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Richard 's Story > Chapters > Tibet-China Trip 1985
| Date Range: 05/20/1985 To 06/20/1985 ||
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| | Tibet China....Lhasa, Journey of Richard Ozanne 1985
In 1985 the Tibet Region was open to foreigners. Before this it was forbidden to travel to Tibet for foreigners.
Prior to popular belief, Tibet was little traveled by foreigners at this time as PRC government permission was not always granted on a general tourist visa but had to be seperately applied for in China. It was at this time that I travelled to Lhasa and Tibet on a once-in-a lifetime premier tour via the PRC Ministry of Culture.
I spent about a week in Lhasa with my father during this period arriving from the city of Chundu via plane, a now antique CAAC Tuplov 154, Russian vintage jet aircraft, returning via a Boeing 707.
From original text in journal “Lhasa Tibet” 1985-Richard Ozanne
Notes: The flight was about 4-5 hours from Chundu, rather choppy until we were passing up along the Tibetan plateau which seemed as though ‘flying low’ to the region underneath us even by high-altitude jet liner. Our decent into the Lhasa airport about 30 miles from the city was brief, and walking out into the climate of a desert environment with rather dark blue skies, for the most part very different, seemed unusual. The change in altitude was not immediately noticed until about a ½ hour after landing when I became a little dizzy.
We were greeted at a formal welcome after the airport customs by the Deputy Chief-Director of the Tibetan region who drove us to Lhasa, midway stopping because of ‘need for oxygen’ at the altitude which was above 14,000 feet.
We settled at #1 Government Hotel (Lodge) as provided by the Ministry of Culture before rest and a late lunch-dinner snack, which didnt go to well because of the altitude sickness which came very quickly as with bags of oxygen to our room.
A doctor was summoned just in case, as I stumbled into bed the first hour after arrival. My father on the other hand was doing very well. Mr Chen, our PRC guide, took very ill and appeared with nosebleeds at the late dinner. The first evening was slow and took ajustment to the high altitude climate.
Our lodging was a good size but very plain room with two beds and a washroom. Lighting was weak, a 60 watt bulb strung from the center ceiling and a smaller 15-20 watt lamp for the night stand were the room illumination that was off during the day for the most part, and weak and flickering in the evening. They were repairing the power system in Lhasa at that time.
Day 1 Morning.
Awoke early to breakfast call after a night of very wild dreams. Aclimatization to the atmosphere was better after a few snorts of oxygen from a large bag we had in our room.
Breakfast was simple and based on general western tastes of Eggs and Bacon--Must add the bacon wasnt clean and still had the outer membrane of the pig, containing the fur, to be cut off before eating.
After breakfast we met our guide to talk about various trips to be taken during the course of our stay:
On the agenda were-
Visits to cultural exhibits of art at the museum of Tibetan Art
A visit to see sacred Tibetan relics (that was closed to the general public)
A visit and lunch at the Dalai Lamas childhood home
Several visits to meet with cultural staff, in preperation for my fathers concert at the main cultural center-
A visit to the Potala Palace- and “Grand Tour”
My fathers concert---and personal hearing of Tibetan throat singers and native masters of musical arts-
Lunch at the “Top” of Potala Palace--a special tour--and meeting with head of “Potala Palace”
The first day we set out to a wonderful exhibit of art and sculptural objects at a government museum of Tibetan art, given a tour by a special Government guide given to us for the tour returning for a late lunch with Mr Chen and then a meeting for tea at the Government offices afterwards.
The day was short in events and tiring, the elevation was partially responsible for this.
Dinner at the center hall of the Government house was simple and basically composed of chicken and chinese dishes--
Beer went flat as soon as opened because of the altitude.
After dinner, some hosts of different arts/musical cultural organizations met with my father and I for tea.
Day 2 Lhasa Tibet
The altitude problem was not as difficult although each of us carried a “pillow’ filled with oxygen.
Breakfast consisted of heavily peppered poached eggs and some Chinese vegetables. The bacon was rancid and had to be replaced twice (the odor specific).
After breakfast we headed out to see another cultural relics exhibit and possibly two, permission granted, as well as a sacred rarely seen temple west of Lhasa on about-fourty mile by car privately arranged tour.
The viewing of sacred Buddha relics were nothing less than a phenominal sight of ancient pieces of history preserved (somehow by the Chinese-Han) We heard stories of history of Tibet in present (as well as past) times in relationship to the change that we had seen, and heard of.
There was a notion of ‘non-involvement’ when it came to religion and a heavy empehsis not to bring up certain “religions” at that time- We were respectful of the conditions.
Vignette of the scenes I had seen during my passage through the halls of relics:
Visiting the temple:
It was a smooth road, newly paved and then turning to metal the rest of the way out of Lhasa. Much was torn up or being rebuilt when it came to the road surfaces. I swear that 35 was the top speed on this venture to the Temple, and then a long sweep, rough road up that was dizzying as well as windey for most of the way of this 4WD Jeep that we had, and was driven for us. Altitude was a major issue when we came to the top of one slope, and even Chen was bleeding from his nose again and complaining about the dust. It was more than 40 miles, surely...seeming to be a 75 mile or greater journey taking us forever.
We left at about 2 pm and arrived at 4. Spending a little less than an hour here we were offered to stay the evening but had tea and set out again. Beautiful drama was at each step of this temple and around each corner. The temple was held as little seen as well as sacred. It was only opened to special visitors, our Cultural Ministry representitives gave us this surprise.
We started back and were off the mountains just about the time when the last rays of light were skirting the horizon...it became cold. We arrived back in Lhasa about 8pm, a somewhat cold dinner was waiting, being the only people in the hotel dinner hall.
The meal was lousy, hot food-curried rather, and inedible with the same chicken from yesterday apparently saved on our plates--
My father didnt complain until he hit the room, telling me that he was hungry for some good food for a change. (no complaints were made to the gracious hosts) The food was bad--but this was just the beginning, four more days were waiting.
Spam-Mix for breakfast. Repeated, temperment with stomach. Eggs were brought, two coming in spoiled. Questions were asked gently about options. A reminder was given that this was far far off the grid when it came to fresh produce and that supplies were coming from the east to arrive next week...there were shortages.
The morning was given to exploration of the “Old City” as well as some questions and answer sessions from me. I was taken to a “new” exhibition center and asked personally by the Director General of doing an exhibit of my art in Lhasa. It was a surprise, but not really since he had seen my work and sketchbook always carried with me since the days of arrival. He had a definate interest in Western style art and cleared me for an exhibit. The honour of the “First” westerner to be asked to exhibit my paintings in Lhasa was a sure honour!
I had heard of another painter who had interest in this.
Cont. The Governor liked my work--
Afternoon came and we visited the lower Potala Palace after lunch, which was a short endevor, the food once again being the same plate of chicken we had for dinner the night of arrival---It seemed as though they had saved our plates in the stir around!
Poor father, he begged me to try to find some decent food after that lunch! I told him, give me three hours out on my own and a feast would be prepared! (It was somewhat funny, but I was getting hungry too)
I went into Lhasa myself and down into the center, an agonizing walk alone and unguided, remembering the way as if by compass setting. Lhasa alone....My day off to wander sketch and find food.
I found a Chinese Army Commisary in the back of some buildings and made my case for buying goods from them using Chinese Currency notes for which I had to have official documents to use. Literally it was a can by can kind of establishment---but an interesting variety going from the pictures on the outside of cans as to the contents. I found some cabbage-and other vegetables which were (LTBI Likely to be inedible due to there wilted qualities and the fact that being so far from a doctor no chances could be taken)
I bought 3 large boxes of canned goods to take back to the room--The enabling of nourishment was partially fulfilled.
I arrived winded but intact---a can opener was the hardest thing to find---used a knife to open the cans---
Later in the evening we had a discussion after a short meal, with our guide from the ministry of culture and the passing of my portfolio for the possibility of a show in Lhasa. Completed the evening by working on studies in my sketchbook now completing about 10 pieces--consideration of weight for the ongoing trip makes several gifts from studies that are still in Lhasa today.
Breakfast and the private rehearsal of my father at the cultural center for his concert. He was to play part of his program from Beijing, considered either the Chopin 2nd Sonata or the Rachmaninoff 2nd Sonata which was chosen for the program, followed by a couple of Mazurkas of Chopin as encores. Specifically these were chosen. My father, aware of the altitude was ambitious with the Rachmaninoff 2nd Sonata in all three movements. I was worried about altitude, he shrugged his shoulders and continued on. No lunch was schedualed and my father went into his usual routine of practice, arriving at the cultural center about 2pm, playing the concert to an audience of about 250 gathered. It was a hit with the Chinese. This was the first time a western foreigner had played a concert in Lhasa.
Afterward we went to an important dinner with local dignitaries including the Governor and returned to the hotel being invited to see the Dahli Lama residence in Lhasa the next day.
Breakfast better today. The Governor came by early and took us to his office with official certificates to see the Dalai Lama residence,and private domains that were not seen during a general tours. Viewing this (more detail)
Continued on to a Photo shoot prepared by our guide, and to get some film (as seen in photo for China Daily News)
About the photo-
The second half of the day was given to a meeting with the Lama at Potala in the late afternoon.
Day 7 Leaving Lhasa--
The adventure was over and the long drive to the airport mid-morning began with one or two stops along the way to give warm farewells. Although Lhasa was beautiful, and this is a extraordinary place, it was a difficult place in travel (1985), partially due to the altitude and the shortages. Everything else was like a dream, anxious to return to Lhasa one day!
Hopefully it more up-to date- No, reconsider that! I hope they leave it alone and not try to exploit the beauty that is here and the history that is magnificent.
Landed in Chundu and was taken to the Central Hotel for an overnight stay spending a little of the that evening with local dignitaries at a dinner. Caught next late afternoon train to Xian China.
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