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U SHOULD GO TO U

World travellers who have already visited in Norway and Y in France, two places with the world's shortest names, should explore the historic province of U in Tibet to complete the trifecta.

They must take care not to offend the locals. Tibet Travel Tours says: "Tibetan people stretch out their tongue to say hello to you. Also it is a courtesy to put their hands palm in front of breast. If you are asked to sit down, please cross your legs - do not stretch your legs forward and face your sole to others."

Other tips from the TTT website include:

  • When the host presents you a cup of wine, you should dip your ring finger in the wine and flick the wine into the sky, in the air and to the ground respectively to express your respects to the heaven, the earth and the ancestors before sipping the wine. The host will fill the cup, and you take a sip of the wine again. After the host fills your cup again, you have to bottom it up.
  • Eagles are the sacred birds in the eyes of the Tibetan people. You should not drive them away or injure them. On the outskirts, you could not drive or disturb the sheep or cows with red, green or yellow cloth strips on.
 

"Since more and more tourists are going to Tibet," says the Tours website, "more and more Tibetan people get used of seeing the 'Big Noses' (western people) with jeans, sun glasses and some of them with shorts (it is prohibited to wear shorts among the Tibetans), the above rules are not obeyed so strictly as before. But we still suggest you take the above advices and travel to behave well."

U has a long history. Its capital, Lhasa, was founded in 633 A.D. under the leadership of King Songtsan Gampo. The Friends of Tibet website says: "The influence of the Sakya priest-rulers gradually declined after the death of Kublai Khan in 1295. In 1358 the province of U (Central Tibet) fell into the hands of the Governor of Nedong, Changchub Gyaltsen, a monk of the Phamo Drugpa branch of Kagyud school, and for the next 86 years, eleven Lamas of the Phamo Drugpa lineage ruled Tibet."

Brant Arthur of Boston, Massachusetts, visited U Province last September and later posted this interesting report on his website:

We just got back from our 6 day trip through the northern part of U Province in Tibet. This is the same province that Lhasa is found in and consequently does not require a permit to visit, unlike the rest of Tibet.

We met our driver and his white 1991 Landcruiser in the courtyard of our hotel. There were five of us and Lopsa, our driver. He is a good man. At times he drove shockingly slow, but his sense of humor and buddhist faith made up for the lack of speed.

Each drive started with the blessing of a few grains of rice which were then tossed across the dashboard. The next 30 minutes would then be filled with the low and rapid recitation of mantras. One time we gave a lift to a nun for a few kilometers, and the droning mantras of the two of them silenced the rest of us in the car.

Getting out of Lhasa made us see how very poor Tibet is. The Chinese have built some wonderful new roads and all the kids now get an education, but besides this, little has changed. Nomads still wall their black wool tents with fences of dried bush and horses still seemed to be the most common form of transportation.

We spent our first two nights at the Tidrum nunnery, a small town built around the nunnery in a narrow gorge. Prayer flags are strung across the gorge wherever possible, purifying the air.

China Travel Service says "Lhasa is famous for being one of the highest cities in the world, a towering 3,760 meters above the banks of the Lhasa River. What really knocks you out here is the full scale impact on your senses of the breathtaking beauty, unique landscape and the holy atmosphere of this religious center. In Tibetan, Lhasa means "The land of the Gods", or "Holy Place."

 

In the United States, there are places called Dee in Oregon, and Why in Arizona. Australians have combined those two names by calling one of Sydney's beach suburbs Dee Why.

 

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POSTSCRIPT. By an amazing coincidence, Brant Arthur, whose description of U is quoted with his kind permission, plans to visit , in Norway's Lofoten Islands, in August.

Story first posted July 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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