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Published: November 26th 2018
OMG - we overslept! We'd planned for months, spent muchos moolah and we slept in! I blame British Summer Time. I had no clue what continent we were currently on, never mind what time zone we were in, so I'd never adjusted the phone (and by association, the alarm) to take this REALLY IMPORTANT factor into account. Being stupidly British, my mobile decided to try to be clever and changed itself, without consultation, to GMT in the middle of the night and we slept in. The daft part was we didn't realise what had happened for a good casual half hour until I put my watch on and the brain couldn't compute what was happening. It was only after checking Steve's watch and dashing down to check the clock in reception that I had to tell Breakfast Grandma that we had no time to eat the food she had got up very early especially to prepare for us as we had OVERSLEPT!! And then Achut turned up 15 minutes early to collect us, and then we had a discussion about what to do with the suitcase we weren't taking with us - leave it at the Exotic, take it with us
to our next one-nighter hotel or send it on to our last hotel in Kathmandu? These had all been possible options at various times and just when we thought we'd decided what to do with it we changed our minds again and took it to the one-nighter. Gotta be flexible - but that's a hard thing to smile through before 8 am and a cup of coffee!
Anyhoo, today we were setting off for Tibet, all visas, documentation and arrangements finally in place. We collected Mr and Mrs Surbiton and Achut dropped us at the airport issuing a torrent of warnings - don't be argumentative with authority figures, don't talk politics, don't be critical, don't carry a copy of The Lonely Planet guidebook ... My goodness - are we allowed to enjoy the experience?
It took forever for us to get through the airport rigmarole. We had to stick together as a group of four and be dealt with in the order we were named on the visa and it was all a very bureaucratic and confusing process. Achut had told us to ask for seats on the Everest side of the plane but Mrs S and I
were so focussed on not losing sight of the visa (don't forget the visa, don't forget the visa) that we forgot that bit. It didn't matter as it turned out because we were given mountain-side seats without asking - thank you kind Seat Allocator Man.
Mr and Mrs Surbiton had spent part of their time in Nepal taking a helicopter ride to ABC. For the uninformed (that's me, then) ABC is apparently Annapurna Base Camp, a bit like Everest Base Camp but without the kudos. They had a 15 minute helicopter ride to get there, 30 freezing minutes on the ground, then a 15 minute helicopter ride to get back. And that hour cost them US$700!! Apparently you can trek there for free but it takes you 11 days. I decided my airplane flight past Mt Everest was quite close enough, thank you, and I took so many photos of mountains because, of course, I wouldn't recognise Mt Everest even if we crashed into it. However, the pilot very helpfully dipped his wings as we went past (as in, it's that one!) and another pilot on a later flight dipped his wings AND told the cabin 'it's the one
behind the one with the cloud cover' so that was useful. The weather was perfect with clear air and blue skies and it was quite a sight to see. The pilot also swung the plane about as we got closer to the airport and I thought he might be pointing out more mountains to us. In fact he was just trying to avoid the somewhat smaller, but still significant, mountains in his way on the approach to landing.
The flight was just over an hour long and we landed in warm sunshine. We'd switched from the warm-weather clothing we'd been wearing in Jordan and Kathmandu where it had been sunny and warm, though a bit chilly in the evenings, to long jeans, sweaters and socks. It was hard to imagine that the miles covered in such a short flight could result in such a temperature change but they did.
Tibet is apparently the highest region on earth (well, according to Wikipedia, anyway, and we all know everything on there is true ...). Altitude sickness was a major concern for just about everyone we spoke to who was visiting. We'd fallen foul of altitude sickness on our travels once
before and it really is debilitating and can even be death-inducing. We had previously resorted to backstreet remedies full of dodgy, (possibly Class A derivative??) ingredients so we tried to be better prepared this time. One doctor refused to prescribe anything on the basis that the drug of choice was not licensed for altitude sickness and nowhere in the UK was high enough to warrant it. So, people don't travel then? Another doctor was more pragmatic and we were given a supply sufficient to get us safely through Tibet. Another couple had risked an internet purchase but were then too afraid of what they had bought to take it and yet another person said her doctor wouldn't prescribe anything and she didn't trust online drugs so was going to try to manage without anything. Hmm - seems to me that there's something not right with the system somewhere when we risk death to try to avoid it ... In the end we did all right with just a bit of breathlessness during the strenuous bits, but no vomiting, fainting or skull-cracking headaches thank goodness. Oh, and my wee changed colour, so there was that.
The bureaucracy was repeated all
over again at the Tibet airport, but with slightly more menace, including a demand for our boarding passes. Mrs Surbiton had almost thrown hers away on the plane, as you do. Finally, after more queueing, photographing and fingerprinting, we were in! We were met at the airport by our guide and driver and our journey into Lhasa took about an hour on relatively new purpose-built roads. It was a very pleasant journey, passing rice paddies and fields of yak with the occasional group of cows ambling down the road. Once into Lhasa itself though, the city tooting that seems endemic in this part of the world started up again - it seems there's no escaping that.
We checked in to the Shang Bala Hotel and were offered either a room on the second floor or one on the fourth. The negative for the fourth floor was that the lift only went as far as the third; the plus was that the room had a view of the Potala Palace. No contest - we'll climb the stairs! We ate out that evening at Lhasa Kitchen, a restaurant recommended by our guide. We both had a yak meal - a steak
for Steve and a sizzler for me and very nice it was too (better than the Burger King Mr and Mrs Surbiton had anyway, by the sound of it). We eventually retired to our room with a view, hoping we wouldn't need the oxygen mask and cylinder kindly installed in every room in the hotel!
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