Published: August 17th 2008August 7th 2008
Getting everything set up for our journey into Tibet wasn't the easiest of tasks and that was evident up to our plane taking off. We were initially scheduled to leave our hostel at 5 am for our 7:50 flight from Chengdu to Lhasa which was pretty damn early but nothing too major. We were getting ready for bed around 11 pm when there was a soft banging on our door. I opened it to find one of the travel desk employees out of breath trying to say something to me. After regaining her composure she informed me that the Olympic torch would be making its way through Chengdu that morning and the roads would be closed because of this. To avoid this we now had to leave for the airport at 3:30 am......Holy Crap! After about 3 hours of crummy sleep we arose and made our way to the airport arriving a staggering three + hours early. Not fun. After checking in we presented our tickets to security who seemed to get flustered when they saw four white people traveling to Lhasa so we were sent to another line to be searches quite thoroughly. Now some people might get annoyed by
this but I didn't mind. It definitely made you feel safe. These people were a lot better at there job than security in the states. We made it through and found our gate. We were all anxiously awaiting boarding when an announcement came over the loud speaker that due to mechanical issues our flight was cancelled. NOOOOOO!!!!! We were told to make our way back to the check in area to get another flight. This was quite hectic since there were quite a few other people on our flight. We pushed our way forward and were told to go to another window.....I was starting to get quite irritated at this point. We were finally given a new flight but had to wait in another line to get our boarding passes......then do security all over again. It was a hassle but in the end we only left about an hour and a half later than our original flight. So all in all everything worked out.
The flight to Lhasa was a short two hours and stunningly beautiful. We flew right over the Himalayas and they were very impressive. Huge jagged snow covered peaks jutting out above the clouds. It was
one of the more amazing sights I had seen. You could even see where avalanches had occurred. This boosted my spirits even more than they had already been. When we got off the plane in Lhasa I was thrilled to see blue skies and breath clean air. You basically get neither in China. I also was able to detect the pressure due to the altitude in Lhasa. We left Chengdu (about 1500 feet) and arrived two hours later in Lhasa (12,000 feet). I was definitely curious as to how my body would be affected by this. We got our bags and found our tour guide who presented each of us with white silk shawls. This is a sign of compassion in Tibetan Buddhism. What a great way to start off. Our guide was everything I could've hoped for. He was a native Tibetan and one of the friendliest people you will meet. He gave us some background info on himself. He was born in the countryside in Tibet and speaks English, Tibetan (obviously), Chinese, Nepali, and a little German.....what a champ. We got into our Land Cruiser and left for our one hour drive to Lhasa. I could already tell
that I would enjoy Tibet more than anywhere else I had been so far. The mountains and rivers we saw were beautiful and everything was clean. It was a real treat to see a river that actually wasn't a copperish brown. We arrived at the Yak Hotel where we would spend the next three nights. It was very nice, much nicer than anything we have had so far. Our guide informed us that in order to acclimate we should rest this entire day. So we did.......and I would hate to see how things would have been if we hadn't. The body doesn't really like it when you jump 11,000 feet in two hours and it punishes you by giving you a headache worse than any hangover you could imagine. Along with this come shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea. I was even fortunate enough to vomit at dinner that night. I found myself quite fearful about being able to make it the rest of the trip, especially considering Mt. Everest Base Camp was a good 4,000 feet higher than where we were at now. We went to sleep around 8:30 with the hopes that by morning things would be fine.
Krista and I
On top of Jokhang Temple
Luckily when I arose the next morning I felt relatively normal. We still had to take it easy but the fact that I was breathing pretty normally and my headache was gone let me know that this day would be spectacular. Our guide met us in the lobby of our hotel and took us to the Jokhang Temple, the most revered religious structure in Tibet. It was built over 1300 years ago and was very impressive. There were hundreds of pilgrims praying around the temple which gave it an even more spiritual feel. The Temple was beautiful with many figures and sculptures important in the Buddhist faith. In front of each figure was a large bowl with burning wicks that people poured yak butter in. This is seen as an offering. It was such a cool experience to be in such a sacred Buddhist Temple in Tibet watching pilgrims who came from hundreds of mile away worship. I don't think I will ever forget it. We were able to go to the roof of the Temple which had a stunning view of the city and the Potala Palace. This was my "Wow, I'm in Tibet" moment. It was so
beautiful up there. The one downside was the ludicrous amount of Chinese troops around the area....and all over Lhasa in general. This is because of the riots that occurred in early March and due to fear of more uprising due to the Olympics. It just seemed so unnecessary. You kind of have to just ignore them....as hard as it may be to ignore people with machine guns. That afternoon we went to the Sera Monastery which was built in 1419 and is home to around 600 monks. The monastery was cool but not as good as it could've been because so much of it was shut down due to fear of more uprising after the March riots. We went into one Temple and saw some monks but that was about it.
The next day we went to the Summer Palace of the Dali Lama. This area had been to Summer home to past Lama's dating back centuries. There grounds were really nice and the individual palaces were impressive. It was really cool to be standing in the current Dali Lamas house and seeing where he meditated, slept, etc.....very cool stuff. That afternoon we went to the Potala Palace which
is probably the most recognizable sight in Lhasa. You have to hike up quite a few step to get there and you are definitely out of breath when you reach the top. Potala was basically the full time home of the Dali Lama's dating back to the 5th Dali Lama. The coolest part were the huge tombs of past Lama's. These tombs were massive and were covered in gold and tons of jewels like diamonds, rubies, and others that I can't recall at the moment. Normally you are only able to be in the Palace for an hour but since tourism has been pretty slow we were able to stay for two. I still feel like there was more to see but we got a good amount done.
On our way to Shigatse we stopped at Yamdrok Lake which on a clear day has stunning views of brilliant turquoise water. Unfortunately for us it was extremely cloudy and looked just like any normal lake. Oh well. At the lake, as with everywhere you stop, there were people trying to sell you jewelry or in this case a picture with a decorated yak. The yaks were pretty cool but I
just didn't really have the desire to shell out money to sit on this smelly beast. Plus there were plenty of yaks grazing on the mountains near the road so it wasn't too difficult to get a pic. We left the lake and continued onward. The next stop was a glacier which was about 3/4 covered by clouds. It looked cool from what we could see but it would've been better if we could've seen the whole thing. Again....oh well. We continued on yet again and stopped at this large river/lake which has no name, according to our guide, but was actually quite awesome. It was a beautiful green, not a gross kind which you would normally think of when you hear of a green lake. It was really cool. We stopped off in the town of Gyantse to check out yet another Monastery. I do find them interesting and it's amazing to see them but I must say I was getting pretty sick of Monasteries. The monastery was pretty cool though. We left and set course for Shigatse, but first we stopped at a place that made Tsampa (Ground Barley), this is a staple of the Tibetan diet. We
got to see how it was made using the river to work the grinders. It was really quite generous. As we were about to leave Chris went to talk to the large group of Tibetans relaxing outside. They were cooking this stew which they offered to Chris. Naturally when someone offers you something you pretty much have to suck it up and accept. The stew consisted of some yak meat and what appeared to be noodle. Chris ate it and actually said it was pretty good. One of the Tibetan men showed Chris his belly indicating that the stew gave you a big stomach. Chris retorted buy sticking out his pooch which was quite hilarious. Good times. After this fiasco we got back into our car and headed west. Finally we arrived in Shigatse, checked into our hotel, and went to sleep eagerly awaiting the morning to arrive.
This is where Everest would go but that's a blog in itself so we will be skipping forward a few days.
After returning from Everest we had two full days left in Lhasa. Day one we literally did nothing. Our last day was really a neat experience. Our guide took
us out into the country to this festival which included these crazy horse races. Before going there he took us to his families house where we were fortunate enough to meet his parents and brother. They were extremely friendly, as all Tibetans are, and welcomed us with endless cups of sweet tea and snacks. It was really a pleasure to be able to meet these people and an experience we never would've experienced on our own. We made our way to the races and we definitely the only white people there which made for a lot of stares and hellos. The races consisted of riders dressed very lavishly riding down what would probably be a half mile shooting arrows and doing stunts. It really was an awesome experience and like I said earlier, definitely one we wouldn't have been able to do without our awesome guide.
In general Tibet was a magical place and I couldn't be happier that we decided to come here. We really were considering not coming due to the high price tag but I can say without a doubt in my mind that coming was one of the best decisions we've ever made.
There are more photos below