Published: September 20th 2011September 14th 2011
Lhasa - Potala Palace
I keep popping up in these pictures!
Lhasa – A holy city, a people watchers paradise and somewhere China should not turn into the next Shanghai!!
After spending a couple of days in Chengdu before my flight to Lhasa it became hugely apparent my appetite for large Chinese cities had pretty much vanished. After spending three brilliant weeks in the country side around Yunnan, Chengdu just seemed really disappointing and lacking some vital ingredients such as visible blue skies and postcard perfect backgrounds. Even though I splashed out a whopping £10 per night for my first private room giving me the chance to re-pack my bags and switch off for a while it’s still fair to say I was glad to be heading to Lhasa back to the mountains and lakes. Although the Panda research centre just outside Chengdu was cool to visit and see Panda’s from 1 month to several years old.
I guess the “Travel Gods” finally took pity on me because for the first time in China I had a flight that left on time, I guess it’s a nice way to leave China on my final flight. Before you all say it I realise Tibet is a part of China but it
really doesn’t feel like it and the fact you have to get different travel permits and cannot enter the area without a guide makes it feel very detached from China and I hope it remains this way for decades to come. These were my opinions before I landed in Lhasa and I wondered what my views would be once I left.
Because my flight to Lhasa was very early in the morning this meant I got an extra day to explore the old town before the “tour” started. You’re allowed to explore Lhasa on your own once you’re there but as a tourist I would not be allowed on public transport out of Lhasa and as you will see from the photo’s it’s quite apparent that I’m a tourist. The appearance of the local Tibetan people is so vastly different from those in China, I have never seen anything quite like it. It’s very hard to describe but they have a rich brown skin colour that reminds me of well-worn leather. They are so inquisitive and caring with smiles as large as some of their monasteries and you cannot help but smile back and try and engage them in
a bit of body language conversation. It’s also very common for them to just want to touch you and stroke your arm, initially I was like “what the hell is happening” but after this happened a few times you just embraced it and smiled politely and watched the fascination in their eyes as they touched this alien who had arrived in their town. During my self-guided walking tour of the city I stumbled across the local market, I was a little lost for words at this point, there were live caged chickens, ducks and rabbits awaiting their inevitable fate, you could simply just pick your dinner from the cage and they would kill it in front of you, pluck it and hand it to you to take home for you dinner complete with the head. Several stalls down were the larger animals, the goats, sheep, yaks and the pigs, thankfully these were already dead but they were busy skinning the heads of the goats, I decided to time the process and it took 55 seconds to skin a goats head, great fact for a pub quiz!
Lhasa is simply a very relaxed old city with immense history, sadly the
Lhasa - A random local bar!
Although it looked like a western bar once we all arrived!
city is now divided into two distinct regions, the Chinese part of town and the Tibetan part of town and the differences are vast. Needless to say I bypassed the heavily modernised Chinese part of town which looks like the rest of China. After a day of exploring the city I met up with the rest of the group the following day and visited the following sites in and around Lhasa over the next couple of days, this process also gave me time to adjust to the altitude before heading to Everest Base camp. The height in Lhasa was 3600m and you certainly knew about it when doing something energetic. Over the next couple of days we visited Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, a carpet factory and a workroom. All of them were incredible but the Potala Palace was truly breath taking both mentally and physically, that’s once you have walked up all those steps. I won’t bore you with a history lesson but they were remarkable places to visit and will leave me with the best memories for many years to come. As you will see from the photos they are incredibly beautiful and holy palaces
and the vibes emanating from the local people just make you feel something deeply special about them. The dedication to faith and religion here is hard to ignore and I’m still not sure how I feel about such dedication, however it’s not my place to question or reason with their choices, but to be fortunate enough to be honoured with the opportunity to witness such devotion in the most incredible temples and palaces was experience I will never forget.
After 2 days sightseeing we headed off in our tour buses to the next destination called Gyantse and then Shigatse which were the next destinations on route to the Base Camp. We stopped on route at the most amazing lake called Yamtso lake, which is one of four holy lakes in Tibet, as you will see from the pictures it really is very special and the colour of the water against the greenery and the blue sky’s made it seem unreal.
The final stop of the day was Karola Glacier, this was also a spectacular sight but sadly the tourism effect had hit very hard here and the mess and litter detracted from the area and left you thinking
why do people (mainly Chinese people) have to do this. They have no respect for the many special areas they are lucky enough to have in their country, it’s so sad. This was exemplified by both our bus drivers who refused to used waste bins in the bus, everything they eat or drank from went straight out the window, someone should try and explain to them the effects of what they are doing but I really can’t see that situation ever changing. But one negative aspect was not going to ruin what was turning out to be a fantastic tour. I don’t normally join tour groups because I can’t stand them, but the group of 24 were all really nice and the tour was turning out to be great fun with so many different personalities on the bus but it just seemed to gel together and worked out really well.
Following all of the above, which wasn’t plain sailing for various reasons such as lost travel permits, incompetent tour guides and ignorant bus drivers, the group had to spilt, those going to Nepal got on a small mini bus and those heading back to Lhasa stayed on the bigger
bus. We would make our own way to Everest base camp at different times and maybe meet on one of the high mountain passes, but until then it was time to say goodbye and collapse in our hotel before we headed of too base camp.
Tibet was turning into yet another highlight of the trip, it seems that each time I move onto the next place the experience and sights are getting better and better, surely this can not continue????
There are more photos below