Five Reasons Tibet will Change Your Life

As a seasoned traveler the question I get asked more than any other question is, “Where is your favorite place that you’ve been?” For a lot of travelers this is a tough question, because the world is an unfathomably amazing place and each country is unique and special. However, for me this question offers me no trouble. Without hesitation every single time I will say Tibet.  I’ve never encountered a place that affected me so deeply, changed me as human being, or stirred long dormant feelings in me as Tibet did. It flipped the script on my whole world and it still does.

In my journals, I’ve written enough about Tibet to fill a book, maybe someday I’ll write it, but for now I just want to get you there, give you an idea. So here is an extremely abbreviated list of reasons why Tibet will change your life.

Feeling it on arrival.
Feeling it on arrival.

5) The Energy

When I arrived in Tibet I stepped off a 40-hour train ride from Chengdu, China. For 40 hours the train carried us up and up to one of the highest elevated countries in the world, around 12,000 feet above sea level.  I definitely felt the altitude and my breathing and oxygen intake were noticeably adjusting. But even though my body was sorting out the lack of oxygen the very second I stepped off the train in Lhasa I could feel something, I mean I literally felt an energy course through my body like a current and I know my friends felt it too. I don’t believe in magic, but this place was magical. By the time I reached Tibet I had been traveling hard for three months and I had probably seen over a 100 temples in China and Korea, but Tibet was the first place I went on my adventures that I truly felt was a holy place.  Even writing about it now I’m getting goose bumps remembering it.  Whether you believe in some sort of almighty being or an energy that moves through the universe or even some sort of magnetic field that affects us all, whatever, Tibet is a conduit.  When that Himalayan wind smacks your face and you breath the cleanest air of your life and smell the incense from the temples and see the glow of the desert you won’t feel separate from the world anymore.  The wind moves around you, but the energy courses right through you.

4) The Beauty

Tibet is shockingly beautiful.  Himalayan Mountains adorned with prayer flags juxtaposed magnificently against the bluest of skies engulf you. Women, men, and children in colorful traditional Tibetan clothing walk the streets en masse crisscrossing paths with monks adorned in crimson robes. Brilliant white architecture and temples create the skyline.  Lurking in every temple are mandalas, Buddhas, and murals of Buddhist lore that utilize every color known imaginable in their brightest capacity.  Street vendors displaying pallets of cashmere scarves and bags wallpaper the sun-drenched streets of Lhasa.  The vibrancy is surreal. The tan deserts create an inner silence, the aqua blue lakes become glass, and at the edge of the country you find Mt. Everest, which transcends words as it does clouds.

Prayers in the morning.
Prayers in the morning.

3) The Culture

Lhasa is one of the holiest religious cities in the world and is the holiest city of Tibetan Buddhism and also the former home to the exiled Dali Lama.  I remember taking my morning walks in Lhasa and watching thousands of pilgrims chant with prayer wheels in their hands moving through a fog of incense like spirits.  Everything moves slower and life becomes like watching a movie.  The ways of the culture are old, but unspoiled.  They are not primitive and technology is available to a point, but things happen at a pace long passed in other parts of the world.

2) People

I have yet to meet a stronger indomitably spirited people than the Tibetans.  They do not lead easy lives and find themselves at the mercy of the Chinese. Most Tibetans’ story is that of a tragedy. Despite all of this and baring everything they exude a brilliance and beauty in life seldom matched. Under the cowboy style brim of their hats, behind the deep ridges that flow into their eyes like rivers, and smack dab in the middle of their rosy sun and wind battered cheeks you will always find a smile and a pair of kind eyes.  Whether it is their ocean deep Buddhist principles or the refined simplicity with which they choose to live, they usher kindness in every interaction.  Their strength and kindness is infectious and moving.  You can’t help but slowly reconsider the style in which you have lived your own life and you reach a new perspective greater than you’ve ever allowed yourself before. Quite simply you’re humbled.

Mt. Everest at Night.
Mt. Everest at Night.

1) Tibetan Culture is Going Extinct

Lingering behind each revelation I had in Tibet there was the realization that this culture is dying and I most likely will see it disappear in my own lifetime.  Shortly after I left the country was closed for over a year due to Tibetans protesting in vain against the Chinese government. The Chinese have built a direct railroad from their major cities into Tibet and are immigrating their citizens, paying many, to move into the region. The population of Lhasa is now 2/3 Chinese. Sanctions on their economy, wages, and religious rights are slowly smothering what little the people have left. Essentially, the Tibetan people and culture are slowly being erased from existence and integrated into the Chinese system.  With no real effective global support network or political weight to resist, Tibet as we know it today will be lost within three generations.  It provides you with the idea of all that you have and all that you love and then the visual of watching it slowly fade away. If that doesn’t change you then I don’t know what will.

Standing at the base of Everest at night drinking milk tea watching a trillion stars definitively provide me with a silhouette of the mountain my Tibetan guide Dogie leaned over to me and whispered, “You must have been very good in another life to be so blessed to be here,” and I knew then as I know now he was right. So I say to you travelers, wander, explore, and discover something that will change your life.

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  • Vanessa

    Posted on February 07, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Such a moving entry - you really captured the mix between culture and people and their striking surroundings. I’m hoping that the political situation greatly changes in the very near future.

    • Stephen

      Posted on February 07, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      Vanessa, I truly hope that the politics change too. It would be a shame to lose such a global and cultural treasure.

  • Andrea Rees

    Posted on February 07, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    This piece was very interesting. I love that travel, whether on our own journeys or of those that have been there, teaches us so much. It is wonderful to find a place that really speaks to you.

    • Stephen

      Posted on February 07, 2014 at 4:59 pm

      Well said Andrea, travel really is one of the greatest teachers.

  • Mary Calculated Traveller

    Posted on February 07, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Tibet is high on my list of places to visit one day…You really describe your love for Tibet so well….TY

    • Stephen

      Posted on February 07, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      I hope you make it there one day Mary, you won’t regret it!

  • Miriam of Adventurous Miriam

    Posted on November 01, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    I absolutely agree that Tibet is extraordinary. I was there eight years ago for a month and I really enjoyed everything about it, except from the Chinese invasion.

    • Stephen

      Posted on December 14, 2014 at 6:10 am

      Yeah it is amazing Miriam. It is a tough situation considering the Chinese occupation. I can only hope for the best for those beautiful people.

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