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Getting off the plane at Lhasa's Gonggar Airport, we were not greeted by the expected blue sky and white clouds, which was somewhat disappointing. But I was soon cheered up by the endless lofty mountains and the colorful flags dancing on Tibetan roofs.

I came to Tibet with a journalist group composed of 37 reporters from over 20 Chinese news organizations, and most of us were on our first trip to this mysterious city. Our task however was to take rest. We had all heard and read a lot about Tibet before this trip, including the problem of altitute sickness. There was hardly anyone who can avoid the reaction on their first visit to Tibet. Someone will have a bad headache, another will suffer a choking sensation in chest and need oxygen. An experienced tourist offered this advice:"Walk slowly and gently; don't drink alcohol; sleep more at free times; and speak as little as possible." We followed the suggestion and it worked. Our optimism, good rest and endurance comquered the altitude problem.

The second day was a bright sunny day. The sky was blue and the sun was brilliant. We passed the Potala Square on our way to the Qoikang Monastery. The thirteen-storey white and red Potala Palace stands halfway up the mountain--a terrace leading to heaven, with its golden roof tiles shining proudly in the clear light. No wonder it was given the name "The Heavenly Palace".

The site of the Qoikang Monastery was chosen by Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and is considered a saintly palace by the Tibetans is to worship there. As the first destination of our tour, its combination of Han and Tibetan architectural style, rich cultural relics, and most unforgettably, the Tibetan people's devotion to Buddhism, left a deep impression.

The front gate of the monastery was crowed with pious disciples, men and women, old and young, waiting for a tiny space to worship. As soon as they got that space, they would put their palms together above the head, moving them down to the face and then the chest, before lying prone on earth, Stretching out the arms and kowtowing lightly with their forehead, reciting the scriptures all the while. The onlookers might find it difficult to understand such a pious and complicated prayer ceremony, but they were excited to see it, and respected the Tibetans' religious spirit.

The Tibetans are an optimistic and leisurely people. On the weekend, we came to a holiday village and met many groups of Tibetans relaxing under the shadow of the trees or by the stream, drinking buttered tea and barley wine. Occasionally, we could hear someone playing beautiful melodies on a traditonal instrument in the forest. We took a rest in Tibetan tents provided by our hospitable hosts. Actually, we would rather have lain on the green grass, listening to the flowing stream and watching the bright sunshine like our Tibetan brothers, to feel their life and happiness.

Besides the Potala Palace, Norbu Lingka, the Gandain Monastery, the Sera Monastery and the Zhebung Monastery, there is another must place to visit: the Tibetan Medical Institute. Tibetan medicine is an important component of local culture. The Tibetan Highlands are a rare unpolluted area on earth, growing many medicinal herbs, some of them effective in curing persistent ailments. The famous Tibetan doctor Cogri Ceyang served as president of the institute. It houses some valuable ancient books on Tibetan medicine, Tibetan studies, the configurations of the stars, 81 traditional Tibetan medical herbs, animals and minerals, and a whole set of traditional Tibetan medical instruments. These were astonishing to most tourists, and most of them invited Tibetan doctors to feel their pulse and bought some good medicines. The Tibetan Medical Institute was recently approved by the local tourism administration to be opened to tourists.

Materials are provided by "Travel China weekly newspaper"


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