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Tibet: Five Fast, Fun & Fantastic Facts


Few countries in the world evoke the mystique of Tibet. Many people know the name but few know much about this country. Nicknamed the "Roof of the World" (it shares Mount Everest -- the world's tallest mountain -- with Nepal), most people simply know it as the former home of the Dalai Lama. For centuries, Tibet heavily restricted outsiders and it wasn’t until 1924 that the first European woman, Belgian–French explorer Alexandra David-Néel, visited Lhasa, the capital. 

Let’s start with the basics:


The Size of Tibet

Many believe that Tibet is a small country like neighboring Nepal or Bhutan. Actually, Tibet is huge. The Traditional Tibet (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo provinces) is 965,000 square miles. This is over four times larger than France and a whopping 25% of the land mass of China, which is a good reason why the Communist Chinese invaded Tibet on October 6, 1950 only 10 months after winning the Chinese Civil War and declaring the People’s Republic of China. Since 1965, China recognizes only the much smaller Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which comprises U-Tsang and the western area of Kham (474,300 sq. mi).

This Tibet is autonomous in name only because it is strictly governed by the Chinese Communist Party. Furthermore, China has steadily relocated Chinese into Tibet and there are now more Chinese (7.5 million) in Tibet than Tibetans (6 million). This does not bode well for Tibetans. The Tibetan flag and national anthem are banned and they can be imprisoned simply for possessing an image of the Dalai Lama. Over a million Tibetans have been killed and 6,000 monasteries destroyed since the Chinese invaded their country.


Tibet’s Altitude

Tibet is the highest country on Earth with an average elevation of 13,000 feet. Altitude sickness is more prevalent here than anywhere else on the planet. If you visit Tibet, it’s recommended you give yourself at least 3-5 days of complete rest for your body to complete acute acclimatization or you can pay a heavy price. 

The most common type of altitude sickness, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) occurs at elevations above 7,500 feet. The two fatal varieties, High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), can occur at 12,500 feet. The elevation in Lhasa is 12,000 feet and 16,732 feet at Rongbuk Monastery. (On a personal note, I grew up surfing in South Florida and thought skiing in Mammoth, California (base elevation 8,000 feet) would be a cinch. I jumped right in and was having a blast until I suddenly became dizzy and couldn’t get my bearings. Ten minutes later, I was gasping for breath as attendants sledded me down the mountain like a deer carcass strapped to the hood of an F-150.)


The Dalai Lama

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the fourteenth Dalai Lama and the spiritual leader of the Yellow Hat Tibetan Buddhists. The first Dalai Lama was born in 1391 and each succeeding Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of his predecessor. Tenzin Gyatso was chosen when, at the age of two in 1937, he correctly selected all items presented to him that had belonged to the recently deceased 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso

However, the Dalai Lama today believes his lineage is much older and that he is the seventy-fourth reincarnation that can be traced back to a Brahman boy who was given a crystal rosary by Buddha himself (567 BC - 484 BC). Many Tibetans remain steadfastly loyal to the Dalai Lama and hold him in extremely high reverence which is a good reason why the Chinese won’t be stamping his passport anytime soon.

Longevity and The Quest for Immortality

Life extension has never been as popular as it is today. In 2015, Google’s Sergey Brin announced that he was investing billions of dollars into his Project Calico, Google’s attempt to “cure death.” In 1696, a monastic medical school was built upon the summit of Chakpori Hill in Lhasa. In 1959, the Chinese destroyed it with artillery during the Tibetan Uprising claiming the Tibetans had posted a couple of cannons outside the school. 

Some of the substances taught at Chakpori Hill reportedly had the ability to extend mortality far beyond that of the average human life span and at least two of them are in popular usage today. Himalayan dried goji berries are readily available in health food stores and shopping chains such as Trader Joes and Whole Foods. Li Qing Yuen subsisted mostly upon them (he also consumed ginseng, licorice root and gotu kola) and claimed that he was 267 years old when he died in 1930. Shilajit is an ancient tar-like substance of vegetable origin that oozes from the rocks in the mountains of Tibet. It has been reported to contain at least 85 minerals in ionic form, as well as triterpenes, humic acid and fulvic acid. The ancient Vedic Hindu text, the Charaka Samhita (200 BC), claims there is no disease that cannot be cured by Shilajit.


The Sky Burial

On the flip side of immortality is death and the Tibetans have a unique method for dealing with the deceased. The Sky Burial or Jhator was first mentioned in the 12th century Tibetan Book of the Dead. The ground in Tibet is too hard for traditional burial (solid rock or permafrost is only inches below the surface) and most of the country lies about the tree-line making traditional burial expensive and impractical.  

Beginning at dawn, rogyapas (body-breakers) hack the deceased to pieces and then use rocks to pound the flesh and bones into a paste with tsampa (barley flour mixed with tea and yak butter) before lighting incense to summon hordes of giant Griffin vultures who swoop in to feast. The immediate family may be present, but usually during a nighttime ceremony that does not include a view of watching their beloved reduced to mush. Tibetan Buddhists believe the corpse is nothing but an empty vessel devoid of spirit and giving sustenance back to nature in this manner is an act of generosity that is essential to their beliefs. The practice is in decline due to restrictions in urban areas and the diminishing number of Griffin vultures in Tibet.

[David J. Castello is the author of The Diary of an Immortal (1945-1959)]

Five Weekend Getaways in Queensland Australia


Once you make it to the land down under, most people generally go Sydney or maybe Melbourne. But the third largest city of Australia is Brisbane and that’s in the state of Queensland

Queensland has many areas of natural beauty, including the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast, home to many of the state's most popular beaches. There’s the Bunya Mountains and the Great Dividing Range, with numerous lookouts, waterfalls and picnic areas; Carnarvon Gorge; Whitsunday Islands; and Hinchinbrook Island. The state contains six World Heritage-listed preservation areas: Australian Fossil Mammal Sites at Riversleigh in the Gulf Country, Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, Fraser Island, Great Barrier Reef, Lamington National Park and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.

These escapes offer a chance to get away from the mundane, and have a completely unique outlook on Queensland. From the tropical gleaming waters of the Pacific, through the lush rain forests, to the relaxing inland backdrops, nothing can prepare you for the beauty of Queensland. 

The only problem are the tourists. That’s why sometimes it really pays off packing up and taking a weekend getaway from the bustle of the towns. And because there is no shortage of places to visit in Queensland you might want to consider these getaways as part of your next Aussie adventure. You only have to choose one during your next trip to the Land Down Under to experience an adventure of a lifetime.

Image 2 - Fraser IslandAn Action-Packed Island Escape

Cross the waves in your car and head off to World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. A day’s trip there features the single greatest beach highway, ideal for a soothing drive, and the best way to explore the island. The stunning swimming experience starts at the azure waters of the Pacific, and takes you inland to the hidden lagoons and fresh water lakes, awaiting discovery. The adrenaline junkie in you can head to one of the many sand dunes for a real off-road buggy rush. And once the sun gets scorching you can always cool yourself under the shade of coconuts and palms, beside the gleaming waterfalls.

Image 3 - Road trip

A Healthy and Relaxing Retreat

For a calming escape away from the hum-drum of towns and tourist destinations, go for a relaxing weekend into Noosa Hinterland. Make it a real adventure, and embark on a ferry ride through Noosaville, and the meandering waterways of Noosa Everglades. Explore the traditions of the Gubbi Gubbi tribe on the shore of Lake Cooroibah, before you head to the health resort. What makes these life-changing relaxation retreats amazing is their incorporation of the natural surroundings into their activities. A horseback ride across Kin Kin and to Mt. Cooroora with mesmerizing panoramic vistas is truly one of the most rejuvenating experiences Queensland has to offer.

Image 4 - Surfing

Adrenaline Rich Adventure

Boasting of some of the best waves in the world, Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is a real water sport extravaganza. Surfers from around the world gather for the notorious surfing festivals, while beginners have a chance to try on something uniquely Australian. The action-packed Aussie adventure doesn’t stop there because the Coast also offers intense wind surfing, and for a really extreme challenge you might try barefoot skiing. Once you get off the water you can enjoy endless pale sandy beaches, along the high-end beachside resorts and world class dining experiences.

Image 5 - Great Barrier Reef

The World’s Greatest Diving and Snorkeling Experience

Dive into a getaway of a lifetime and explore the hidden depths of the Great Barrier Reef. Starting from Cairns, book a cruise along the largest reef system in the world. You can dive into the clear blue waters surrounded by dolphins and be introduced to a treasure trove of marine life. As you enter the water, schools of technicolored fish, magnificent sea turtles, and elegant manta rays will pass you overhead. For a personal encounter with dolphins visit a dolphin sanctuary; it offers a snorkeling experience you won’t forget. And for a day’s adventure on land, be sure to hit the many hidden coves, underwater caverns, and secluded beaches this side of Queensland.


South Queensland’s Granite Belt provides a real luxurious wining and dining escape. In recent decades Australia’s wines have been considered one of the best in the world, and Queensland’s southern valleys are among the best in the country. Exploring the rich Chardonnays, fruity Cabernets and flavorful Grenache, you will also enjoy high-end dinning among the numerous restaurants scattered across this wine region. This escape is all about quality in life, and the beauty of setting provides sunsets to match.

13 Things I Miss About Cleveland


About 10 years ago, I left Cleveland, Ohio — where I grew up — because the economy was still slow and struggling for this mid-western post-industrial age city. For me, an architect by training, opportunities were very limited. Like most things, you don't realize “what you’ve got until it's gone.” Or in my case, until after I had left.

Immigrants from Eastern Europe and elsewhere came to cities like Cleveland in the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th Century to work and make a better life. They recreated what they knew and in turn, altered and adapted their culture to the city of Cleveland. I really miss the various ethnic enclaves in different pockets of neighborhoods.

Every city has a Little Italy, but do they have a Slavic Village? Neighborhood places that readily serve fish and perogies on Fridays? They do in this city on Lake Erie.

I was back home recently during the July 4th holiday and was given a tour of a city I had forgotten about. The West Side Market is still there and improving. The joy of experiencing the WSM should never be taken for granted. I used to live a block away and treated the Market like it was my pantry. West 25th Street was struggling to become something. Now, it is a destination.

Almost across the street from the West Side Market is the renovated Market Square next to Great Lakes Brewery. I can get the GLBC beer in other cities now, but being back home and sitting in that bar eating perogies and drinking a beer is an experience of its own.

The city of Cleveland may have shed a few people over the years, but those people always seem to come back. I was amazed at the change of the Public Square and new Convention Center. I do have to admit that I have my own opinion of the casino inside of a historic old building. but everything else that was happening with it seems amazing.

There are some other things that I miss about my hometown such as easily being able to see a band play in a neighborhood bar. People are laid back, blue-collar folks. Some cities just don't get it, but Cleveland now has it.
The following is a baker’s dozen of things to experience if you make it to Cleveland:

  1. The West Side Market
  2. Sokolowski's University Inn in Tremont. They are open mostly for lunch only with a cafeteria style serving and received a James Beard award. 
  3. Hanging out in Tremont and seeing a band play. Or some other places like Coventry.
  4. Going to Great Lakes Brewery to eat and drink beer — except when it is too crowded.
  5. Experiencing the changes on West 25th Street. Nice improvements.
  6.  Being in Little Italy for the Feast of the Assumption.
  7. Being in Tremont for the annual Greek Festival (it’s been going for more than 35 years).
  8. Going to the Barking Spider Tavern to see bands play while enjoying the laid back atmosphere. An intimate place within Case Western Reserve campus.
  9. Cleveland Heights on Mayfield Road. Lots of shops and venues. I haven't been there in years...
  10. The industrial feel of the city. There is still a steel plant there.
  11. All the bridges that cross the Cuyahoga River. It was great when they began to light them up at night. My favorite is the Swing Bridge of Center Street Bridge. One of maybe two in the USA.
  12. The Old Arcade downtown. I heard they are brings shops back into it. Plus there are a couple of others that connect Euclid Ave. to Prospect.
  13. Otto Mosers. when it was on old East 4th St. I say it like that because that short street has changed completely. MSNBC did their RNC coverage on that street.

A World Traveler’s Lament: Monkey See, Monkey Probably Not Do

A media hullaballoo was stirred this week at the Cincinnati Zoo. A longtime gorilla resident named Harambe [which, ironically, means in Swahili, “all pull together” — as in communal action for social benefit] was shot and killed when a three-year-old boy snuck past a railing and fell into a watery moat in the gorilla’s enclosure. Eastern and Western gorillas — and a further subdivision of four or five subspecies — are the largest living primates, with DNA very similar to our own.

In terrestrial zoology, gorillas are ground-dwelling, mostly herbivorous, apes that inhabit the central African forests. They have been unjustly slandered as being brutish, as when people call a shambling, loutish big male an “ape.” In the wild, gorillas are said to live 35 to 40 years. But in captivity, despite what appears to be ferocious resentment and acting-out episodes, they have been seen to live 50 to 60 years. So Harambe could have lived maybe another 40 years had zoo officials not rushed to fell him.

New video footage of the 17-year-old silverback suggests he was trying to protect the three-year-old who fell into the zoo enclosure just minutes before the 400-pound animal was fatally shot.

For a few moments, Harambe and the boy had held hands, and footage shows Harambe was indeed being protective of the boy, not aggressive. There are now significant questions as to whether the gorilla needed to be shot. Zoo officials said that a tranquilizer may have taken too long to take effect, had there been imminent danger to the child. Protests are already up and running against the shooting.

So our treatment of animals is in the public eye again.

I somewhat share the sadness and grief of our poor treatment of primates, our close cousins, as well as intelligent animals such as elephants, dolphins, whales; I would include another favorite, giraffes, all of whom require huge acreage to feel at home, to feed, forage and thrive.

I also believe, as does the writer of this NY Times piece — that, in the future, we will regard the current-day treatment of these sentient beings with huge discomfort and embarrassment.
Who doesn’t love seeing animals in the wild? I have been to Africa eight times, but a zoo, for all its convenience, is a prison of hopelessness in many cases. It is rare to find a zoo that does not enrage and defeat the spirits of these noble creatures. One exception is the wonderful San Diego Zoo with its large roaming spaces, though, in fact, there’s never enough space for the needs of mega-fauna.

In China I saw domestic dogs caged in zoos, and the Westerner's heart broke for the evident senselessness and cruelty. These loving companion animals do not warrant a cage.
The killing of the mature gorilla this weekend may have been necessary to save the life of the child who invaded its cage-space but I still believe they could have tranquillized the animal rather than killing it (though not being there, I can’t tell).

In any case, a full-grown gorilla is in a sense sacred. There is not a huge oversupply of these magnificent near-humans. They are being hunted and shot and “accidented” out of existence, their numbers steadily dwindling. It is estimated that there are some 150,000 to 200,000 left in the wild, numbers notably reduced from a century ago, when habitat was less invaded, less violated by hunters, and assuredly less “touristified.”
In years to come, when more research is done, we will know much more of the intelligence of these creatures given us by a beneficent Deity. Our magnanimity to them will enlarge. Perhaps the zoos will be emptier, but larger. And the inhabitants of these zoos will be less afflicted and diseased, wracked with sores and grieving expressions.
Satisfying, to me, is the flamboyantly fabulous aquarium in Dubai's largest mall and hotel complex. There is an enormous depth of voluminous water, and thousands of genera of fish and mammalia, all fed steadily to avoid cannibalism of some of the species who would eat each other if not provided food.

I loved the vastness of the swim-space — hundreds of feet deep — which afforded the species room to circle and dive and explore and propagate. I know fish have split-second memories, but the kindness of the aquarium's capacity cheered the children and adult viewers, instinctually.
Zoos need to be like that, too -- expansive enough to let the animal's nature not be constricted and bruised for all his barred and minimized life.
This is not to say we should all be in court clamoring for Raymour & Flanigan bedroom suites for chimps, or the latest tablets for orangutans. But a measure of empathy and kindness would not be out of place for humans as they regard those less free than we.

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