Porschist Magazine 56 - Tibet

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Magazine for Porsche enthusiasts • year 14 • quarterly • November/December 2018 • 56




Porsche in


text: kathleen van bremdt photos: kathleen van bremdt & sven hoyaux




Tibet has always appealed to the imagination. Tucked away between gigantic mountain ranges, the mysterious land was inaccessible for centuries. Our journey cuts through southern Tibet, from the capital Llasa to the small village of Kerung on the border with Nepal, a trip of a thousand kilometres.


Sometimes something as simple as a comic book can lie at the base of a new travel destination. Even though Tintin in Tibet is not just any old comic strip. Every self-respecting Belgian will know the story of the boy with the blonde quiff who goes looking for his friend Tchang, who is assumed dead in the mystical Himalayas. We too had a clear mission during our trip. In this special part of the world we were searching for the man or woman with that o-so typical and universal Porsche DNA. And just like Tintin, we travelled under a good karma and we found what we were looking for, right outside the imposing Potala Palace: the Porsche in Tibet!

LLASA: WHERE THE GODS FEEL AT HOME A short flight brings us from Kathmandu to Gonggar, at 3600 metres altitude. Pure, thin Tibetan mountain air fills our lungs. Puna - our guide for the next few days - immediately drapes a khata, a white silk scarf, around our neck, as a sign of happiness and a pure heart. The airport is about 65 kilometres from Llasa, the capital of Tibet. The trip takes us through the wide valley of the Yardung River. An almost surreal landscape with infinite plains surrounded by dark mountains unfolds, an untouched world of space, emptiness and crystal-clear air. After the overwhelming beauty of the surrounding nature, our first introduction to Llasa is somewhat disappointing. The city that is nicknamed 'the land of the gods' could, if you ask us, just as well have been baptised 'the land of the reds', (which isn’t wrong either when you think about it). Upon entering, we see a disproportionate number of red Chinese flags. “More Chinese flags hang in Tibet than anywhere else in China. Every Tibetan is obliged to fly a Chinese flag outside his house,” says Puna. That China lays a claim to this part of the world is widely known, but does it really need to be so obvious? The broad, straight boulevards flanked by tall, characterless buildings do not match the picturesque Llasa that we know from films like Kundun or Seven Years in Tibet. But then they were both set in times when Tibet was still self-governing. Yet Llasa is still the spiritual focal point for the Tibetans. The many, frequently visited monasteries are an undeniable proof of this.

OUR OWN SHANGRI-LA In contrast to the cold brick boxes that we saw along the way, our hotel is a picture of luxury and refinement. In our comfortable room, aptly, a copy of the book Lost Horizon by the English novelist James Hilton is provided. In the book, the author takes his readers to a fictional paradise of unrivalled beauty somewhere high up in the Himalayas, far away from the doomed world. A paradise with the charming name Shangri-La. The adventure epic inspired the architects in the construction of the hotel that bears the same name. The builders have succeeded perfectly in their design and have actually turned the hotel into a heaven on earth. From the window, we look directly out on the impressive Potala complex, the ultimate symbol of Tibet.

Shangri-La Hotel in Llasa.




The impressive Potala palace.



POTALA: SO MUCH MORE THAN A PALACE The Potala Palace towers majestically above the centre of Llasa. The gigantic structure is a stunning example of Tibetan top architecture. For centuries, it was the residence of successive Dalai Lama's until the fourteenth (and present) Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was forced to leave the residence in 1959 while on the run from the Chinese occupiers and was never able to return to it.


Without its national father, Potala is soulless, although the palace remains the pride of Tibet. It is built on the Marpori mountain, the place where Tibetan civilisation began. The great king Songsten Gampo extended Tibet far beyond its current borders in the seventh century. His immense empire ran from Afghanistan to China. The fort he had built on the mountain was largely destroyed by wars and fire in the following centuries, but was restored to its rightful place by the fifth Dalai Lama. He expanded the palace by building two new wings between 1648 and 1694 and gave it the name Potala, after the Potolaka, the name for the mythical palace of the boddhisattva Avalokiteshvara. The thirteenth Dalai Lama added two more floors in 1922. The result of all this love of construction is a gigantic complex with a surface area of 130,000 m2 and a height of 170 metres. We can’t do anything but look at this 13-storey building, the thick walls of which seem to simply rise up out of the mountain, in utter admiration. Walking along with the stream of visitors, we climb one of the two immense stairways leading to the entrance of the palace and in their wake visit both the White Palace and the Red Palace. The first had a logistic and residential function, the second formed the spiritual heart where all ceremonies took place. Although the Potala is no longer the place of residence of the one whose name may no longer be mentioned in Tibet, the ancient spiritual power is still present everywhere and exudes from every stone, crevice, staircase and beam.

PORSCHE ON POTALA SQUARE The large, Tiananmen-like square in front of the Potala Palace is not really a model of good taste urban architecture. But for the photo shoot of the Porsche, the cobbled expanse suits our purpose. After a few exploratory laps, we can position the Cayenne in such a way that the two P's - Potala and Porsche - come into the picture harmoniously. Just at that moment, a girl in beautiful Tibetan costume walks by. Her jet-black hair is worn in two long braids interwoven with colourful ribbons. Of course we can’t let the chance pass by to get her in front of our lens.



10 Prosternating Tibetan pilgrim.

JOKHANG: THE HOLIEST OF HOLIES However impressive the Potala may be, the absolute sanctuary for Tibetans is the Jokhang Temple. The Jokhang Temple is to Buddhist Tibetans what the Vatican is to Catholics or Mecca to Muslims. The 1300-year-old temple is therefore an important pilgrimage site. Pilgrims travel from near and far to the temple with the golden roof. Day and night, they walk the kora, the pilgrimage route around the temple, rotating with their prayer wheels, burning sandalwood, endlessly murmuring om mani padme hum ('hail to the jewel in the lotus flower'). Before the entrance of the temple, they stretch out on the ground until their foreheads touch the ground, rise again, take three steps - the length of their bodies - and repeat the same. Some have travelled dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of kilometres in this way. It demands the utmost of their physical abilities and defies the limits of endurance, even though the real challenge is the journey along their deepest, spiritual path. Inside the temple itself, a silent mass shuffles in the semi-darkness past numerous chapels. Thousands of burning candles made from yak’s butter spread a penetrating scent and cast a warm glow on the imposing Buddha statues.

11 With a lot of outward show young monks debate about the buddhist doctrine.

DEBATING MONKS AND WELL-PRESERVED TREASURES Just outside the city, there are two more large Buddhist monasteries: the Sera monastery and the Drepung monastery. The main attraction of the first monastery is the debating monks. Every afternoon they gather in the cloister garden and provide a wonderful spectacle. "The young people practice what they have learned in the morning from the Lama, the master," Puna explains. “The person who stands up, asks a question and when he claps his hands and opens his arms towards a fellow-pupil, he must give the answer”. For the apprentice monks it is clearly an ideal way to let off steam. With a lot of outward show, passionate waving of red robes and wild clapping, they completely let themselves go. As visitors we are completely entranced by the enthusiasm of the young people. Drepung is special in its turn because, amazingly, it has hardly suffered from the Cultural Revolution. The numerous valuable statues of saints, tjanka's (painted canvases) and ancient manifestos have been preserved to a substantial extent. The complex consists of several floors that are connected with many, steep stairs. We walk through a maze of narrow, white alleys with artfully decorated houses. In the central square, monks walk about freely and cheerfully, the prayer wreath with the 108 pearls loosely in hand. Before the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, some 15,000 monks lived in this monastery. Now they only number 500.


TIBET IS NOT AN EASY DESTINATION A trip to Tibet is subject to many rules and restrictions. In addition to a visa, you also need a Tibet Travel Permit and the Chinese bureaucracy does not issue these freely. The permits can be refused and the conditions can change annually, sometimes even monthly. In certain periods (during religious festivals or during the commemoration of the bloody repression of the Tibetan popular uprising in 2008), traveling in Tibet is not possible. Traveling on your own in Tibet? No way. You must always be in the company of a recognised guide and driver and you must book your trip through a travel agency so that your itinerary is known. At the many checkpoints we encounter on the way, it is checked whether we are in the location where we are supposed to be.



Traditional Tibetan houses.


A SELFISH FRIENDSHIP The motorway from Llasa to Gyantse has a surface that is as smooth and pristine as a the baize on a snooker table. We find ourselves on the Friendship Highway. This 800-kilometre-long road was built by the Chinese and runs straight through Tibet from Llasa to Kathmandu. But do not be mistaken, the word 'friendship' does not refer to the relationship between China and Tibet, but to the bond with Nepal. Beijing wants to perpetuate this as much as possible because the country forms a buffer zone against the other superpower: India. Steadily the road winds upwards. The scenery is grand and panoramic one again, this time with green-blue lakes and mountain ranges with eternal snow. On the side of the road, shepherds try to earn some extra yuan with impressive Mastiff dogs. For a small amount, you can have your picture taken with the animal. Something that many passers-by like to do. And that does not surprise us, because the Tibetan Mastiff is an imposing dog: solidly built, with a striking head and a thick upright mane. Reportedly, it is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world.


Shepherd with Mastiff, a breed of dog originally from Tibet.

HOLY LAKE At an altitude of 4,800 meters we have a fantastic view of the sacred Yamdrok Lake. Whimsically, it branches out as far as the horizon. The shimmering top of the Norzing Kansar reflects beautifully in the deep turquoise water. Many Tibetans believe that all life in Tibet will disappear if this lake should ever dry up. The thousands of colourful prayer flags - red as a symbol of fire, white for the clouds, green for water, yellow for the earth and blue for the sky - allow their mantras, wisdom and prayers float along on the wind.


Thousands of colourful prayer flags fly by the holy Yamdrok Lake.





A monk puts the finishing touches on a Buddha statue.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY IN TIBET Gyantse is undoubtedly the most beautiful city in Central Tibet. Once, it was a thriving industrial city thanks to its strategic location at the junction of the caravan routes between Llasa, Sikkim and Nepal. Now it is a quiet, but still authentic Tibetan centre. Here, the street scene is not marred by dreary creations of Chinese socialism, but you find yourself surrounded by local colour. Colourful small houses with artful carvings on windows and doors stand comfortably alongside each other. Children with round, red cheeks are happily playing, women with weathered faces are walking through the dusty streets with immense bundles of branches, and a farmer is trudging quietly by with his horse and cart. Life as it is.


Beautifully decorated prayer hall of the Palcho monastery.


In Tibet you never tire of monasteries.

A visit to the Palcho monastery is a must. Another monastery we hear you think, but in Tibet you never tire of monasteries. Each monastery is different, and has a different atmosphere or an additional attraction. In the Palcho monastery, we are also able to photograph indoors for the first time during our trip. We take full advantage of it and take numerous pictures of the beautiful prayer halls full of colourfully embroidered banners. The red prayer cloaks of the monks and the ceremonial hats are lying ready on the low couches, awaiting the next meditation session. Before the holy images stand silver dishes with sacrificial fruit, orange marigold wreaths and artful ritual bells..


TASHILHUNPO: AN OASIS OF CALM Between Gyantse and Shigatse lies the most fertile part of Tibet. The fresh green rice and barley fields are a feast for the eyes. Here and there, a solitary temple is decorated with colourful prayer flags. Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet. The street scene is again more Chinese, with pale yellow residential blocks, kitschy window displays and numerous karaoke bars. The big exception in this unrest is the monumental Tashilhunpo monastery, seat of the Panchen Lama, after the Dalai Lama the most sacred Lama of the country. The golden roofs shine in the midday sun, like light spots on a grey sea. A friendly atmosphere abounds. Old folk fraternize on leafy benches and drink butter tea before or after their prayer rounds. Their prayer beads glide continuously through their bony fingers. Monks walk jokingly across the courtyard. The Tashilhunpo - 'the place that promises many, beautiful things' - is a pleasant place to spend time in.


A friendly atmosphere abounds in and nearby the Tashilhunpo monastery.




Tibetan monks depend on gifts of pilgrims.


AGE-OLD WEALTH IN THE SAKYA MONASTERY Sakya was the capital of Tibet before Lhasa took on that function. In the thirteenth century, the centre of power of the country lay here, but nothing of that remains visible today. What is left of it is a picturesque village with narrow streets. With a hint of regret, we enter the last monastery on our itinerary. Unlike the other monasteries, this one is painted dark grey - by analogy with the colour of the blue-grey mountains that surround it. By the way, the word Sakya means grey. The Mongolian architecture also differs from the other monasteries we have already visited. The Buddha statues are still all original. "When the Red Guards invaded the monastery, the monks covered all the valuables with garbage so that they were not discovered," Puna tells us. “As a result, many original statues have survived as well as more than 18,000 Buddhist manifestos. They are invaluable for the survival of our religion." The pilgrims, with money in one hand to donate wherever possible and in the other hand a flowered thermos flask full of yak butter to keep the candles burning, are a familiar sight by now. Just like the monks in their wine-red robes and with their amiable smiles.


Age-old Buddha statues in the Sakya monastery.



Mighty view on the Mount-Everest (8,848 m), the highest of the mountains.

UNDER THE SPELL OF THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN We spend the night in Shegar, a tiny place where there is nothing to do, but which is very important to us because we can buy our admission papers here for the Qomolangma Nature Preserve, of which Mount Everest is part. Very early in the morning, we set off full of expectations. We say a silent prayer that this highest of the mountains will not hide in the cloud cover today. When the night makes way for the day and the sky turns pale pink, we know we are in luck. At the first vantage point we can already see a golden glow around the contours of the massive mountain range. Our breath forms circles in the icy air. An hour later, the sun is high in the sky and turns in an immaculately blue colour. The view of the 8,848-metre-high Mount Everest and its high companions is spectacular. Tibet is called ‘The Roof of the World’. Well, here you feel what that means in every fibre of your body. We consider it an immense privilege to be in this magical place and to experience this intense moment.

MOUNT EVEREST BASE CAMP The base camp for the mountaineers is a bit further away, shielded from the public. Understandably, they won’t want to be disturbed by curious tourists during the preparations for their heavy climb. Although mountaineering is not our thing, now that we ourselves are so close to the acclaimed mountain, we fully understand the urge to reach that absolute peak. It must be fantastic to spread your arms out wide right at the top and immerse yourself in the sight of the boundless world at your feet. Of course we take a photo of the monument that marks the height of 5,200 metres. The name Qomolangma is engraved on the memorial stone, the original Tibetan name for the mountain which means 'mother goddess of the earth'. On the way back, we encounter a shepherd with a herd of yaks. With their colourful decorations they contrast beautifully against the white backdrop of the eternal snow of the ‘eight-thousanders’..


(mother goddess of the earth)

is the original Tibetan name for Mount Everest.




TRAVELPORSCHIST ABOUT SPEAKING RESTRICTIONS AND INJUSTICE Even though we know that our guide is not allowed to say anything about the Tibetan issue - a rule that he strictly adheres to - it is something that you cannot possibly bypass once you are in Tibet. We see the sadness about what is lost in the eyes of every Tibetan. We see their frustration with every freedom that is taken away from them. With their Tibetan passport they cannot leave the country, the management of their beloved monasteries is taken over by Chinese government officials and even practicing their religion is restricted. With the courage of despair, they hold on to their Tibetan identity and try to honour their age-old traditions. But however regrettable it may be for them, we fear that in the long run, China's superpower will win the battle. We hope for the Tibetans that it will end differently. We cannot help but admire them sincerely, with their intense devotion and serene attitude to life. "A pilgrim travels through the country, but it is the country that travels through the pilgrim." That is the ancient wisdom of Tao. And it is no different for us, spoiled Westerners. Tibet has completely drawn us in with its awe-inspiring landscapes, intense religion and deep-rooted tradition.



Harbin Karamay Changchung








Benxi Hohhot













Shijiazhuang Jinan


Zhengzhou Xian




Lanzhou Kaifeng

Nanjing Hefei

Mianyang Lhasa


Chengdu Zigong



Hangzhou Nanchang


Changsha Dukou

Fuzhou Guiyang









T`ai-chung T`ai-nan Kao-Hsiung

Hong Kong


Surface area: 1.246.000 km² Population: 2,7 million inhabitants Capital: Llasa Government: Autonomous region of China Time zone: During our summer time Tibet is 6 hours ahead of us, in our winter time, 7 hours. Highest point: Mount Everest (8.848 m) Thanks to: - Niraj Shrestha, our excellent travel organiser. Thanks to him we found a Porsche in Llasa and we received all necessary travel documents for Tibet. Snow Cat Travel by Rural Heritage Journeys, www.snowcattravel.com, tel: +44 15395 67118 • +44 7540 991443 - Puna, our fantastic guide - Njudup: our excellent driver - Dwarika's Hotel Kathmandu, Dwarika’s Hotel Dhulikhell, www.dwarikas.com - Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa, www.shangri-la.com - Qatar Airways


Tibetan women often wear their hair in 108 braids decorated with turquoise, amber and coral.

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