Sunday 25th April Chengdu – Lhasa
Our bus departs at 1115am, so we had the luxury of a sleep in this morning. We both needed it and slept well. Our tickets to Tibet originally cost Y3250 ($722) but ticket prices were lowered due to public demand so we were given Y230($51) back this morning, which was an unexpected bonus. The bus to the airport took about 30 minutes and we arrived at 1150am. We went through airport security (in a bit of a flap as we thought our flight left at 1215pm but it left at 1245pm). We are flying Air China and it seems we are not sitting together. Tony on one end of the aisle and I on the other with two people in between. The guy next to Tony moved so now we are together. Seated next to me is a big Swiss guy called Fred who has been to Tibet many a time so he is giving us lots of advice it seems we may not have time to go to Everest Base Camp as we intended as we only have six days, Fred seems to think it will take longer. Unfortunately, we are seated between
the two toilets and have no windows, we are flying over the biggest mountain range in the world and we can’t even see it.
Our flight landed just before 3pm and everyone clapped, which has frightening implications. The airport is more than 100 kilometres from Lhasa so we have a long bus trip a head. The bus cost Y25 ($5) and Fred is travelling with us, he is so knowledgeable and has agreed to take us to a charming hotel. The scenery is taking our breath away, why have we spent so long in China when we are now surrounded by snow covered peaks, streams and open plains. Already we wish we were staying longer. Tibetan prayer flags, yaks and chortens decorate the landscape in every direction.
We arrived in Lhasa just after 430pm and sadly could see the ugliness that comes with Chinese influence. We are wary of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and realise it will take us at least two days to acclimatise to the greater than 3500 metre altitude. As a result, we are trying to take it easy and as I felt light headed and short of breath almost immediately it was smart to
share a cab with Fred to the Yak Hotel where we plan to share room for Y90 ($20) a night. Fred recommended a local restaurant for dinner which was ok and then we sat outside our room chatting and getting used to the thin air. The Tibetan people are very friendly and always smiling which is certainly a change from the often-surly Chinese. Monday 26th April – Lhasa
I awoke about 830am after a peculiar night’s sleep, I tossed and turned but still managed some rest. We all had to go to the toilet about 130am, quite funny watching us clamber out of our sleeping bags, get dressed and run to the toilet. Lucky the toilet is directly opposite our room. This morning Fred and I teased Tony about his snoring, he reckoned he hardly got any sleep but we both beg to differ as to us he seemed to snore all night. Went to have brunch at Tashi 1, which serves Western as well as Tibetan we had omelettes with mushrooms and French toast (for us both Y51 - $11). Fred then took us to a shop where they sold warmer clothing and Tony bought a polar
fleece for Y220 ($48) and I bought something similar for about Y50 ($44). We both think we will be needing these later in our trip. Fred managed to get us a discount of about $11. We would pay very close if not more to AUD$200 for these items back home. Fred then returned to the room while Tony and I continued our way to Bakhor Market & Jokhang Temple.
We found the Temple at the end of the street and joined the pilgrimage circling the building. The pilgrims were all chanting, spinning their prayer wheels and clutching their beads, it was an amazing sight. They only walk clockwise and the chortens must be on their right. The pilgrimage took us right through Bakor Market, with its many stalls selling all sorts of interesting Tibetan artefacts. It was so interesting we forgot to feel light headed and dizzy. Tony bargained at a couple of stalls for a Yak t-shirt and finally paid Y35 ($7), he also looked at a couple of daggers and some yak bone artefacts but didn’t buy any. We bargained for a prayer wheel for me before finally paying Y70 ($15). It was fun bargaining but I
still would have preferred to go lower. Again everything we do attracts a crowd, but unlike China, we don’t mind. We then went to go in the Jokhang Temple, but couldn’t find the entrance and ended up following a monk. It cost Y70 ($15) to go in, which we thought was a bit steep, but at least it’s a genuine Tibetan Monastery. We went up rickety planks of wood (which made us light headed again) and explored the roof of the temple. There was really nothing to see of the monastery itself but the view of the surrounding Himalayan Mountains and Potala Palace were superb.
At the bottom of the monastery we joined another pilgrimage that took us past many prayer wheels. The monks spun each one as they walked past, an interesting sight. We spent about 30 minutes there, then had a cake at the Snowland Hotel before going to an Internet Café and spending an hour on our emails. We returned to our room about 5pm, it’s clouding over with a few spots of rain, Fred is coming back to take us to dinner at 8pm, I wonder where we will go tonight. Tuesday 27th April
The worst thing about travelling is having to get up and go to the toilet in the middle of the night, unzipping your sleeping bag, getting dressed, putting on your shoes and venturing out into the freezing cold. Tony had to go three times and I had to go twice, BRRRR, you lie there and put off the inevitable for as long as you can, but your bladder always wins in the end. Fred took us to a local place last night which specialised in “Momos” which is dough with whatever you fancy inside. We all opted for Yak Momos, a plate of 10 costs Y4 (90c). Tony and I shared a plate and Fred had his own, they were sensational, the Yak meat was really mince but tasted good. When I say “restaurant” it’s not really what we are accustomed to but rather a small room behind a curtained doorway with only two or three tables, always run by locals. The same meal in a “proper” restaurant would cost Y25 ($5) or more. After the Momos we had a beer in the bar across the street from the Yak Hotel. Fred left us to pursue his
Tibetan lady friends and eventually returned home about 1am.
I woke about 7am, the boys slept until 10am. It rained most of the morning but had cleared up by the time the boys awoke. Had a big English breakfast and a pot of real tea with milk, bliss, first one I have had since leaving home. After breakfast (which was after 12 noon), Tony and I set off for the Potola Palace which used to be the home of the Dalai Lama before he escaped into exiled. It was only about a 10 minute walk from our hotel, but as we had to find an ATM, we ended up walking around the entire base of the Palace to get back to the entrance. The mountains have a bit more snow on them today and look even more spectacular. The Potala Palace is perched high on a hillside but I don’t think either of us were quite prepared for the long hike up the road to get in. There was no way either of us could have done this before today, we seem to have adjusted quite well, but we still had frequent stops to catch our breath. The best
thing about this altitude is that you don’t sweat.
The entrance fee to enter the palace is Y100 ($22) which is quite high, damn Chinese. No one lives in the palace now of course, as the Dalai Lama is in exile so it’s basically a museum. Unfortunately, no photos allowed, some things we saw would have made great and interesting photos. We went through numerous small, dark rooms, which displayed many statues and figurines of Buddha in various stages and saw several “Stupas” which house the remains of various Dalai Lamas. The biggest housed the remains of the fifth Dalai Lama it was all gold and encrusted with precious stones. We also saw where the Lamas ascended their thrones and the XIV Dalai Lama’s study, meeting room and meditation chamber. Slightly surprised that these were open to the public as to mention his name on the streets can instantly land you in prison or get you deported, the Chinese are so paranoid and frightened of what he represents. One room had a basket with two kittens in it.
We explored many rooms, probably more than fifty but the palace has over 1000. We climbed up the steep and
skinny staircases, they give discount admission to disabled but there is no way a disabled person could get around inside the palace. We had to pay an extra Y10 ($2) to get up on the roof which was a rip off, as you were only allowed to go on a very small section but the view was incredible. There are Chinese soldiers dotted around and although they don’t show it, they watch you like a hawk. We spent two hours at the palace finding it incredibly interesting although a guide book would have been handy (and a few more lights, it was so dark and musty). Some of the artefacts must be worth a fortune as the palace was built in the 7th
Century. Coming down from the palace was a lot easier, even though the clouds have rolled in and there a few spots of rain.
We returned to the hotel after a brief stop at the supermarket and hung around for a couple of hours. Tony and Fred have gone out for the night, I’m too tired, I wonder how long Tony will last. Wednesday 28th April – Lhasa
The boys were not out long
they wandered around trying to find a bar with people in it but most were deserted as it is very cold at minus 1 degree. Apparently, everyone snored last night except Tony. Fred has managed to score two rooms now, so he has moved into one and we have the other, still so cheap, our double costs Y70 ($15). The only drawback is that they are upstairs and the toilet is downstairs, it won’t be fun if we have to go in the middle of the night.
We had the same English breakfast we had yesterday and then Tony and I set off to the Sera monastery which is about three kilometres outside of Lhasa. It is a beautiful day today, about 16 degrees so we can even walk around in a t-shirt. We decided to catch a bus from outside the Ramoche Temple, as we asked two cabs to take us but neither could understand where we wanted to go as our guide book had the directions in Tibetan and the cabbies were Chinese. So, we wandered around looking for the Temple but got hopelessly lost and found ourselves in the poor back streets of Lhasa. This really
took a bit of the gloss away from Tibet, as the streets were filthy and smelt, and the people here just tended to drop their pants and do a crap in the street in full view of everyone, we saw this happen more than once, from old women to kids it was not a pretty sight. So all these doggy-dos in the street we have been avoiding aren’t doggy-dos at all. Finally, we found a main road and hailed another cab, and this time Tony tried to give directions from the book but as we ended up at the hospital, I don’t think he understood. We got him to take us back to the Yak Hotel where we got the girls at reception to write the directions in Chinese, so much easier.
We caught another cab and got taken straight to the Sera Monastery. It cost Y35 ($7) to get in with our student cards and yet again another uphill slog! Most of the monasteries seem to be very run down with lots of rubbish around. We went to a few chapels but most of the stuff was the same as at the Potala, stupas and Buddhist statues. An
interesting sight was the monks practicing their debating skills in a round yard. They sit on stony ground and clap their hands to agree/disagree with whatever each group is debating on. We took some photos here and then went into the Sera College, where there were rats running around. There were pilgrims here lining up to touch their foreheads to an idol’s feet. This place was interesting but still dingy and dark and photography costs extra and video cameras cost an exorbitant Y850 ($188). We spent about two hours at the monastery before we caught a cab back and I bought a Tibetan curtain from an old woman for Y16($3.50) probably could have got it cheaper if I bargained but who can be bothered at that price?
When we were having dinner that night we saw a young girl get hit by a taxi luckily, she got up seemingly unhurt but it made a hell of a noise. Thursday 29th April – Lhasa
Fred came into our room this afternoon, very excited, “Look, look at ze zun!!” We went outside and saw the strangest phenomenon, the sun appeared to have a big rainbow halo around it, very
wide. Inside the halo the sky was a dark grey, while outside the halo the sky was the normal colour. You had to wear sunglasses to look at it, it was truly amazing. Fred says he has never seen anything like it in all his years in Tibet and the mountains, we wonder what it was?!
Tony and I got up reasonably early, I had a terrible night with no sleep, so we went and had a Yak steak for breakfast. It was very tender and yummy. Planning a rest day today, so in the afternoon we went back to the Bakhor Markets and wandered around. Tony tried on a fur hat with ear flaps, he looked funny and even the shop guy was laughing! Too big and bulky to bring home though. We spent most of the time looking for some Ying Yang jewellery for Tony and eventually ended up with a nice bracelet for Y45 ($10). Afterwards we went to a small restaurant and had a plate of Fried Yak Cheese Balls, they were so nice that we ordered another!! Friday 30th April – Lhasa
Today is our last in Tibet as we have a
flight booked tomorrow at 1030am. My sleep was interrupted last night due to some ferals in the last room who came home drunk about 4am and woke everyone up it was annoying. Next morning, we went to Snowlands for a big breakfast which kept us going for the full day.
After breakfast, we caught a cab to the Drepung Monastery. This one is a bit further out from Lhasa so the cab cost a little more Y20 ($4). Entrance to the Drepung cost Y45 ($10) this is easily the best monastery we have seen so far and no rats here! The chapels are well lit and the ground freshly swept and everything is nice and clean, unlike the others we have visited. We agreed this was the best so far, even more interesting and better maintained than the Potala. Several of the chapels had enormous gold statues of Buddha, which would have made impressive photos had we been allowed to take any (it cost extra for each chapel, between Y10-Y20 ($2-4). Unfortunately, again everything is uphill or up narrow staircases, so my heart was really pumping!
At the very last temple which was the highest one, Tony told
me to go in by myself. When I came out, he was nowhere to be seen, so I thought he was playing a trick on me and started back the way we had come. I couldn’t find him anywhere, and was wandering around aimlessly in the rabbit warren of paths. I went down to the biggest chapel and main assembly area and waited for about 10 minutes before thinking, what if he’s waiting for me down at the bottom? So, I made my way downhill followed all the way by a grotty child beggar who I eventually told to ‘Piss Off’ very loudly. Going down was a lot quicker but still no sign of Tony who wasn’t at the bottom either. I just sat and waited for him as there was nothing else I could do. After about 15 minutes I saw him coming down the hill in a mad panic because he had lost me, apparently, he had gone around the corner of the temple so I couldn’t see him when I came out, he’d spent most of his time running up to the top and back down again looking for me! He also encountered the same grotty child
beggar. Bit of a relief to find each other again. We then got on the bus back to Lhasa although the wait to depart seems eternal, with the sweet smell of Tibet wafting in the windows, not too hard to describe the smell, it is a mixture of rotten garbage and excrement – lovely.
Finally, when the bus was full we departed, the bus cost Y2 (-45c) and took about 10 mins to get back to Lhasa. When we arrived back at the Yak Hotel we had a few beers and a meal in the hotel bar. It was now time to leave Lhasa as we had done all we can and seen all we wanted to see.
Good Tibet – Breathtaking Mountain scenery; Food, especially anything made from Yak; People don’t stare and the Potala Palace and Drepung Monastery.
Bad Tibet – Crapping and pissing in the streets; constant bad smell of defecation and rotting foods; Beggars, especially dirty children; and Chinese influence over the country.
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