Back From The Brink Of Everest.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2018

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Where I stayed
Yak Hotel Lhasa
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of China  , Tibet,
Sunday, April 17, 2011

Driving through the Tibet countryside gives me a strange feeling of time travel. We are in a Toyota 4 Wheel Drive and our driver and guide in front wear western clothes but the scenery going past is from another time, another place. Tibetans work in the fields with, at best, horse or yak ploughs, and at worst, a hand plough. The earth is dry and looks unproductive and uncooperative but this is just because the snow has only just melted. In a few weeks crops will start to grow and the landscape will take on another view. Blossom is out everywhere giving the landscape small patches of vivid shades of pink and white in the unrelenting brown.

The women of Tibet work extremely hard. It is not uncommon to see the wife using the hand plough, with a baby strapped to her back, whilst the husband follows behind, scattering the seed. We see women hauling blocks of stone, strapped to their back on a frame, for road works. Our modern vehicle glides by a woman mixing concrete in a hand turned mixer, and then we pass by an old wooden water wheel. It is certainly scenes from yesteryear. Tibetans live an austere simple life, but take great pride in their animals, dressing them up with flowing colourful ribbons. Tibetans are very devout to their Buddhism and prayer flags can be found everywhere, even strung in impossible looking places, like between two mountain peaks.    

We visited another Monastery between Lhasa and Everest in the town of Gyantse. It seems to have several names, Perkhor Chode Monastery, Palcho Monastery and Baiju Temple. It was founded in 1418 (such amazingly old history in Tibet!) and its claim to fame is a huge pagoda that stands nine stories high, with 108 doors and 77 small individual chapels. This pagoda is called the "100,000 image Pagoda" as it has at least that many Buddha images either painted on or in clay on the walls. We arrived to the Monastery part of the complex as the monks were together, in the main assembly hall, finishing their meal in complete silence. While they eat they have in front of them old heavy parchment books of translations of Buddha's teachings but there is no sound, other than the (very) loud slurping of their soup.

Once inside any monastery in Tibet, there is a distinct and pungent smell that assails the senses. It is burning yak butter. The Tibetans bring their butter and add it to the dish of already burning butter, usually in front of Buddha. In the rarified mountain air we are in, breathing is a battle anyway, but add the smoke from yak butter and the effort of climbing monastery steps and we are constantly in a breathless state! 

Rising above the town of Gyantse is an amazing set of crumbling fortress walls. We ask our guide what they are all about. “To keep the English out” he replies. In Tibet? Yes! Back when The English were in India and spreading their territory further, a fortress wall was built to halt their progress. Besides the English bring rabbits and we all know from the Telstra advert that the walls in China were built to keep the rabbits out.  
Travelling on through the countryside and back to the capital, Lhasa we muse at how, wherever you are in Tibet the army is always in evidence. Roadblocks, and checks happen regularly and there are groups of soldiers stationed in little glass boxes everywhere. Despite all this, our precious Tibet Permit, which we were told to guard with our life and never let it out of our hands, was never asked for!

Back in Lhasa we had a day to ourselves and managed to get some chores done. When on the road for a long time there are always minor items to buy or get repaired. Avan’s backpack needed a new clip attachment, I needed a new watch band and we had a water bottle carrier and a hat that needed mending. All were achieved for a fraction of the cost expected and our guide was wonderful in negotiating a price. It seemed a little too low to us though, so we tipped a bit extra for a job well done. Last thing in Lhasa was to go to a Tibetan dance and music show, that showcased traditional dress and culture, and traditional dinner, with just about everything of yak origin. Delicious. We overhead an an American lady say "Does this have yak in it?" The polite waiter said " Are you a vegetarian Madam?" and she said "Only when it comes to Yak"! Hmmmm! why travel?.

Time now to leave Tibet and go back to China proper (Tibet is a special administration area of China). A flight with China Air was to take us from Lhasa to Beijing but we were to find out that it was actually via Chengdu and we had to get off the plane for 30 minutes, then re-board back to our same seats. It was very inconvenient but apparently the way it is done in China.

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