We didn’t get Brad Pitt’s seven years, and even our 72 hours in Tibet was shaved down to 48 because of bad weather, but once we did make it to Tibet the struggle to get there was worth it. Our visit coincided with Losar, the Tibetan New Year, and while there were some in the city preparing to celebrate, the Chinese soldiers stationed all over the city in riot gear cast a pall over any revelry.
Touring the temples in PRC-controlled Tibet was like going through a museum where half of the exhibits are shrouded and all of the placards have been removed. Our Tibetan tour guide Tsewang gave us amazingly thorough histories of the palaces and prior Dalai Lamas but was silent about the exiled Lama or Tibet’s continued subjugation despite our questions. He continually forbade us from photographing the PRC’s military presence and told us not to leave our hotel at night.
All of these hospitable charms, plus the frigid temperatures, meant that there were no tourists around. Save a few monks tidying the prayer pillows and lighting the yak butter candles, the temples were completely empty. It was an eerie and sadly fitting experience to wander the ancient and silent halls where Lamas and thousands of monks had walked, prayed and meditated for centuries.
I would include more photos here of China’s presence in Tibet but the Chinese censors got a hold of my camera. We were on top of the Jokhand Temple in the middle of downtown Lhasa and were photographing Barkhor Square. Marching around the square was a squad of PRC paramilitary police and it was hard not to take a photo that didn’t include their assault rifles and teargas grenades. Before leaving the roof we were stopped by a plainclothes officer who took my camera and quickly went through our photos, zooming in on each one and deleting any pictures that included the troops. It was a scary and upsetting experience, personally and politically.