Tour groups are funny things. In a way, they guarantee that you see all that is “worth seeing” at a particular place, but a lot of the time the itinerary is so crammed that it feels like we are just going to the attractions to get that “tick in the box”.
Tibet is the first (and I hope the only) leg of the trip where we signed up with a tour group. Restrictions in Tibet are tough, so much so that non-Chinese citizens can only travel with a tour group with a fixed itinerary.
It is precisely because of this reason that we spent three days of our time in Tibet visiting monastery after monastery. Sometimes, we would drive for hours just to see the RUINS of a monastery.
There would be many ignorant, uninformed and generally dumb people who would ask “don’t all monasteries look the same after a while?” and I would be one of them.
Sure, Tibetan monasteries are a big part of Tibetan life. Pilgrims from all over China make frequent trips to Tibet just to fill the urns in the temple with yak butter. This was not easy, considering that many of them would walk the whole distance, through desert roads and up snowy mountains. The pious ones would do a procedure that involves them prostrating and lying face down every third step. (the truly brave ones might even attempt to take the bus)
Many of the monasteries are quite simply put, architectural wonders. Imagine a complex the size of 100 football fields built into the side of a cliff! (the lamas are huge football fans)
But my point is that after a while they do look the same (to me)! It’s like an overdose of the best food in the world. Of course, once in a while we would be surprised by treats such as this scene that involved hundreds of lamas gathered in a courtyard, debating…
But it reached a point where we were telling the guide,”Stop showing us any more monasteries!!!” But of course he couldn’t do that. And there was a very good reason for that… it’s in the itinerary.