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Published: January 14th 2008
Sunday 13th January
Only a fortnight left before we go home. Looking forward to that but at the same time we have so much to see. Both of us had reasonable night's sleep although we were both still suffering from altitude sickness and the pillows were too high. It will be great to get home to our own pillows! The breakfast of a lukewarm fried egg, toast, fried cabbage and chilli, and another unidentified vegetable didn't cure us but it filled the hole.
When we checked in last night we had rung our Tibetan guide to say we weren't staying at the Snowland Hotel (the reviews on it were terrible) and to pick us up here. He duly arrived just after 1000 and with another couple we walked to the Potala Palace, a vast white and ochre fortress soaring over Lhasa. Here we had to climb up staircase after staircase, gasping for breath all the way. One of the architectural wonders of the world, this huge construction is 13 storeys tall and contains literally thousands of rooms. Construction started in 1645 during the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama and each successive one added a shrine and several rooms
to it. Each shrine is lavishly decorated and covered in gold plate and precious jewels. Thousands of kilograms of gold was used, each shrine having a sign telling you how much. Each shrine was either a statue of a Dalai Lama or a one of their tombs.
As the place is built mainly of wood, incense is not used, instead pilgrims, who come in their thousands, add yak butter to the shrines and throw ceremonial scarves and cash as offerings. Fascinating place!
After a short break back at the hotel room (public facilities not being being the preferred option for us) we walked through alleyways with stalls of all descriptions on all sides. We noticed that everybody was walking in a clockwise direction, opposite to us, only finding out when back at the hotel that our walk around the periphery of Jokhang Temple is essentially a pilgrim circuit.
Just before 1830 we returned to the Jokhang Temple as it was then open to the public. When we saw the line of people we had second thoughts but Judy saw Eduardo, a Spaniard,and his partner, Carina, a German, who were in our group and who we had lunch
All those steps
We puffed as we scaled these stairs to the Potala Palace.
with, being escorted through by a guard. We tagged on behind them passing everyone in line. We didn't realise until after we had taken photos and were on our way out that the guard thought we were paying visitors.
After walking down the main street for some way and not finding a place we wanted to eat at, the four of us went to the Himalayan Restaurant, a Nepalese restaurant we had seen earlier. An obstacle here was that they only had a menu in Chinese or Tibetan and the waitresses only spoke Chinese as a second language, Carina was studying it presently, and somehow we managed to get an interesting meal of mushrooms, yak meat, and a noodle dish on the table. Very tasty and lots of fun.
Monday 14th January
Both of us had splitting headaches when we awoke but we persevered and after a similar breakfast to yesterday were ready for our guide at 1000. We walked back to the Snowland Hotel where we were meant to meet Carina and Eduardo and after a phone call we got together. A taxi was called for each couple to our first destination, Norbulingka.
a 10 minute ride to Norbulingka, the former summer residence of the Dalai Lama. It has a park and lakes around it but the plants were all in the winter state and the lakes, which had frozen over last week were filed with dead fish and rubbish.
Once again we were shown many rooms the Dalai used until his exile, including his bathroom which interestingly had a Western style toilet.
On our way back to the taxis (used as there were only four of us) the guide told us the people of Tibet would welcome the Dalai Lama back from exile, it was the Chinese government that kept him out.
From here it was a short ride to the Sera Monastery where there are now about 500 monks compared to up to 5000 in the past. One advantage of having a local guide is that we were able to bypass the lines of pilgrims waiting to see the shrines, we going to the head of the queue each time. Of course we pay for a ticket too unlike the pilgrims. Our guide named the various Buddhas, etc and old us the importance of each shrine but they
do all start to look alike after a while. The smell of incense is strong inside and sometimes we had to take care not too slip on yak butter that the pilgrims bring and add to huge offering bowls.
Once outside we found several groups of monks debating in the courtyard. We couldn't understand what they were on about but they seemed very passionate about their topics and discussing them loudly and a lot of humour. These debates are usually between a leader and another monk and involve a lot of passionate clapping.
The guide put us in a taxi to go back into town where the four of us went to the FITT Travel office where we were given refunds on the accommodation we didn't use, refunded taxi transfer costs,and organised our bus transfers for tomorrow.
After a delicious and filling lunch of yak and potato stew with barley dumplings, chop suey, spinach paneer with naan and cheese momo at the Snowlands Restaurant we said our farewells to Carina and Eduardo and after dropping in to our hotel for a 'wee' break, went to the airline booking office to arrange our flight to Chengdu tomorrow. Its
interesting to find that Chinese and Tibetan businesses such as rail and air do not deal in credit cards yet, all transactions are in cash.
The afternoon was spent resting, packing and organising accommodation in Chengdu. Once again the Net proved its worth, firstly we researched several places to stay at, then used Skype to phone and make a booking.
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