Loopy Lhasa

Trip Start May 12, 2005
Trip End May 14, 2006

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

This is where we started the blog from.....so stuff before here is going to be a little thin at first; lots of work getting three months of stuff up to date. Arrived here last wednesday; the 10th. Coped okay with the altitude (it's 3,700m) 'cause we flew in from chengdu which is only 800m. Lhasa has a really strange vibe, usually after a week in a place you get a definite "feel" for it, but the messages are so mixed here; remote but as convenient as any city in china/ tibetan but many of the businesses are chinese/ cold and hot in a matter of minutes (at this height, the sun is vicious, but when it goes away...)/ spiritual but commercial (the barkhor square area, a major pilgrim circuit has "hip-hop central" a shop selling baggy pants and basketball shirts and also a Dico's chicken; chinese chain of KFC'esque commercialism.....

anyways, enough crapping on...what have we been doing here?
The first few days we were tired on account of the altitude...we walked from the bus station with packs (as we normally do) and the 45mins it took ruined us for the rest of the day. staying in a youth hostel, a 12 bed dorm, but fairly used to dorm living as there is no other feasible option in big Chinese cities. The potala palace (former residence of the dalai lama and centre of government) provides a stunning entrance into lhasa and the pilgrims with wooden blocks strapped to their hands, prostrating their way around the palace, provide a spectacle for the miriad of tour buses cruising by. Tickets to the potala cost 100 yuan per person (up until beijing, we were spending 200yuan/ $30aus a day for both of us, for everything). Very expensive entrance ticket, but if your in lhasa, you gotta see the potala. To make matters worse, you have to queue up and buy your ticket a day in advance, or pay an agency another 50 yuan each to get a ticket for you. Needless to say, on our second afternoon in lhasa, we stood in a queue for a couple of hours with the locals.....

Met a few people at the youth hostel we are staying in (crazy place; they come in at 1;30 in the morning into the big dorms, turn on the lights and hassle people who haven't paid for their room that day!!!) and went to a Korean BBQ resturant..great tucker and really cheap. One the third day went to the Potala in the afternoon; an amazing structure, very ornate inside, views over the whole of lhasa and the surrounding mountains. We heard chanting and stamping coming through the roof of one of the little chapels and went outside to investigate. Two groups of workpeople were doing a really rythmical dance/stamp thing, when one group stopped the other started up; we think that they were stamping down some new construction; not sure but very cool.

Mark went for a bike ride around the city the other day; fairly hectic streets, stuff coming from everywhere and only pedestrians are lower than bikes on the street-rule pecking order. Saw a nasty accident fairly early on...so took it nice and easy. Rode to the river, the banks of which are concreted..then north to get a view of Sera monastery; passed a huge prison; wonder how many political prisoners are locked away in there indefinitely??

Snuck into the jokhang temple for free, with all the pilgrims and our swedish friend Rickard. Quite honestly, just this temple makes the visit to lhasa worthwile, it is saturated with sacredness. The pilgrims do a circuit inside the monastery; the prayer wheels are soaked in yak butter, everything is greasy and "humany" the light filters in from the gaps above...really great feel. Did the outer circuit twice and then queued up for almost an hour to get into the inner sanctum (other tourists just skipped the line, but as often happens, standing in line was an experience in its self).... Inside the major building pilgrims feed their own yak butter into massive lamps and candle beds. Lots of little shrines dedicated to differnt things and people didn't mind us poking around at all....gave little amounts of money at many of the shrines....Then it was up into the blistering sun and the roof of the whole complex. Great views of lhasa and prostrating pilgrims at the front of the building. The rooftop had nooks and crannies of its own and we explored it for the rest of the morning; basically a visit to the Jokhang amongst the masses of pilgrims is an almighty experience.

Nice big, fresh and interesting vegie market just north of the Potala. We wondered how much of the produce was shipped in from china as growing bananas at 3,700m might be a bit of a challenge. Non-the-less it was an interesting market and some of the breads on offer were delicious.

Made a day trip to Gamden monastery....had to get a pilgrim bus at 6am and took about 2hours to reach our destination...The climb up to 4,700m was fairly spectacular and a good bit of acclimatisation for our 4wd trip...The tibetans on our bus made straight for the nearbye pass and mde offerings of prayer flags and incense...we kept our distance, don't like intruding and then strung up a prayer flag ourselves (these purify the air and appease the gods). Then we started out on the kora circuit, a pilgrims path which wound all the way around the hill where the monastery was perched. Stacks of yaks and flowers, some friendly pilgrims and of course, great views. Got back to the monastery and had a poke around; actually more like a small village around some bigger buildings (as many of the places of worship are in tibet). Funnily enough clare and mark got a little hungry around 11 and popped into a great little tibetan tea house for yak noodle soup, potato curry, stir-fried yak and greens and sweet milk tea. Pretty full after our "little" snack, a couple of tour buses rocked up so we retreated up the hill and had a little kip in the sun. When we awoke, the tour buses were departing and we headed back towards the main building...invited inside by a couple of friendly lamas and sat in on the afternoon's meal/chanting...nice experience, leaning against cushions at the back of the hall watching the novices race each other pouring out the ubiquitous yak butter tea...

On the trip home a bag loaded with a thermos and other heavy things fell off the luggage rack and tonked clare square on the noggin...poor clare...but a great day in the end.

On our final afternoon in Lhasa we visited sera monastery, to the north of the city. Famous for the "debating" session every afternoon where lamas get nice and physical/fired up. Another village like setting and heaps of lanes to poke through..nice end to our time in Lhasa....

we leave here (lhasa) tommorrow and travel to nepal by landcruiser with a couple of brits. Very expensive, especially on our budget, but with the 40th anniversary of the "liberation" of Tibet on the 1st of september, getting around the country is even touchier than usual. NOt many people are trying the hitchhiking option and the pulic bus to nepal kicks foriegners off only one day into the journey. Should be a great trip, stopping at Shigatse, Ganste, Tingri and walking the well beaten 7km up to Ronbulk Monastery and Everest Base Camp. Will be spending a while in kathmandu, getting India visa organised and sussing out whether the security situaton is conducive for some trekking. Also hope to spend a day getting the blog up to scratch...gotta go and inspect our vechile; write more in a week or so...

Lhasa to Shigatse:
The first day of our Landcruiser journey started early; before 6am and Mark had more visits to the toilet in the night than he would have liked!!! But on the road we got, with our trusty driver Tenzing (no isn't surname wasn't Norgay and he hasn't climbed everest) and two travel companions; John a Scot and Brian an Englishman. First stop of interest was a pass above Yamdrock Lake (called Kamba-La, 4794m); locals pull out all stops dresing up sheep, dogs, yaks and children for fee-paying photographers; needless to say the Clare squeezed out a few free shots. Mark was ordered by three kids to go into the paying toilet when he peed on the side of the road; to which he replied "its a free country, i can pee anywhere i like!!" and then thought that the country hasn't been free for over 40 years!!! Drove down from the pass to the lake and then up again (to a pass called Karo-La; 5045m) (down and up is a recurring theme in this part of the world).. got some more views of a quieter area of the lake; simply stunning. Arrived in the town of Gyantse for lunch, there is a very famous monastery here and a spectacular fort. Being a little pressed for time and with quite a hefty entrance fee we decided to appreciate the monastery from the outside and cruise around the town (more of a village really)... bumped into some really cute kids who wanted us to make mud cakes with them and Mark obliged...just beat the rain back into the car and went to have a quick squiz at the fort. The drive to Shigatse was really beautiful, lots of agriculture on the way, arrived at Shigatse (3900m) and decided to visit the monastery here the next day.. Stayed in a pretty crumby/ expensive dorm room; but had a fun game of pool with Brian and John and then some local sharks and a really good nepalese dinner so a great day in all.
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