With a name like Buddha, it may be presumptious to be guiding travellers around these sacred monasteries of Tibet, but such is life.
From Jokhang Temple in the Barkhor area in Lhasa to the nearby monasteries of Drepung (where a giant thangka was being unfurled for the Shotan festival), Sara, and the magnificent Ganden to Samye situated across the Yarlung Tsongpo (the Bhramaputra), we travel like pilgrims and light butter lamps.
After Lhasa we first head east to Tsetang with its nearby ruins and then west to the 15th century Newari-built monastery, the Gyantse Kumbum, and then to the Panchen Lama's Tashilumpho monastery in Shigatse which was plundered for its gold by the Gurkhas in the late 1700s. Finally we arrive near the Everest Base Camp north side at the Rongphu monastery at 5000m, the probable setting of James Hilton's famous novel The Lost Horizon.
To reach Rongphu we travel through the historically-rich Sakya monastery with its sacred archive. Then along the smooth Friendship Highway we reach the bordertown of Khasa (Zhangmu) and prepare for the bone-rattling trip along the Bhote Kosi to Kathmandu.
In the last 20 years having guided travellers five times all along this route, I have noticed a tremendous increase in the cleanliness and personal hygiene of the local inhabitants. For instance, it is obvious people are now using plenty of soap. There is now unequivocal evidence that the proper usage of soap leads to significant decrease in both respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments, regardless of the availability of medicines. Indeed long before antibiotics were discovered, infection rates had plummeted in the Western world with the rise in living standards.
In Nepal we used to say that the Tibetans don't shower due to the cold, but now they have the last laugh as we have no water for bathing and piled garbage is everywhere.
At Gyantse I talked with the famous Tibetologist, Mel Goldstein from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The Chinese government is sending aid money to the hinterland and not just spending it in Lhasa. The positive health impact of this programme appears to be obvious.
I secretly hope that in a smaller scale the hard-earned remittance money that our fellow citizens send directly to their wives and mothers in the villages will have a similar result in improving our rural health in addition to whatever the ministry, the NGOs, INGOs, and charity organizations do.