Arriving at the Roof of the World

Trip Start Feb 19, 2010
Trip End Jan 31, 2012

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Where I stayed
sleeper train to Lhasa

Flag of China  , Tibet,
Saturday, June 4, 2011

Boarded the train just before 9pm. Once again had people trying to push in line in order to get onto the train as fast as possible. Once I got to my carriage I found that the person checking the ticket at the door was asking me something in chinese. Had no idea what. All I could guess was that it had something to do with me going to Tibet so i pulled out the copy of the permit I had been given. This seemed to be what she had wanted since she looked at it then handed it back to me and let me board.

Once on the train I had one woman trying to get me to change bunks. Seems that with the exception of me, all the people in my cubby hole new each other. By the time I understood what she was getting at I had already put my bag in the overhead compartment and found that her friend had already been lying in the bed.

Besides. The hostel where I bought the tour from had told me that the only way to get a ticket was from the black market at a marked up rate. Seems the tickets are sold almost as soon as they go on sale. As a result I had a worry about the small possibility of a conterfeit having ben sold so I really didnt want to risk changing tickets.

Since it was already late I called it a night soon after boarding. The lights in the area also went out at around 10:30pm which I guess is the time they want most people to go to sleep.

Should be noted at this point that the train is not pressurised as some people like my brother believe. Rather the train has some extra oxygen pumped into it while at high altitude. Also the train provides outlets where you can get oxygen out of a mask if you start to feel sick.

Day 0 - Transit
Woke up around 6am to the sound of the other people in the cabin talking.

Pretty much spent the day reading the third book of the series I had started in Central
America or staring out the window. Had the middle bunk so could see out the window from my bed or when that got tiring could try to find an empty seat in the aisle to sit in.

Had some nice views of the chinese country side on the way to the border with the tibetian Autonomous region and am pretty sure we passed through Xining (2275m) which is the last city you pass through before coming up onto the Tibeaten plateau.

During the day wandered through a large number of tunnels in order to cut through some mountains. Also passed a number of farms that were growing rice or other plants as well as a few sheep stations. Found it suprising to see some of these places since the surrounding mountains were so dry and barren.This was especially true once we came up onto the Tibetian Plateau. Guess the local communities must really have to irrigate these fields with water pumped from some nearby river.

Near the end of the day we also passed the first main sight which was a large lake. While the PA reported some facts about this lake it been to long and I forget exactly what it was. Looking it up on the web I found that the lake was Qinghai Lake (Blue Sea in Tibetan and Mongolian). Seems that this is the inland saltwater lake in China. Also within this lake can be found 5 islands. Another interesting fact that was anounces was that lots of migrating birds visit the lake in summer and that these birds included sea gulls. Never new that sea gulls migrated but i guess it would make sense to do so before it starts snowing

As for food on the train had already learnt about hot water being available from previous trips so had stocked up on noodles in a cup and powdered milk tea drinks. Also had a stash of lollies, chips, bakery products and other food and water for the trip.

Once again called it a night around 10:30pm with almost half of the 710 pages from the book read,

Day 1 - Transit, Bakhor Circuit
Woke up again at around 6:30am and spent the day pretty much as I had spent the day before.

Today though found that there was a lot less life and a lot more mountains. Some of which had snow. Believe that today the train spent most of its time above 4000m above sea level.

During the day we also passed a number of lakes with one of these being Namco Lake, the highest lake in the world.

While a lot of the plateau seemed barren, there were still a number of places that were very green due to them being irrigated by farmers. Also saw a fair few yak being left out to pasture.

As we got closer to Lhasa also saw more and more Tibitian people working out on the land as well as small collections of tibetian houses.

Ended up un Lhasa around 4pm where I got picked up from the train station and dropped off to the hotel by someone from the tour agency. Lots of soldiers around the train station as well as lots of chinese flags. Definately more flags than I have seen in any other chinese city.

One of the first things I noticed on the ride into town was that an number of people were prostrating themselves as they were walking along the street. Found this strange and at the time was curious as to what was going on. Wasnt until I met my guide a couple of days later that I found out what was happening here.

After checking in to the hotel, decided to go for a walk. Hotel was near the center of the old tibetian part of town so decided to wander over to the Jokhang temple and do the Bakhor circuit that runs around it. Found the nearby streets to be covered by lots of people in traditional garb from different regions of Tibets as well as lot of monks in their red robes. Found out later that a lot of people come into Lhasa from all over Tibet as part of a buddhist pilgrimage. Seems that people can be found at all hours of the day walking clockwise around various holy sights.

In addition to the locals I also found the streets had a lot of soldiers station in large glass booths (5 soldiers per booth) at lots of the street corners I walked passed. These soldiers were also supplimented by a large number of police sitting under large umbrellas along various street curbs.

Once I got closer to the temple I saw lots of Tibetians from all over tibet walking in a clockwise direction around the temple following what was known as the Bahkor circuit. Once again also saw people prostrating themselves in front of the temple or making there way around it by prostrating, taking a couple of steps then prostrating again. Interesting how most of these people had pads on the knees and gloves on the hands in order to protect their bodies as they went about doing their benedictions.

Spent a couple of hours here and did a single circuit of the Bahkor circuit. Found that the whole way was lined with lots and lots of religious shops selling various products from prayer wheels, Thangka, clothes, jewlery and many many other religious and non-religious things.

while being out near the front of the temple observed lots of colourful people walking past including a fair number of monks in their red robes. Also found that most of the people walking around the circuit had a prayer wheel in their hands which they kept spinning in a clockwise direction as they walked.

From the circuit headed back to the hotel and up to the roof top where I got a reasonable view of the city from the 5th floor. Could see the whole of the old town from here as well as the Potala Palace.

Ended the day by heading over to the restuarant located on the other side of the road. Main reason was that it had Wifi and I could get a signal from my room. All I needed was the password and I thought a meal and drink was a fair exchange for that password. Ended up spending an hour using the internet here while I had a nepelese Yak noodle dish for dinner.

Day 2 - Norbulingka, Tibet Museum, Markets, Circuit of Potala Palace, Potala Square
Couldnt visit any of the monasteries without a guide so decided to visit the Tibetian Museum. After grabbing some steambuns for breakfast decided to walk th 3-4km to the Museum.

Once again lots of people on the street. This time though they were doing the circuit around the Potala Palace. Like the block architecture of this building and how it has completely overgrown the top of the hill it sits on. Seems like a very defensible building.

Wandered around the base of the Palace but decided to leave doing the circuit of it for later in the day. Instead continued down the road where I passed a large gold Yak statue. Once again lots of chinese flags around here. Definately more than I have seen in any other city or town in China.

Also near the Yak statue was a road that had lots of pilgrims on it. Found out later that there is also a pilgrimage trail that runs through the streets of Lhasa around the old trail. With so many pilgrim circuits you could spend the whole day doing the different ones, especially if you were doing them via prostration. On the other hand I'm pretty sure there are people who do spend the whole day going round and round and round a single circuit.

After about an hour of walking from the Hotel made it to the museum to find that it didnt open until 10:30am. Luckily the Norbulingka (Dala Lama Summer Plalace) was just across the road and I thought I would visit it. At least I would see if I could get in without a guide since I was told the day before that it was only the monasteries and temples I couldnt visit by myself. Managed to have no problems getting a ticket so went in.

Interesting to note here that later on I found out from the tour guide that trying to enter a monastary without a guide is a bad thing. Seems that if a foreigner tries to enter without a guide then government stops tourism into tibet for 3 months. This seems unfair to me since it doesnt punish the person doing the wrong thing but rather the Tibetian people who rely on tourism. They have no control over what a tourist does yet they are the ones to loose income if one of the tourists does the wrong thing.

Found the summer palace to have a nice garden area with lots of trees. Unlike most chiinese parks (we are in Tibet after all) the place wasnt full of people doing various activities. Instead you only had people visting the building or sitting and the parklands and having a meal.

Wandered around the palace for a couple of hours walking through the grounds and visiting various temples and palaces. While a number of area in these places were open, there were also a number that were closed for construction or just closed.

Found the temples to have some interesting paintings both inside and out as well as lots of statues. Also saw some cylindrical things hanging from the ceiling. Like the look of these and found out they were called victory banners. They are basically used to represent buddhism victory over ignorance.

After wandering around some of the smaller temples I came to larger complex which I am guessing was the New Summer Palace and which had once been the summer residence of the Dala Lama.

Inside the main building found that photos were not allowed though I did sneak a couple of them in. Walking around through the various rooms in the building it definately did seem as if it had been someones home at one point in the past with rooms for sleeping, entertaining visitor and eating. Found the place to be heavily decorated with both paintings and furniture.

From here headed out into the garden and found a lake with a couple of pavillions stitting on an island in the middle of it. Guess the breeze off the water in summer must be cooling. Hung out here for a bit before heading back out to the entrance.

Once at the museum I found out that the only exhibit that was open was the one from the Shanghai Expo. For some reason all the rooms with the Tibetian exhibits were closed. Bit disappointing but thankfully it didnt cost me anything to get in.

Rather than walk back I saw a bus heading down the road I wanted to go down so decided to get on and save my legs. If the bus ended up turning down a side street I would just get off. Ended up getting off earlier than I had originally planned since I saw a market off to one side and thought I would take a look. Found the place had rows and rows of sellers with meat and veggies as well as a few other household products.

From here wandered back to the Potala Square and the gardens next to it. Note that the square seems to be the typical chinese square you find in chinese cities. Given the look of the place would have to say that the square is not you typical Tibitean thing.

Lots of people around in th park but once again no one doing your typical chinese park activities. Most people were just sitting around and taking it easy. Guess a number of them were having a break from their daily prayer.

After a short break in the park, started to circumnavigate the Potala palace with the rest of the Tibetians. This involved walking past a lot of prayer wheels and by the time I got to the backend of the palace I found myself in another park. Once again lots of people sitting down here having a break.

Continued walking around the palace once decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel where at 6:30pm (had been told 6pm the day before) I met my guide for the next few days, Di Ki, as well as the spanish couple, Fernando and Leticia, with whome I would be doing the tour.

After finding out what the plans were for the following day I went out for dinner with Fernando and Leticia before calling it a day.

Note that I was on the third floor of the hotel and found it interesting how going up 2 flights of stairs can have me so out of breath. Also during my walking during the day had been a bit short of breath and found I had to breath through my mouth while walking whereas normally it would be just through the nose.

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