What I love about traveling is not merely arriving to the destination but the actual movement from one place to another. The travel. While on the road for 13 months I embraced this ‘time inbetween‘, as it allowed me to reflect on the places seen and to anticipate those waiting to be discovered. Many 12 hour plane rides gave me plenty of time to muse, but it is via train, traveling over land (and perhaps under sea), that I always feel most connected to the journey. Put me on a train, and I am happy. (Even simply the Long Island Rail Road or these days, the Trenitalia.)
My most memorable train ride to date was 48 hours enroute from Lhasa, Tibet to Beijing. I could have easily flown and spent more time exploring China’s capital, but I chose the option of adventure.
With only my thoughts to accompany me, I observing as the worlds of Tibet and China converged in my midst. I was one of a handful of Westerners and shared my sleeping cabin with 2 Chinese men, a Tibetan, and a few good books. My conversations were limited to very basic English as I taught the Tibetan man to play backgammon and in turn he taught me a Tibetan game.
I became a voyeur. Much of my time was spent observing life on the train.
The dining cabin became my ‘room with a view’. The landscape my vista.
The sun rose and night fell. And again. I could have easily spent another 2 days enroute.
One day I hope to board the Orient Express to destinations unknown… But these days I will happily settle for the night train from Paris to Venice.
Today I feasted on a delicious Tibetan lunch of noodles and pork dumplings (or was it yak?), cooked by nuns. There exist 3 nunneries in Lhasa and I was privileged to visit one and observe the daily lives of the 100 residing nuns. I could spend all day surrounded by their calm. Have I found my calling? I think not! During these last 5 days I have grown very fond of our guide Tenzin (who was once a monk himself). He has most graciously introduced us into the Tibetan culture and made us feel at home. My senses are filled and I shall take these visions and inner peace with me as the train departs for Beijing in the early morning…Until then my observations and meditations in Lhasa continue.
I have arrived to “the Holy City” of Lhasa. It feels much like a dream, surrounded by monks and mountains, at an altitude of 12,000 feet. My head and heart feel light as I wander through this spiritual wonderland with the aid of Tenzin the tour guide. In hours which feel like days, I have seen so much and the adventure has only just begun. My first stop was at the spiritual heart of the city, the Jokhang Temple, a mix of Tibetan, Indian, Nepalese, and Chinese architecture. within Tibet’s holiest shrine thousands of butter candles illuminate the most sacred Buddha statue, one of over 200 so deeply revered by its worshipers.
At the Sera Monastery, one of the 3 monasteries in Lhasa housing over 2,400 monks, I was amazed to observe a philosophical debate. Such passion and energy in the words and motions of these peace abiding monks. If only I could understand their banter…
The people of Tibet are, in a word, beautiful.