Quite often, people attribute spirituality to remote highlands, so high and faraway that a meditative silence peeks through the scenery. Tibet is one such place.
Hiding itself amidst the Himalayas and with an average elevation of 5,000 metres (16,000 feet), Tibet is the highest region on Earth and a hotspot for spirituality seekers. Nicknamed as the Roof of the World, Tibet sits on the lofty Tibetan Plateau with severely dry nine months of the year, and an average annual snowfall of only about 0.45 metres (18 inches). With hundreds of Tibetan monasteries and hermitages scattered in all its seven prefectures, the region received about 34 million visits from tourists in 2018 with an increase of 31.5 pc year-on-year. The region plans to brand itself as the world’s ‘third pole’ and hopes to attract 40 million visits from tourists this year by providing more convenient and friendly services as well as significantly improving accessibility for visitors.
The capital city, Lhasa gives the tourists a chance to experience the authentic Tibetan sacred land. One look at the red-and-white Potala Palace soaring above the city raises not just the spiritual appetite but also the essence of a traditional Tibetan life. A short drive to the east of Lhasa leads to the Yerpa Valley, famous among the tourists for its ancient meditation caves in the remarkable limestone cliffs and the historical sky burial site opposite the main caves.
Tourists also choose to explore the three most sacred lakes in Tibet- Namsto, Yamdrok and Mansarovar lakes. Regardless of their religious and spiritual aspects, the heavenly lakes occupy a significant space in the Tibetan landscape and culture and offer stunning sceneries along the way.
A meditative voyage
For long, the spinning of prayer wheels and the sound of Tibetan bells have become a symbol of radiating positivity, but the lives of red and yellow clothed Tibetan Buddhist monks still carry a profound enigma that solely and uniquely brings many tourists in Tibet. Tibetan monks recognise meditation as the paramount route to their objective of acquiring enlightenment through years of continuous training of the mind to have ultimate control over desires. The monks, who study and live in Tibetan monasteries, have a Buddhist hall or a special chamber for quiet contemplation where they sit still and meditate while chanting Buddhist mantras (chants).
The impact of meditation on the Buddhist culture and study being very intense makes the local monks highly sensitive about it; therefore outsiders are not generally allowed to participate thoroughly in meditation with the Tibetan monks. However, a visit to some monasteries like the Sera monastery in Lhasa and Tashilunpo Monastery in Xigaze does give tourists a quiet place to meditate along with the peaceful Buddhist chanting.
A recurrent sight in the holy land of Tibet is of the older people and monks constantly counting beads on a mala or rosary while silently muttering prayers. It is rather interesting to note that Tibetan monks consider this a meditative act in itself. With a mantra like Om Mani Padme Hum meaning the jewel in the lotus, Buddhist monks, while rolling the mala go on travelling for long distances with ample time for quiet self-reflection. In this rather modernised world, where one in every 13 people suffers from high levels of anxiety, an increasing number of tourists are inclined towards the deep woven fabric of spirituality to gain a purposeful connect with the body and to attain a sense of awareness of bodily sensations and in turn, lower the modern mania of anxiety and other such disorders.
Since it is mandatory for international tourists to have a guided tour, Tibetan guides usually help tourists to pick out the ideal spots like a mediation cave or a quiet meditative journey beside some legendary Buddhist retreats, lofty peaks and serene highland lakes. “Meditating here, under the limitless sky with clean air and pure surroundings, I can feel an inner dialogue between myself and the nature”, says Mark Jason, a British traveller who recently visited Tibet.
Tibet is usually closed for foreigners every year, from mid-February till the end of March due to heavy snow and several important Buddhist events. In the other months of the year, a Tibet Travel Permit is a must apart from other documentation like the Military Permit. Not to worry, all these permits are professionally handled by the compulsory Tibetan guide.
Indian tourists mostly choose to visit Tibet due to its mention in the Hindu scriptures and mythology. Mount Kailash is said to be the abode of Lord Shiva, the god of strength in India and the water of Lake Manasarovar is equated with the potion of eternity. The Mansarovar yatra (journey) that takes place mostly in the month of June is attended by thousands of Indian pilgrims each year.
For the Indian tourists, the visa has to be especially attested, verified and confirmed by the Foreign Affairs of Tibet Autonomous Region along with the supervision of Department of Public Security of TAR, Tibet Military Region and the Armed Police Tibet Frontier Corps. The power of authorisation regarding the Indian pilgrims is given only to two organisations namely- Foreign Affairs of Tibet Autonomous Region which is a government wing along with the Tibet-India Pilgrim Reception Center which is a non-government wing. These organisations ensure a free pilgrimage tour service for the Indian pilgrims like helping with the accommodation, providing yaks and other types of transportations, itineraries and guides.