Terrific Tibet

Trip Start Sep 02, 2006
Trip End Sep 01, 2007

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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Tibet, Tibet, Tibet what can I say. Well actually quite a lot and really all of it is good. It may not be shangri-la, however it is an amazing and I mean amazing place. If you get the chance you've got to visit Tibet. I really only got to see Lhasa and a few outlying places so I am sure I only scratched the surface of what it has to offer. However, what I did see was great.

There for 8 days but I recommend that you at least spend 2 weeks here as you can then go on a 5-6 day trip out to the rest of Tibet. Lots of people go to Everest Base Camp. So I did too! [This picture is great but it's a very big size so you might need to click on it separately].

Well that actually is a lie as I did not have time and I stole this off a Chinese girls camera who had been there.

The train trip from Beijing to Lhasa was great though it didn't start all that well as I got into my cabin and I found out my 3 other travel companions were all non-English speaking Chinese. Joy I thought this is going to be a long trip - they did not look best pleased either. However they weren't the only one having trouble with translating stuff as you can see from the train service guide...

what the heck are 'free-poison cups' and 'anti-smell shots cover'??

The countryside outside of Beijing and for the first 24 hours or so was pretty miserable as a lot of it was smoggy from all the constant industry. Highlight being passing through the most polluted city in the world - Lanzhou.

In the 2nd morning we however woke up in Tibet and it was snow covered.

Though I do love snow I was not all that well prepared to freezing my chuckies off so thankfully by the time I got to Tibet it had cleared up. In fact Tibet was warm/hot most of the time I was there.

So the first night in Tibet was extremely bizarre. My train compartment friend - Chee Lee (sp?)

was really great to me and found a bus I needed to get into Lhasa and helped me to what I thought was going to be my hotel for the night. However, unfortunately there was no place at the inn. They were snotty anyway so I wasn't too bothered. Being a good lad he found me another hotel and even paid for half of it and stayed the night with me (no, he isn't my type either...and I was hoping I was not his...).

I offered to go out for a beer to thank him. So we toddled off and found a cycle rickshaw to the red light district - nonetheless - where we went into some covered market which had a maze of little stalls in it. After weaving our way through these for about 10 mins I wish I had left a trail of breadcrumbs as there was no way I was finding my way back on my own. So we ended up in a little shack type restuarant which was a bit like 'Cheers' bar or at least for him as everyone knew his name...

So we had Sichuan Hot Pot and it was really tasty though the inferno hot crawfish nearly put me over the edge. The boy could drink too as he kept slamming shots of beer while I tried to keep up with him.

Weird thing is he kept pointing to me and pulling his hair. Not having a clue what he meant I just smiled and nodded my head at him. So when we left I thought we were going back to the hotel, however no. We went into a hairdressers, or at least what I initially thought was a hairdressers. Turned out to be a spa! I did find out later that this is usually a cover for more than just a spa, however I did not experience that part of their services.

Anyway 2.5 hours later at 2.00am and only $13 lighter I strode out of there after having my hair washed, a head massage, two neck and back massages, a facial, a cut-throat razor shave (bit scary), a calf and leg massage and finally a pedicure - poor girl!

All extremely bizarre but a lot of fun.

Next day I met an Aussie (Brad) and a couple from Ireland (Kevin and Brenda), who are great people and invited me along to join their group to the Potala Palace, which is probably the most readily identifiable image of Tibet.

It towers over Lhasa and is mesmerising - it is where the all the past Dalai Lama's lived and are now buried. All except the 6th one who apparently was a womaniser, meniser, childiser and goatiser too - so isn't mentioned much!

The top floor with gold curtains was where the current Dalai Lama used to live.

The Buddhist statues in here are inspiring by their own, however the level of reverence given to them by the endless stream of pilgrims giving donations to each of them as they pass by (even though they look like they cannot afford to) makes it a breath taking experience - even ignoring the altitude and the 300 steps to get there.

Alan's Lhasa Tip #1: don't take a guide to the Potala - unless you know they are really good - as you can only spend an hour it it with them and 3 or 4 hours would be better.

At night I wandered around main part of the Tibetan area - Barkhor Square - watching all the pilgrims walking clockwise around the Jokhang Temple, praying, chanting and spinning their prayer wheels, plus browsing the umpteen market stalls.

Everyone is meant to go clockwise and there was hundreds of them so I thought while in Rome (I mean Lhasa)...Interesting bargaining with the stall owners as they really try and hose the Westerners.

Alan's Lhasa Tip #2: don't pay anymore than 1/4 of their starting price.

Next day it was off to actually see the inside of the Jokhang Temple (instead of wandering around it being mesmerised by all the pilgrims which I did a lot over the week). The Jokhang Temple houses the most sacred object in Tibet - Jowo Sakyamuni statue. Which even though it is beautiful (in my opinion) it is nothing like as spectacular as some of the objects in Potala Palace (however I did get spoiled rotten there). The most interesting aspect is the pilgrims (again) who queue up to see the statue. There is so many of them that it must take a lot of them 4-5 hours - easy.

Thankfully as pilgrims they don't have to pay to see the temple and it's only the Westerners who pay - which is fine by me. The sad thing is that I am told all the entrance money and donations which are given go to the Chinese government rather than the monastery or monks themselves.

Alan's Lhasa Tip #3: give donations directly to the monks to ensure they actually get the money.

There is lots of other temples to see in and around Lhasa and my other favourites where - (a) Ramoche - which used to house the Jowo Sakyamuni statue.

Alan's Lhasa Tip #4: this monastery is pretty quiet so you can take photos inside without too much bother. Even though strictly speaking you are not allowed to, however as I never used a flash I slept easy at night.

(b) Sera - where there is a great (and long) walk up to a hillside monastery above it, with great views of Lhasa and what sounded like a bloody big dog with rabies and big teeth so I scarpered quickly when I was nosing around the building.

[If you squint you can see a building right at the top of here and that's where I hauled my booty up to].

Also the goats are cool too.

as are the buddha paintings scattered around the hillside.

Alan's Lhasa Tip #5: it'll take 3 or 4 hours to climb up and down to the hillside monastery so unlike me make sure you bring enough water and sunscreen!

(b) Deprung - this used to be the largest monastery in the world with 10,000 monks and is like it's own walled village.

It also has the worst toilet I have seen, which featured a 50 foot drop to the cess pot below...quite good fun peeing in it.

I did manage to make one trip way out of Lhasa while I was there to Namtso Lake. It is a gorgeous saltwater lake and is massive - 2nd biggest in China.

Loads of Yaks there for the tourists and you can go on rides with them to and from the lake front. Nice place to visit for a few hours and there is some fun scenery going there and I also got to experience the interesting driving style of the Tibetans where they like to keep their heart rates up (or at least) mine by not passing on a straight but waiting until they come to a corner and increasing speed by 2mph, pulling out and standing on the horn as they go (tortoise) slow past on the corner! Also especially remember the driver flirting with the women pedestrians by swerving at them as they crossed the road - the old romantic.

Alan's Lhasa Tip #6: don't do the overnight trip to Namtso as all that is there are a few tents and the next day you get taken to some hot springs which I am told are not that great.

My memories of Tibet were:

(1) The people and how religion means so much to them. It is quite a common sight to see people flinging themselves down on the floor in front of temples, regardless of any crowds around them. They would do this thousands of times, days on end.

A lot will have mats they throw themselves onto to cushion the blow. However, like this guy below the real (maniacs) will just have leather aprons and wooden blocks on their hands which are worn away from the number of times they've hurled themselves onto the hard ground.

**This is a movie folks so it might take a long time to download**

We even saw a few sets of pilgrims doing this on their way to Lhasa. These 3 people were flinging themselves on the ground and they still had 20 miles to go until Lhasa!

[Apparently a lot will walk days if not weeks in their pilgrimage to Lhasa].

(2) Tibetan people in their traditional clothes, quite often with their weathered faces and their hair which is tied together and braided with red ribbon flowing through it.

(3) Having a shower early in the morning and hearing people chanting prayers.

(4) Thinking it was bizarre that even though lots of people seemed to have little or no money they all had satellite dishes. Eventually found out that these were for boiling water and not for watching 'Friends' re-runs.

(5) Due to the pressurised cabins on the trains when I opened my contact lens solution it sprayed itself rather than me having to squeeze it.

(6) Getting told that the higher the class of the train compartment the better the quality of the oxygen they pumped in. Ah the joys of first class.

(7) Seeing my first yak - they are big beggars. Pretty much like a highland coo but in my eyes not as handsome.

(8) Listening to music on the train and blissfully watching the miles roll by with oxygen nozzles up my nose.

(9) Switching on my MP3 player and hearing the 'Kaiser Chiefs' shouting out to me 'Oh my god I can't believe it, I've never been this far away from home' - how true...

(10) So many people were fascinated by digital cameras and me having hairy arms. Especially this little tyke.

[Chinese/Tibetans have very little body hair].

(11) Smell of juniper burning in the huge incense burners in Jokhang Square.

(12) Seeing a very public latrine - which was a trough lent against a wall on a street. Saw this just after seeing 4 hairy yak's feet proudly for sale in a local butcher's window.

(13) Begging - a lot of it - often by kids

and even by monks. But at least it goes directly to them rather than the government.

(14) Finding out that Tibet has the highest illiterate rate of anywhere in China. Then seeing lots of kids - as young as 7 or 8 - doing jobs such as shoe-shining and thinking that is probably going to be there life from now on.

(15) Persistency of people selling stuff. Prime example being a women who followed me for 300 yards to sell me this bracelet for $1. It's called the 'Eyes of Wisdom' so I am not sure if she was doing it just for the money or because she thought I was in dire need for wisdom!

(16) Lots of women wearing masks over their face which I thought was initially to ease the impact of pollution , which I thought was odd as there did not seem to be any. Later I found out it was for sun protection.

(17) Being amazed by the religious devoutness of Tibetan people and wondering how over time how this is going to be impacted by China being an aethist country.

(18) Meeting my first 2 annoying travellers boasting how cheap they could do everything. The type who will boast that they managed to travel 500km for $2 by standing on top of a bus instead of paying the ridicolous amount of $10 for a first class seat - and they only fell off the bus twice - bargain...

(19) Meeting a German guy who had cycled from all the way from Germany. It had taken him 170 days and he had covered over 12,000km. Shame the silly boy left his Tibetan Travel Permit in the hostel when he went. He never came back for it so I now have it as a nice souvenier!

(20) The driver taking us to Namtso Lake being the worst driver I had ever had encountered. It seemed like he was practiscing for his UK license as he spent more time onf the left hand-side than the right hand side. He also nearly fell asleep a few times and had to keep the windows fully open to prevent this, plus putting on a learn English tape too!

(21) Meeting a young guy from Tibet who was now living in one of the Dalai Lama's schools in India. His stories were fascinating and it was quite clear he was concerned to how Tibet was changing with being under Chinese rule.

(22) The army was brought into Lhasa before the Chinese 'National Day' holiday in case of any problems. Included in this were a number of army women who looked like they were being brought in to improve morale as they were dressed in short skirts and knee high boots.

(23) Going to one of the best restuarants I have ever been to, called 'The House of Shambhala'. If you ever get to go to Lhasa you have to go - the setting is amazing and the food is fantastic.

(24) Getting a trip down the massive hill from Drepung in a three-wheeler type van with a bunch of monks. The driver (clearly being an environmentalist) never switched the engine on once and free-wheeled all the way down the hill while standing on the brakes most of the way down.

(25) Being fortunate to have met Annie, Brad, Brenda, David, Diane, Kevin and Sally while I was in Tibet. They definitely made the visit a fantastic one.

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vicbaker on

First pandas now yaks?!
Blimey, sounds like you've found your spiritual home in amongst the worst toilet in the world, and the first class oxygen pumps. I'm almost envious - wonder if we can persuade the CTA to install them on the el, well the oxygen pumps, the el already smells like the worst toilet! Sounds like you're having a blast, and your trip to the spa and the 'massage'...secret's safe with me mate! Take care, and keep the blogs coming.

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