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Published: September 24th 2005
Arrival in Tibet
Thursday, September 8, 2005 Weather: Clear Temperature: Warm in Chengdu, cooler in Lhasa.
We are about to arrive in the mysterious land of Tibet, clearly the most adventurous portion of our trip. Our flight was on China Air that left on schedule at 10 a.m. for the 90 minute trip. This time we were on a Boeing 757 and our group was seated in the very back of the plane. Every seat was filled and the overhead bins were crammed with every imaginable form of luggage.
The Lhasa airport is quite new and modern but it is located about one hour bus ride from the city. The area is mountainous and it is necessary to have a long runway for takeoffs at such a high altitude so locating the airport in a large flat area was important. We went through the arrival process quickly and were taken to the luggage belt to identify our bags and to make sure that all had arrived. The bus ride into Lhasa formerly took close to two hours but the week before our arrival a new tunnel through the mountain was opened cutting the time almost in half. There is a short stretch
of new access road but most of the trip is on two lane highway. Throughout China there seems to be no limitation as to when one vehicle can pass another. The front seat of the bus is not for people with a weak heart! There were interesting sites of small towns along the way. Before arriving at the Lhasa Hotel we stopped for a buffet Chinese lunch at a local restaurant near the hotel.
Lhasa, the capital city of the autonomous province of Tibet, sits at 12,000' above sea level. At this altitude the air is thin. There are several things that can be done to help one to exist at this altitude. Some of our fellow travelers brought with them the prescription medicine known as Diamox and they began their course of medication a few days before heading for Tibet. Interestingly, some had been prescribed dosages as high as 500 mg 3 times a day and others were at 250 mg and some at 125 mg. Several people taking the higher dosage became quite ill from the medicine well before and shortly after arriving in Lhasa. They decided to discontinue the medicine rather than tolerate the side effects.
Another couple who were taking a dosage of 125 mg 3 times a day had no side effects from the medicine and indicated that they had no problems with altitude sickness.
An additional precaution that was recommended was rest to acclimate to the altitude. Since we were not taking medication we chose the recommendation of rest for the first day. Upon arrival at the hotel our luggage was being unloaded from a truck and promptly arrived in our room. Our group was assigned to rooms near each other on the third floor. It is reported that the Lhasa Hotel is the very best hotel in town. It was formerly a Holiday Inn and will immediately remind you of those roadside wonders of 20-30 years ago in the states. It has probably been remodeled sometime in the past and there are signs posted indicating that further remodeling is taking place although we saw no signs of that occurring during our brief stay. The rooms are air conditioned and have windows that open for fresh air at night. When you look around the room you will feel like you are in a time zone of the 70's. Nothing wrong with it
— but after being spoiled in 5* facilities one would hope that they get busy and build something new in the near future.
There is no Internet access in the rooms but there is a Business Service on floor one that has four PC's available for use. The price is quite reasonable at 5Y for each 30 minutes or part thereof. That comes to about $1.25 US per hour. There is one catch. Only one of the machines has English characters on the screen. Of course, if you are a regular Internet user you KNOW where the proper button is located for things that you may wish to do. I managed on the Chinese computer without major problems and there is always an attendant there to help if you get into trouble. The service appears to be broadband but runs a bit slower than we are accustomed to in the U.S. But, you can connect without problems to your local ISP, Hotmail, Yahoo or AOL to check your mail and to send some messages home.
Another interesting item is that the hotel offers "oxygen pillows" for those needing supplemental oxygen to relieve a headache. If you can envision an inflatable air mattress with pillow, this pillow looks like it came from such a mattress. It comes nice and puffy with a hose leading from the pillow with a sliding valve on it. They also supply in wrapped plastic a nasal cannula for one nostril. The pressure in the pillow rapidly becomes inadequate to deliver the goods and you must then rest your arm on the pillow to create the pressure to deliver the flow. The cost for each pillow is 20Y ($2.50 U.S.) and if you use it continuously it will last for about 45 minutes. During the two days that we were there we consumed three pillows, the last of which was ordered around 1 a.m. and brought immediately to the room by housekeeping. An altitude headache is viscous. The pillow helped considerably but not totally. Inside of our room, and I presume all other rooms, mounted in the wall was a double oxygen valve that looks like something is being planned that will be a better solution.
There were some people that did not appear to be having any problem with the altitude and others who found it so disabling that they had to limit their participation in the tours. There is simply no easy way of determining if you are going to be affected by altitude unless you have been exposed to it.
Dinner was at the hotel and at that time we were advised by our guide that the schedule had been changed and that tomorrow morning we would go to the Potala Palace as our first stop. Our local guide, whose name is Nema and who had been with us since the airport, had been successful in getting tickets for our tour.
After dinner we retired to our room to watch the news of Hurricane Katerina on CNN for yet another time. It was the only English language station on the TV but we were grateful for even that!
Next: The Potala Palace
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