By: Raffaella Della Porta, Director, TBF Europe
Prior to working with The Bridge Fund I spent ten years with the European Union working on Foreign Affairs. I am very happy to now be a part of the TBF community. My work feels very fulfilling as we are trying to assist Tibetans as they work to protect their rich cultural civilization and identity. I recently had the privilege of traveling to China and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and I would love to share with you my experience.
This was just the beginning of my adventure, as I discovered the unique city of Lhasa and its neighbourhood the following days.
As soon as I landed in Lhasa, I experienced altitude sickness for the first time. Even though I was very excited to finally be in the highest city in the world, I could not manage to go outside, as I felt very dizzy. Instead, I went to rest at the hotel. I was immediately in touch with the Tibetan style and atmosphere: very cosy, colourful furniture, no heating and cold water.
The day after I had the chance to enjoy the amazing richness of the Tibetan cultural tradition and some of the most striking UNESCO World Heritage sites. Early in the morning I visited the majestic Potala Palace, with its white and red structure, vast array of Tibetan murals, beautiful statues and tombs of the eight past Dalai Lamas. The gorgeous views of sweet hills gave me an idea of why this palace is a favourite place for meditation.
In the afternoon, I lost myself in the streets around the busy Barkhor Square, the nerve centre of Lhasa, strolling around the craft and souvenirs shops and visiting Jokhang Temple, another holy site for Tibetan Buddhism, where I was overwhelmed by crowds of prostrating pilgrims. I was attracted by each kind of Tibetan jewel, prayer wheel, people doing kora (holy circuit) with their beautiful dresses and colourful braids.
The day after I went to the Ganden Monastery, which is located at the top of the Wangbur Mountain, at an altitude of 4,300 m, around 108 km away from Lhasa. I learnt this is the very first Gelug Pa (Yellow hat tradition of Buddhism) monastery to be founded in Tibet. While reaching this high location, I had my first encounter with the famous yak! After this amazing view, I continued to be very lucky as I could also visit a semi nomadic family in the Trupshi village.
For someone like me who had a very limited knowledge of Tibetan Buddhist practices and traditions, this was a very fulfilling trip of very sacred and beautiful landscapes. However, the blue sky of Lhasa and the sweetness of Tibetan smiles and eyes are the precious gifts that I will treasure for good.
At the end of my trip I was able to meet with TBF staff in Chengdu, Xining and Beijing. We had many interesting meetings and presentations on the different TBF projects being implemented in very remote areas of China. This was such a meaningful experience for me as I learnt a lot about cultural preservation projects, herder cooperatives in nomadic areas and the challenges they face in everyday life.
I was impressed by the commitment, professionalism and enthusiasm of my colleagues. I feel very lucky and honoured they showed me the richness and beauty of their lands, food and culture. They shared with me their knowledge about the unique and qualitative handcrafts of Tibetan artisans, the ethnomusicology richness, and the murals restoration work with UNESCO, which is so important for the preservation of local heritage of art and history. My experience would have not been the same without their warm welcoming and company.
Raffaella Della Porta recently joined the TBF team to serve as the director of TBF Europe, and develop the TBF Brussels office. She brings with her an extensive background in sustainable development. We are very excited to have her on board!