Trip Start May 21, 2010
8Trip End Jun 05, 2010
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Where I stayed
New Mandala Hotel
Lhasa - 3660M above sea level
Well our passports eventually turned up, evidently someone's caused a problem but we don't know whose. Hope it wasn't ours. Still all ok now and we have our group visa and we are off to the airport to catch our flight on time.
The flight was spectacular, though we didn't have a window seat we did get a good view of Everest as we flew over. A very nice girl, travelling with Explore I think, took this brilliant photo Sadly I can't lay claim to it. I am surprised that when the pilot said you can now see Everest on your left hand side that the plane did not tip to one side as we all dashed over....
Lhasa's airport (Gonggar) is brand spanking new, shiny and clean. It is around 50kms from the city as there is no flat ground nearer the city. We were welcomed with white prayer scarves and split into groups of four to go into the jeeps. En route to the city we stopped at a Buddhist shrine bedecked with prayer flags.
After around an hour we were passing the new railway station bringing the highest railway line in the world into Lhasa, and a steady flow of Han chinese to water down the local population. The main road into Lhasa is a very quiet six lane highway. Again, brand spanking new. The Chinese government has truly stamped its mark on the city - it looks a lot like the newer bits of Beijing.
However, suddenly looming in front of us was the main reason for our visit to Lhasa - the wonderful Potala Palace. Perched high above the city it dominates all around. It is truly one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen and I am so looking forward to going around it and seeing it properly. Ole is too....
We are staying at the New Mandala Hotel. Very glossy in reception. Rooms are OK but my god are the beds hard!
Our guide, Dumdrup, recommended the Lhasa Kitchen in the main square, Barkhor, for us to eat in and showed us how to walk there from the hotel. Before we went to dinner we had the chance to do some bartering at the market stalls and all for a really nice cup of Starbucks style coffee at the Tibetan Summit Fine Art Cafe, tucked to the side of a hotel.
I really cannot believe I am in Lhasa. A place that was pretty much closed to outsiders when I was a child and is still tricky to get into - hence the (dis)organised tour that we find ourselves on.
Food was good in the Lhasa Kitchen and Ole tried some of the local beer..
After dinner we went off on our own to see the Potala Palace lit up. It was about a 10 minute walk from the restaurant. A safe walk, though a bit strange, as there were pockets of the Chinese Army stationed (and armed) on every street corner. Thursday (our last day in Lhasa) will be Buddha's birthday. We did know this when we booked. The Chinese are going for a show of strength, I guess to avoid a repeat of the unrest in 2008. The locals continue on their pilgrimage (neykhor) around the city. Hundreds of people, often prostrating themselves every couple of steps. While we've been eating it's gone cold and feels like it might snow. We had gone out without coats...
Made it to the palace square to see the wonderful building lit up. It is every bit as beautiful as the photos you see of it and and just such an iconic sight. Shame about the faceless, soulless square that has been built just in front of it. The fountains do a light and sound show that's quite nice but the wind whips the spray from the fountains all over the place and so makes a mess of photos in the dark - at least with my little point and shoot.
On the walk back I noticed the Army guards had changed into their winter gear and furry
hats...we looked like we were on a night out in Newcastle. Not a coat between us.
26th May 2010 - Lhasa
Hard Bed Score 10++
Breakfast score 6 - and only this high because they did have omelettes...
It had snowed in the night and we could see it on the hills behind the city. I thought it had been cold.
We started off in the Summer Palace (Norbulinka), the former Summer residence of the Dalai Lamas. It was fascinating. Different parts have been added through the years and the complex is huge.
After this it was the big moment...our trip to the Potala Palace. How many steps though at altitude!!!!! I cannot believe I managed to climb them all. Sadly you cannot take photos in the Palace itself but I was amazing to go round and to see all the temples and rooms.
After the tour of the Palace itself we went back down to the main square to take our photos in front on the palace. The square might be soulless but it is the best place to view the palace. As we were walking down we all noticed that the sun had developed a 'halo' it looked amazing. Not sure if it was due to altitude or what but we had to try to take a photo of it.
The only people in the square are police and western tourists having their photos taken. You can't even put a bag down on the floor without the police blowing their whistles at you!
We had lunch at the Tibetan Steakhouse. Many of the group had various yak dishes - Yak sizzler, stew etc. I had Yak momos and Ole enjoyed more Lhasa beer (I see once again we stuck to the no alcohol at altitude rule...)
The remainder of the afternoon was spent at Sera Monastery. This was in Michael Palin's "Himalaya" series and is the place with the debating monks. We got to go in the Debating Courtyard where a debate was taking place. Obviously no idea what was being debated but it was good to see. Then it was back to the hotel for a wash and brush up.
We had dinner at the Snowland Restaurant - just across the road from the Lhasa kitchen. Again the food was good.
Score for the day:
Buddha count - at least 540
Step count - off the scale
Yak count - 4 - bits on plates and the Golden Yak roundabout
Toilet rating - 2
27th May 2010
Final day in Lhasa
Today we visited the Drepung Monastery. This is huge and is still being rebuilt after the damage caused when the Chinese took over. We were able to see the monks at prayer and see all the temples. The guidebook says this monastery was relatively untouched by the cultural revolution but seeing the monks with Nike trainers and mobiles phones means they've caught up with modern culture...certainly the toilets were untouched by any sanitary revolution..still got me out in the open air...
The final thing to see in Lhasa really in the most sacred. The Jokhang Temple in Bhakor square. The only problem is today is Buddha's birthday and the place is teeming. We had a rugby scrum to get in with the pilgrims. Also felt guilty as because we had paid an entrance fee we jumped the queue somewhat. Some of the people had been waiting for ages to get in. The view from the roof was excellent though, with a fabulous view across the square to the Potala Palace.
We had the rest of the afternoon free to shop and look around. Managed to get some little things to take home. Everyone is so friendly. Dinner was at the Makeame - as seen on 'Himalaya'. A dalai lama used to use this for illicit meetings. It was our most expensive meal in Lhasa and our most disappointing, though I suspect we chose badly!
Outside as the sun went down it got busier and busier with pilgrims! The air was thick with smoke and the scent of juniper being burnt.
Once we had eaten it was off to a final night on the hard beds and tomorrow we are off to Gyanste...