me, this spotty youth was my courier. To hand money and your passport to a complete stranger is a big act of faith. In broken english he promised faithfully that he would be back at 5pm. So breakfast in the Pilgrim book shop and a rickshaw ride with my cheeky chap with the toy horn that sounded like a strangled duck, then back to the hotel and an anxious wait for my courier.
5.20pm still no sign of my spotty driver. Im now worried, but my beer and the company of two Australian women passes the time. They had just arrived and were embarking on my trek of last year - the staircase to hell. Their trek was to start in the morning and they had been told the it was a gentle walk up to 1000 feet. So when I showed them my photographs of the trek starting at 1000 feet and ending some five - six hours later at 3000 feet they were horrified. To ease their fears I laughed it off and said it was worth it. The reality was I had embarked on a three day trek ill prepared and after the first day my body ached all over, but yes it was worth it to see the sun setting over the Himalayas and rise through the mist in the morning. Then they would travel to India and visit all the sites I travelled to last year.
I looked at these two middle aged ladies, obviously good school friends, and I wondered how they would feel after being in each others company for four weeks. India to me was and still is a glory hole of filth, sounds and smells. But above all its the sights colours and smiles of its people. They would love it or hate it.
And of their relationship they would still love or hate each other.
Kathmandu is a smaller version of India, there is pollution, poverty but the Nepalese are gentle and kind. And the day ended on a high, my heroic spotty driver had arrived, three hours late, but with my passport and visa, my journey to Tibet could commence.
Tuesday 6th September My last day in Kathmandu, so it an early start, with my rickshaw driver.
We made our way over to the Swayambhu Stupa known as the Monkey temple. The 7km journey was noteworthy, its not a pretty sight seeing an Englishman, along with his driver, both pushing his rickshaw, both puffing and panting. The 300 steps leading up to the Stupa was a challenge but it was worth it to look out over the valley shrouded in pollution.
On the way back into Thamel we passed the local children on their way to school. Im constantly amazed how well behaved and dressed they are, all smiling and waving and at every greeting the strangled duck horn was sounded. And as we passed any Buddhist monk my driver recited a small chant. Obviously praying that he will make it back. As we arrived in the hotel I asked my driver how much do I owe you? Yes I know that I should have bartered before setting off but his reply a big smile, the shrug of this shoulders and "Pay me what you think" Money exchanged there were hugs all round. It was worth it just to hear his duck horn and the opportunity to push your own rickshaw up every hill.
Finally in Tibet - Lhasa the forbidden city
When travelling to Tibet you have to be linked with a tour operator my guide was Sefan a 26 year old Tibetan and my two fellow travellers Bebe, and Philip.
Wednesday 7th September 2011 - Lhasa and its airport stand as the world highest capital. They are located at an elevation of 11,710 feet, and those with raised blood pressure are advised to stay elsewhere. Built in 2004 it is all new and shinning, in fact its enormous and empty. I met Setan as arranged, Bebe and Philip were both arriving by train. In our new 4 x 4 we set off along the newly constructed motorway, a 60km ride towards Lhasa station, past golden fields of barley in full harvest mode. The railway running parallel with the motorway was under construction.
Our arrival at the station was a shock, again huge and empty with granite paved carparks and numerous offices under construction. Philip arrived first, he was stocky, 5 foot 6 inches with a deep voice, 61 years old, ex accountant, now lecturing English in China and married to a Chinese woman, Cindy. We waited for a further two hours for our final companion Bebe at 78 years of age an American, a Buddhist, 6 foot tall and thin, very thin. A man who started out in the American submarine corp and later became an Architect, now an expat living in Thailand with his wife and family.
Our rooms twin beds, painted walls with vinyl flooring and a traditional painted timber ceiling, I was sharing a room with Philip. Now, have you ever tried to sleep at altitude, its difficult because you wake up through the night suddenly gasping for air, now add to that Philip who snores so loud its like a train coming out of a tunnel, that was my evening. Sleep was impossible, I had my headphones on, a woollen hat pulled down over my ears, a pillow over my head and still I could hear him. I managed two hour broken sleep. Oh joy, this did not bode well.
On our first day we three novice tourists were escorted around Sera Monastery once home to 2000 monks, their numbers had diminished to 200. During our two hours of wandering from room to room a sadness fell on me. This was not a monastery but a museum, where the monks were its prize exhibits. Not a place of worship, but a money making venture, with security cameras on the corner of every building ensuring that everyone performed their role.
Have you met Big Brother?
Our journey into the heart of Lhasa was completed, by lunch in a rooftop restaurant overlooking Jokhang Plaza. On the adjacent rooftops sat two armed Chinese troops complete with parasols, mounted machine guns and video cameras. As we wandered around the streets forming the kora around the Jokhand temple, the irony of the obelisks in front of the Jokhand became apparent. Built in 823 by King Relpachen to commemorate the peace treaty signed with Tang China, they were now witnessing 150,000 armed Chinese troops marching around Lhasa equipped with the latest in semi automatic guns and the new addition of a fire extinguisher, to quell out any flames of resistance. Pun intended. To extinguish the act of self immolation.
Three weeks earlier, Tsewang Norbu a 29 year old Tibetan monk had drank petrol then proceeded to douse himself before setting himself alight, calling for freedom and the return of the Delhi Lama to Tibet. A personal graphic demonstration against the presence of troops in occupied Tibet.
Out of a population of seven million Tibetans it is estimated that nearly 20% have been murdered by the CCP.
This was the beginning of Tibetan self immolations, that has continued to date, currently totalling 150 plus desperate souls seeking to highlight Tibet's plight. Tibetan self immolations were reported by the media up to 2013, and then, silence. Why the silence? Fear that reporting it would encourage others to follow, yet we are constantly informed of terrorists armed with bomb vests, or is it fear, the power of the Yuan ?
To understand Tibet and its occupation I would urge you to read Fire under the Snow - a testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner by Palden Gyatso. In the words of Bernard Levin of the Times "This is a book with glory and filth, innocence and murder, wisdom and madness, and at this moment the filth, murder and madness are taking over"
In this book Palden Gyatso relates his fascinating story of his life, as a Tibetan monk and his 33 years in a hellish Chinese Communist prison, where he was, starved, subjected to horrific tortures, leading to irreversible physical damage and barbaric reeducation classes.
Born in the Tibetan village of Panam in 1933 he entered the Gadong monastery at the age of ten, and during the Chinese invasion of Tibet he was fully ordained as a monk.
Arrested by the Chinese, along with thousands of monks and nuns, during his hellish incarceration from 1959 to 1992, he saw the destruction by the Chinese Communists of the Tibetan people and their culture and religion.
Monasteries were destroyed, books burned and thousands of Tibetans arrested and executed by the Commuinist Chinese determined to destroy everything of Tibetan identity and culture, and replace it with Chinese Communism.
Of the group of monks Palden was ordained with he was the only one that survived.
Palden describes the barbarous "struggle sessions" in which thousands were murdered or beaten to death, the Chinese propaganda that turned reality inside out, claming they were "freeing"' the Tibetan people from "Feudalism" and forcing them to abandon " the four olds "- their culture, customs, habits and thoughts.
On a brief leave, during 1983, shortly before being re arrested, Palden describes the sight of thousands of Tibetan children starving to death as a result of the famine deliberately created by the Chinese to subjugate the Tibetan people,
Many children from the wrong "class backgrounds" were deliberately starved to death by the Communist authorities.
Thousands of arrested nuns were stripped, humiliated and often raped.
Fire under the Snow - "It is hard to sit and watch someone you know in the moments before their death. I heard my name being read out by an officer on the podium. I was ordered to come to the front and face the prisoners kneeling motionless, awaiting execution. One of them was grabbed by the hair, face pulled up to mine. She was an old woman, deep wrinkled and toothless. Her face was swollen and bruised. She could hardly breath. Even today the memory of her makes me shiver.
She was Kundaling Kusang la. Kindling came from one of the great aristocratic families in Tibet.
We stared at each other. Her eyes were red and misty and something in her face seemed to be asking for my prayers. The prisoners were forced to kneel at the edge of the trench. They were shot by a firing squad. Fifteen people were shot that day. Their families would be informed of the execution by means of an invoice on which such expenses as the number of bullets fired and the length of jute rope used to bind the prisoner were itemised."
After his release in 1992, Palden went into exile and swore to bear testament to the crimes of Communist China against the Tibetan people. I later met Palden Gyatso at the London Free Tibet 50th Aniv rally in March 2009, On that cold English morning Palden was still proudly waving the banned Tibetan flag.
And in Lhasa September 2011, in our small way we were witnessing the continuing devastation of a nation. George Orwells 1984 was being acted out for the world to witness, and the world response, was, and still is to turn away, in shame.
Buddhism first reached Tibet in the middle of the seventh century, a thousand years after its founders death, and bough about a remarkable change in the Tibetan people. Until their conversion to Buddhism Tibetans had been a warlike race, with Imperialist ambitions who represented a perpetual threat to their neighbours, particularly the Chinese. For a period they ruled Chang'an, China's ancient capital, and virtually the whole of Kansu, much of Szechuan and Northern Yunnan, as well as upper Burma and Nepal. But following their conversion to Buddhism, with its gentle message of submission, the once dreaded reputation of the Tibetans began to decline until finally in the tenth century the empire collapsed and they withdrew behind their mountainous ramparts and their isolation began.
Buddhism arrived via North India. The debased northern Indian school. This debasement was due to an infusion of Tantrism, an animistic creed which embraced magic, witchcraft and spells. In Tibet the new religion immediately found itself in violet conflict with the old Bon faith and its devotees. The Bon faith practised an even more primitive kind of animism, indulging in human sacrifice, cannibalism, and sexual orgies. Originally banned Buddhism gradually prevailed, and borrowed freely from the Bon pantheons well as from other religions including Nestorian Christianity, which has reached central Asia. In its final form, the Buddhism of Tibet - or Lamaism, as it is sometimes called - would scarcely have been recognised by its founder.
Lamaism is so named after its priestly upholders, the lamas, or superior ones, ruled by a religious hierarchy headed by the Dalai Lama. The first Tibetan monastery is said to have been built in 775. For every Tibetan family was expected to provide one child for the monastery. It was a custom which their Chinese neighbours - and at times overlords - were to encourage. More monks meant fewer soldiers. Oh how times have changed.
The first Dalai Lama dates back to the fifteenth century, he was the leader of a sect called the Yellow Hats of Tibetan Buddhism which with powerful Mongol support, gradually supplanted the rival Red Ghat sect as the dominant power in Tibet. Until the 16th century the country had been ruled by a dynasty of kings supported by the Red Hats. Nominally the kings continued to rule but gradually temporal as well as religious power passed to the Dalai Lamas. By the middle of the 17th century this transfer of power was complete
How were the Tibetan people converted to Buddhism? And who did the converting?
Tibetan historians always say that the conversion happened during Tibet’s imperial period and Tibetans were converted to Buddhism when Songtsen Gampo set down the new royal laws based on the ten virtues of Buddhism. Other histories consider the real conversion to have been carried out a century later by the trio of Trisong Detsen (the emperor), Śāntarakṣita (the monk) and Padmasambhava (the tantric adept).
The second edict of Trisong Detsen, the Emperor, (dated to 779 by Hugh Richardson) records the way in which Buddhism was made the state religion of Tibet. Looking very much like the official minutes of a meeting, it describes various discussion during which the court deliberated on how to establish Buddhism in Tibet, beginning with Trisong Detsen’s own account of how he was converted to Buddhism and wanted to spread Buddhism in Tibet. The Emperor had some harsh things to say about the old religion:
At that time it was declared that those who followed the old Tibetan religion were getting everything wrong…
Among the old practices he disapproved of were, painting your body red, casting spells on the government, and causing diseases and famine. Later the tsenpo convened another meeting, this time with lords from all over the Tibetan empire:
The minor princes under our dominion such as the Azha ruler, and the outer and inner ministers were consulted and a council was held. Together they considered in brief these things, first that trust should be put in the word of the Buddha; secondly that the example of the ancestors should be followed; and thirdly that help should be given by the power of the teachers of virtue.
So at this meeting everyone agreed to an empire-wide project establishing Buddhism, with a caveat that the traditional ways of the ancestors should be followed as well.
Further to that, a council was held about how the right path should not be changed, and how it could be increased. Thus an excellent summary of the dharma was made
In the early years of the 9th century, the reign of Senile, one of his edicts was preserved on the Karchung pillar, which survived almost undamaged right through to the Cultural Revolution, when it was smashed to pieces. This pillar edict is concerned with the appointment of senior Buddhist teachers to lead the religion in Tibet. It says:
But from the time when the tsenpo and his descendents are young until the time when they become rulers of the kingdom and thereafter, teachers of virtue shall be appointed from among the monks. By teaching religion as much as can be absorbed into the mind, the gate of liberation for the whole of Tibet, through the learning and practice of the dharma, shall not be closed.
Note here the apparently inclusive statement that “the whole of Tibet” will have access to the “gate of liberation.” This egalitarian sentiment is made even more clear further down the pillar:
And when for the Tibetan subjects from the nobles downwards, the gate leading to liberation is never obstructed and the faithful have been led towards liberation, from those among them who are capable there shall always be appointed abbots to carry on the teachings of the Buddha.
It seems clear enough that the phrase “from the nobles downwards” must include every Tibetan subject, however lowly.
The Potala Palace & the Dalai Lama's
The Potala Palace once the worlds largest building is the iconic image of Tibet. The interior of the 13- storeyed Palace is 130,000 sq m. The building is 118 m high and 350m square with 1000 rooms and housing 200,000 images.
Little remains of the original 11 storied Palace, built in 637 it was destroyed by lightning. When Lhasa was reinstated as the capital of Tibet in the 17th century, after a period of 900 years, during which the seat of government had been successively at Sakya, Testing, Rinpung and Zhigatse, one of the first acts to be carried out by the 5th Dalai Lama was the reconstruction of the Palace.
The 5th Dalai Lama preserved the original foundations of the 7th century edifice and had the White Palace built between 1645 and 1653. 7000 workers and 1500 artisans ere employed. The central upper part, known as the Red Palace was constructed between 1690 and 1693, its interior completed in 1697, however the 5th Dalai Lama died in 1682 and his death was concealed by the Regent until 1694. Work on the funerary chapel was carried out over two years completing in 1694 at a cost of 2.1 million taels of silver, a tael was equivalent to 1.3 ounces of silver. - 76 ton of silver.
From as early as the eleventh century the palace was called Potala. This name probably derives from Mt. Potala, the mythological mountain abode of the Bodhisattva Chenresi (Avilokiteshvara / Kuan Yin) in southern India. The Emperor Songtsen Gampo had been regarded as an incarnation of Chenresi. Given that he founded the Potala, it seems likely that the hilltop palace of Lhasa took on the name of the Indian sacred mountain. Fulfilling numerous functions, the Potala was first and foremost the residence of the Dalai Lama and his large staff. In addition, it was the seat of Tibetan government, where all ceremonies of state were held; it housed a school for religious training of monks and administrators; and it was one of Tibet's major pilgrimage destinations because of the tombs of past Dalai Lamas. Within the White Palace are two small chapels, the Phakpa Lhakhang and the Chogyal Drubphuk; dating from the seventh century, these chapels are the oldest surviving structures on the hill and also the most sacred.
The palace also houses numerous works of art. These include statues of the Buddha, antiques, as well as murals. The last of these, which decorate the walls of Potala Palace, depict important events in the history of Tibet, as well as stories from the lives of the previous Dalai Lamas. Finally, the sacred nature of Potala Palace is further enhanced by the fact that it is the burial place of previous Dalai Lamas. The mausoleums of eight previous Dalai Lamas are located in the Red Palace. The mummified body of the Fifth Dalai Lama, is enshrined in a stupa (a dome shaped structure) in the western part of the Red Palace. This stupa is 5 stories high, covered with 4 tonnes of gold, and encrusted with a large amount of semi-precious stones.
The 5th Dalai Lama created an institution which some of his successors had cause to rue. This was the office of Panchen Lama which he bestowed as a gesture of veneration upon his aged and revered teacher, the abbot of Tashilhunpo monastery near Shigatse. Tibets second largest town.
Tibetans believe that both the Dalai and Panchen Lamas are reincarnations of different aspects of the Buddha. The Panchen being concerned exclusively with spiritual matters, while the Dalai is additionally entrusted with the nations sovereignty. So long as the Panchen Lamas confined themselves to spiritual affairs, leaving all temporal matters to the Dalai Lama , no problem arose, but this did not always prove the case
Until the age of eighteen, the young Dalai Lama's temporal responsibilities were carried out by a Regent. Some of these were clearly reluctant to relinquish their powers, for a large number of young Dalai Lama's died before reaching eighteen. During a period of a hundred and twenty five years, five successive Dalai Lama's ruled for a total of only seven years. Nor were all Dalai Lama's models of saintliness. The sixth, who was enthroned in 1697, showed little interest in his spiritual development, preferring to indulge in sexual adventures, drunkenness and writing erotic poetry.
In 1922 the 13th Dalai Lama renovated many chapels and assembly halls in the White Palace and added two stories to the Red Palace.
During the 1960s and 70s, approximately 6,000 Tibetan religious structures fell victim to the fanatical Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Many were bombed and torn down.
Generations of Chinese have been taught that the Tibetan people are grateful to China for having liberated them from “feudalism and serfdom,
It was Mao’s goal from the moment he came to power. Tibet “is strategically located,” he said in January 1950, “and we must occupy it and transform it into a people’s democracy.”
He started by sending troops to invade Tibet at Chamdo in October 1950, forcing the Tibetans to sign the 17-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, which ceded Tibetan sovereignty to China. Next, the People’s Liberation Army marched into Lhasa in 1951, at the same time — in disregard of the Chinese promise in the agreement to leave the Tibetan sociopolitical system intact — smuggling an underground Communist Party cell into the city to build a party presence in Tibet. Meanwhile, Mao was preparing his military and awaiting the right moment to strike. “Our time has come,” he declared in March 1959, seizing on the demonstrations in Lhasa. After conquering the city, China dissolved the Tibetan government and — under the slogan of “simultaneous battle and reform” — imposed the full Communist program throughout Tibet, culminating in the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1965.
Mao had new weapons at his disposal, these included ten Tupolev TU-4 bombers, which Stalin had given to Mao in 1953. Mao tested them in airstrikes at three Tibetan monasteries in Sichuan, starting with Jamchen Choekhor Ling, in Lithang. On March 29, 1956, while thousands of Chinese troops fought Tibetans at the monastery, two of the new planes were deployed. The Tibetans saw giant “birds” approach and drop some strange objects, but they had no word for airplane, or for bomb. According to Chinese records, more than 2,000 Tibetans were “annihilated” in the battle, including civilians who had sought refuge in the monastery.
Mao used his most seasoned troops in Tibet. Gen. Ding Sheng and his 54th Army, veterans of the Korean War, who had gained experience suppressing minority uprisings in Qinghai and Gansu in 1958 before heading to Tibet in 1959.
On the morning of 10th March 1959, when thousands of Tibetans rallied around the Dalai Lama’s Norbulingka palace to prevent him from leaving. He had accepted an invitation to a theatrical performance at the People’s Liberation Army headquarters, but rumors that the Chinese were planning to abduct him set off general panic. Even after he canceled his excursion to mollify the demonstrators, they refused to leave and insisted on staying to guard his palace. The demonstrations included a strong outcry against Chinese rule, and China promptly labeled them an “armed insurrection,” warranting military action. About a week after the turmoil began, the Dalai Lama secretly escaped, and on March 20, Chinese troops began a concerted assault on Lhasa. After taking over the city in a matter of days, inflicting heavy casualties and damaging heritage sites, they moved quickly to consolidate control over all Tibet.
The Dalai Lama had fled hoping to prevent a massacre. He thought the crowds around his palace would disperse once he left, robbing the Chinese of a pretext to attack. In fact, not even his departure could have prevented the blood bath that ensued, because Mao had already mobilized his troops for a “final showdown” in Tibet.The new weapons included 10 Tupolev TU-4 bombers, which Stalin gave Mao in 1953. Mao tested them in airstrikes at three Tibetan monasteries in Sichuan, starting with Jamchen Choekhor Ling, in Lithang. On March 29, 1956, while thousands of Chinese troops fought Tibetans at the monastery, two of the new planes were deployed. The Tibetans saw giant “birds” approach and drop some strange objects, but they had no word for airplane, or for bomb. According to Chinese records, more than 2,000 Tibetans were “annihilated” in the battle, including civilians who had sought refuge in the monastery.
When the Dalai Lama left, he didn’t plan to go as far as India. He hoped to return to Lhasa after negotiating peace with the Chinese from the safety of the Tibetan hinterlands. But once he heard about the destruction in Lhasa — several days into his journey — he realized that plan was no longer feasible.
Accounts of massacres, tortures and killings, bombardment of monasteries, extermination of whole nomad camps are well documented. Quite a number of these reports have been also documented by the International Commission of Jurists' 1960 report on Tibet. In a crackdown operation launched in the wake of the National Uprising of 10 March 1959 in Lhasa, 10,000 to 15,000 Tibetans were killed within three days. According to a secret 1960 PLA Tibet Military District Political Department report, between March 1959 and October 1960, 87,000 Tibetans were killed in Central Tibet alone.
Information compiled by the Tibetan Administration in exile, determined that over 1.2 million Tibetans died between 1949 and 1979 and that Human rights violation in Tibet was all pervasive. with China violating with impunity every norm of civilised conduct as laid down in international law
So what of the Potala Palace, it was not "blown up" by the Chinese (as proposed by Mao Zedong) it was only slightly damaged during the Tibetan uprising against the invading Chinese in 1959
Chinese shells were launched into the palace's windows. Before Chamdo Jampa Kalden was shot and taken prisoner by soldiers of the People's Liberation Army, he witnessed "Chinese cannon shells began landing on Norbulingka past midnight on March 19th, 1959... The sky lit up as the Chinese shells hit the Chakpori Medical College and the Potala.
It is said that only the intervention of Zhou Enlai had saved the Potala from looting and destruction. Zhou Enlai had sent troops loyal to him to Lhasa for the protection of the building from the Red Guards. As a result, all the chapels and their artefacts were preserved. However about 100,000 thousand historical scriptures and pieces of art are said to have been destroyed or removed.
Cultural revolution - forget ISIS this was plundering and madness on a grand scale.
In order to understand the barbarity of the CCP during this period Zhou's own personal life is noteworthy
Zhou was the main driving force behind the affairs of state during much of the Cultural Revolution. His attempts at mitigating the Red Guards' damage and his efforts to protect others from their wrath made him immensely popular in the Cultural Revolution's later stages. Although Zhou escaped being directly persecuted, he was not able to save many of those closest to him from having their lives destroyed by the Cultural Revolution. Sun Weishi, Zhou's adopted daughter, died in 1968 after seven months of torture and imprisonment by Maoist Red Guards.
When the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, Zhou Enlai's power became very limited, while Jiang Qing gained power. Although Zhou still held the formal position of premier, he was not able to prevent the arrest of Sun or even his own brother, and personally signed their arrest warrants in fear of angering Mao. After forcing Zhou to sign Sun's warrant, Jiang ordered officers from the Air Force (loyal to Lin Biao, Jiang's ally) to arrest and secretly imprison Sun, so that Zhou could not intervene to protect her.
Sun Weishi and Jin Shan were both imprisoned on March 1, 1968. Jiang, Mao's wife, gave orders that Sun be sentenced without trial, and directed that Sun be tortured at leisure, but not killed
After being imprisoned, Sun Weishi was tortured for seven months, and eventually died in prison on October 15, 1968. Her body was found naked with her arms and legs still shackled. There are no female guards in the prison. Interviews with a guard a decade later implied that "higher-ups" had ordered her to be repeatedly raped. Two other prisoners gave an account of seeing the guards handing Sun over to several male convicts in the prison to be raped.
After hearing of Sun's death and her condition at the time of her death, Zhou Enlai ordered an autopsy, but Jiang intervened and had Sun's body quickly cremated. After cremating Sun's body, Jiang had her ashes disposed of, in order to prevent Sun's family from taking possession of them.
After Zhou Enlai died in 1976, Jiang initiated the "Five Nos" campaign in order to discourage and prohibit any public mourning for Zhou.
So the history lesson is over, the are no words to describe the actions then and now of the CCP towards Tibet and Tibetans. Sun Weishi"s treatment is not isolated, fifty years later this barbarity continues by the CCP, imprisonment without representation, torture, murder and the immediate cremation of the victims still sadly happens, the only difference is the families are now handed an invoice by the CCP ordering them to pay for the cremation.
And what did I make of the Potala Palace, its big, its iconic and perhaps a wonder of the ancient world, but like all religious buildings, I have yet to read a scripture "you will build a temple and in my name, fill it full of gold"
You are a liar and a bounder sir
Victorian travellers named Lhasa "The Forbidden City " nearly three miles up in the roof of the world, its a reminder of why travellers returning from Tibet, a forbidden land, told tales that were scarcely credible. Many perished in the attempt. The Victorian adventurer Arnold Henry Savage Landor was born in Florence in 1865, and the grandson of the famous English poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), he painted world leaders- from US President Benjamin Harrison to Czar Nicholas- and regularly hobnobbed with many more, including Queen Victoria and Franklin Roosevelt. Interestingly he participated in the 1915-18 War on the Italian Front and presented a new invention, the armoured tank
Landor crossed into Tibet on 13th July, 1897 with thirty native carriers. Hardship and fear reduced his party down to two. Word spread that an Englishman was heading for Lhasa. Tibetans were out in force searching for him and his ragged party. Crossing one of the many rivers Landor and his two porters were seized and tortured by the Tibetans when he refused to turn back from Lhasa.
Landor’s account is for obvious reasons less than positive. He depicts Tibetans as religious savages, one of them he says was even foaming at the mouth. At various points, they threaten to behead him, put his eyes out, pretend to behead his servant, refuse him food, and all the while enjoy his suffering. They even, he claims, make him ride for a good while on a spiked saddle at such speeds that if he ever fell off, he would die. Tibetans are stupid and childlike, technologically inept, do not understand how to use watches or compasses, and think a gold ring his mother had given him is possessed of “occult powers,” are terrified of his rifles. And so on. Landor offers no real explanation for their excessive brutality, duplicity, and stupidity, although he does note that they think he is a spy because he carried maps and made notes and sketches. Even this justification feels thinly sketched though, perhaps to prevent it from detracting from Landor's depiction of Tibetan savagery which, if nothing else, makes for a very entertaining story. But he got what he wanted from his misadventure - a best selling book and a rebuttal in The Times from the distinguished explorer Douglas Freshfield calling Landor a liar and a bounder.
I on the other hand, was tortured - by the constant snoring of Philip.
A brain scan please
Saturday 10th September 2011 - Our Toyota land cruiser was packed, Bebe, Philip, and I were now heading out of Lhasa, over the new gleaming arched bridges and onto the new highway opened four months earlier. At 100km/hr we cruised across the countryside stopping at the modern petrol station to fill up 90 yuan / Litre = £1
After an hours journey west of Lhasa we crossed the river and pulled over to stretch our legs. Bebe was inspecting the goods on offer at the roadside stall, I had wandered down by the river to photograph the landscape and Philip was looking through the luggage. As I turned around, I can recall a group of twenty people looking at Philip, who was under the bumper of another vehicle. My immediate thought was that he had been run over. Philip was deathly grey, shaking and unconscious. I was about to berate the driver for running over my companion, he gestured that Philip had just collapsed. A oxygen mask was applied and Philip was lifted barely conscious onto the back seat of our vehicle, after ten agonising minutes Philip had regained consciousness and was siting up barely able to speak. Within the assembled group of onlookers were two British nurses their diagnosis, altitude sickness.
We had agreed to drive immediately to the hospital in Lhasa. Philip was siting next to me, now speaking slowly, he had no knowledge of his name , who I was. Bebe throughout this was in karma mode, what will be will be, whilst I was ringing his wife Cindy on his mobile explaining that I thought that Philip had had a stroke and we were now twenty minutes away from the hospital.
The hospital our guide had driven us to was for natural medicines, after a few well chosen Anglo Saxon words we finally arrived at the main hospital. Asking for a brain scan on a Saturday in Lhasa for Philip was surreal. 600 yuan = £60 was paid and Philip was lifted into the brain scan machine and thirty minutes later a small Chinese doctor in broken English was explaining that Philip was diagnosed with a slight increase in blood pressure, they recommended rest. At 12,000 feet, our experienced trekker, Philip had succumbed to the affects of altitude.
At 2pm we were back at our hotel, room 6208. With Philip asleep I sat in the Jokhang Square observing the troops marching anti clockwise around the kora. To the Chinese the Tibetans were invisible, they simply did not exist, they were ignored. At first glance you marvel at the achievements in living standards, roads, hotels, hospitals, brain scans, but who is it for.
The new nationals, the Chinese, making Tibetans strangers in their own land, a non person. Monasteries are tolerated, a tourist attraction, the Tibetan history museum whitewashed to a shade of red. By early evening my snoring room mate was able to speak normally and Philip"s recollection, that he was waking up after a deep deep sleep. Our predicament to walk around Mt Kailash would be at 17,000 feet an increase of 5,000 feet with the nearest doctor two days drive away. Sleep gripped me at 2am, altitude had not lessened Philip's nocturnal torture of me, nothing had changed.
The following morning was a groundhog day, we packed, and in exactly twenty four hours we passed, in silence, the fateful spot, as we headed west towards Mt Kailash.
To a mountain in Tibet
Sunday 11th Sept 2011 - We continued over 15,000 feet snow covered passes, passing huge areas of Barley fields, then decending as the road ran parallel with a large expanse of water, Yamdrok Tso lay before us, a shimmering turquoise lake. In the distance the village of Nagartse, its villagers had assembled on the shores of the lake for a horse, archery riding contest in full traditional costume of course. We parked some 200 feet away armed with my camera I walked across the field mingling with the villagers. Children were running and playing in the long grass, nervous glances followed by a brief smile were cast in my direction, but on the whole indifference towards a westerner with a camera.
There were two targets 300 feet apart, twelve riders rode in turn to the first target releasing their arrow then onto the second target to the cheers and delight of the crowd