The other thing that made the trip extra enjoyable was my very fun company. We started off 7 people on the buss from Kathmandu to the border and then split up in the 4x4's. I ended up with - Jean and Ignasio. We made instant friends. I'm hoping to meet Ignasio for some trekking in Laos in couple of weeks and hopefully party it up for New Years with Jean in Goa. The forth person in our land cruiser was 72 year old Indian guy, who we called our spiritual leader, so we never actually learned his name. We learned that he snores, though.
The second day of the trip things improved logistically, as the road seemed to have less holes than the night before. The skies were blue and little angelic clouds were floating over the horizon. The Tibetan music was a perfect background. A little breathless from the altitude and from the scenery, I felt like a sugar cube that dissolves in a glass of jasmine tea and becomes one with the Universe. Quite possibly, my dreamlike state was a direct result of the lack of oxygen. I enjoyed it non the less.
Days after day, we passed by little towns, high passes with webs of prayer flags hanging over them, motorized tractors, monasteries, monks, prayer wheels and pilgrims that were prostrating themselves along the koras (paths around a wholly place)
. I got used to my new diet of veggie noodles and cookies. I even started enjoying it. Sleeping in my cloths started feeling natural. I didn't even miss having shower - it was too cold for that. Then on day six we arrived in Lhasa. The moment the Potala finally appeared before us was enhanced by Ignasio's brilliant and slightly disappointed comment - "Ah, no tulips". The Potala is the most admired building in Tibet. It was the residence of the Dalai Lamas for many years and now it's a museum. It seems like the undeniable beauty of the building is not sufficient, so in most tourist posters it appears with a lush garden of read tulips infront. I've also seen postcards with rivers, lakes, forests, etc. Let's call it cultural difference rather than a bad taste.
My favorite moment in Lhasa was actually in the Pothala. We were standing in awe infront of the tomb of The Great Fifth Dalai Lama - a stupa goldplated with 3.6 tones of gold (no mistake) and lavishly decorated with pearls a and precious stones. I asked if the entrance is behind a golden grid up on top, so we all got quiet and tried to figure out what was that mysterious thing behind the grid. Then we hear an animal like growl - agrhhhh. We turned around and saw a monk sitting directly behind us. He was pulling our leg! We all burst out laughing, then we left and the monk started praying. Brilliant!
Will put some captions on the pics later...
So Tibet, hum. Everyone that has made it to the forbidden land seems to be disappointed. My expectations were so low, I actually quite enjoyed it. Quite possibly, the fact that I started my trip overland from Kathmandu instead of flying or training it directly into Lhasa made all the difference. The "friendship highway" between Kathmandu and Lhasa is practically and overused dirt road the first 100 km from the border. To make things more fun, the road is only open after 9 pm, because someone is supposedly working on it during the day. Bouncing on the back of a 4x4 in the middle of the night after having dragged your backpack for half and hour uphill on the muddy road between trucks, kids and sheep to cross the border adds a special sense of adventure. Bouncing about, Tibetan music blasting from the radio, I had this image of myself being a karaoke ball, the pointer that bounces up and down with the rhythm on the top of usually familiar text that you just can't quite remember right now.