We arrived in Lhasa feeling tired and breathless due to our lack of altitude acclimatisation. With two days until our first tour activities we had always planned to rest and adjust before doing any serious sightseeing. What better way to spend the time than by having a massage. Lonely Planet had recommended the Tenzin Blind Massage Centre and so we took ourselves there. The outside appearance was not particularly inviting or attractive and I almost backed out however, with some trepidation, we went down the narrow hallway and up the dingy stairs.
We were greeted by a friendly blind young man, who introduced himself as Sarin. He spoke excellent English and explained that they offered two types of massage: Tibetan, clothes off with oil and soft pressure or Chinese, clothes on and harder. We chose the Tibetan massage and were guided up a steep staircase to a semi private room where a curtain divided us from other customers. Both masseurs were about 22 years old and I had the best massage of my life. Ahhh bliss.
The young men did everything from setting up the massage table, gathering the equipment, serving us hot water at the end and taking the payment. We never encountered a sighted person.
Sarin told us that there were eight masseurs who worked there, six men and two women and that they lived on the premises. They had all attended a blind school which was operated by Braille without Borders. What an amazing organisation this appears to be. Here is the introduction from their website:
Before the opening of the Project, blind children in the Tibet Autonomous Region did not have access to education. They led a life on the margin of society with few chances of integration. According to official statistics 30.000 of the 2.5 million inhabitants of the T.A.R. are blind or highly visually impaired. Compared to most areas in the world this is well above the average ratio. The causes of visual impairment or blindness are both climatic and hygienic: dust, wind, high ultra-violet light radiation, soot in houses caused by heating with coal and/or yak dung, and lack of vitamin A at an early age. Inadequate medical care also plays a role. Cataracts are widespread. Indeed governmental and private organizations have set up eye-camps where medical surgery is being performed and local doctors are taught to do the procedure. However, there is a large group of blind people that can’t be helped this way. For this group of people the rehabilitation and training centre for the blind, has been established.
Its worth reading more about how the Tibetan project was set up.
Sarin attended Beijing for four months masseur training in addition to what he has learnt in Tibet and he certainly has made the most of his education. Sarin and the other masseur laughed, sang and whistled while they worked seemingly happy with their profession.