Lazing in Lhasa

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 19, 2008

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

It's 4 am, time for.... Popeye's Revenge! Enough spinach soup to serve the whole travelgroup. 2 sessions of green diarrhea explosions later I'm not feeling too keen on a 6 hour jeep ride across bumpy roads to Lhasa. And I'm thinking that maybe this is no normal food poisoning after all... I pop 2 diarhhea stoppers and hope that it will do the trick. It's one thing to paint the town red, but painting the jeep green I'm pretty sure won't be appreciated by my travel companions.

Waiting outside with the rest of the group my stomach starts to cramp. Something wants out desperately, and involuntary thoughts to the movie Alien creep up. Maybe it will pass... NO IT WON'T! I rush back into the hotel, lunge into the first open room I see and throw myself onto the toilet seat. And hope that the room is empty while I empty my stomach once more with a horrifying sound of wind, waves crashing, and buckets of pudding being emptied from great height. Two more diarrhea stoppers and all fingers and toes crossed I curl onto the front seat of the jeep and hope we get to Lhasa soon.

We take the scenic route, and on our way to Yamdrok Tso Lake I contemplate the cause of my discomfort. By the time we arrive to watch the sun rise over the lake and light the tops of the himalaya mountainrange I have settled on giardiasis. It fits the symptoms, and, perhaps more importantly, I brought the antibiotics to combat it from Spain. No beer for a week, 4 pills a day and I should be as good as new... I feel better already and get out of the jeep into the freezing cold to take some pictures.

The hotel in Lhasa is average at best, with old basic rooms and unintelligible staff located in the heart of the red-light district. A 'massage' parlour on the hotel grounds rents rooms by the minute and the sex shops lining our street sell appealing products like 'VAIGRA' impotence pills and dragon shaped condoms.

On our way to the centre we pass a street filled with yak butter stalls, the smell is overwhelming and makes me retch. I much prefer the gore of the meat stalls where the yak heads are resting with the horns on the pavement.

The roofterrace restaurant we have lunch at overlooks the rectangular road along which pilgrims procrastinate clockwise before entering the Jokhang palace. Some of these people have been walking from their mountain villages for as long as 2 years, the length of the trip indicating the harsh conditions but also that letting yourself drop to your knees and then lying facedown in the middle of the road every few meters is if not ludicrous certainly not a very efficient way of moving forward. It seems an odd sacrificing mode of worship from a religion whose holiest figure hardly looks like he could manage a 2 hour trek or drop to his knees if he could see them sagging below his potbelly.

The menu lists authentic Tibetan delicacies such as steamed yak lungs, bone marrow with lotus & saffron, and smoked sheep liver, the best thing we try is the warm salad of yak tongue, the worst yak cheese croquettes the smell of which I imagine could send a herde of yaks running in fear. It almost got me going. In the evening we end up in a hotpot restaurant. The pot is divided into 2 parts, one with fragrant chicken stock with vegetables, the other a lethal broth coloured deep brown by the piles of chilis and szechuan peppers. After letting your vegetable, fish or meat cook in the piping hot broth of choice you dip it into sesame oil flavoured with chopped garlic, coriander leafs and spring onion. It's tasty and fun. The beer is flowing and the evening takes a surreal turn for the best when Patrick starts filming a group of Chinese and the blind drunk birthday boy in his excitement to address us sprays saliva all over his party. Those tricky English vowels. Later, on instigation of the owner's wife, Raquel starts kicking the chef against his shins and everybody laughs. My stomach handles the food well, including the searingly spicy fondue, and I feel that the medicine is working.

At the Jokhang Palace the next morning we push our way through the throngs of procrastinating pilgrims to file past golden Buddhas and Dalai Lama's Throne and make our way to the roof. Views here are spectacular.

The steep climb up to the entrance of the Potala Palace is worth it. This is the winter palace of the Dalai Lama, but as he is in exile in India it's not much use to him, so the Chinese government out of the sheer goodness of its heart allows tourists to pay skyhigh fees (none of which remains in Tibet but rather is sent on a oneway trip to Bejing) to see only a fraction of the building, in which no pictures may be taken. Still, it's impressive, with 5000 kilos of gold shaped into precious stone encrusted tombs in which previous Lamas have been buried.

The last day of the tour is reserved for a visit to Sera monastry.
There are some cool stone paintings outside and the ubiquitous golden buddhas and atmospheric yakbutter lamps to show us lost souls the way to goodness, but the real attraction is to be found in the debating courtyard. Here, a hundred robed monks are playing a physical Q&A, where the slapping can mean agreement, disagreement, or 'you're a total fool' depending on the way the slap is delivered.

We spend an extra night in Lhasa after the tour, but change to another hotel which seems less sleazy. Except, the bathroom begs to differ and offers a fine selection of scented condoms, vacuum wrapped leopard skin underwear, vaigra and other chinese love potions. We've got the porn room!, Tiffani, who shares the room with us, exclaims. I think I will wear the slippers in the bathroom.

There's a movie on with english subtitles, a Russian made WWII flick. The Germans come off even worse in this bit of shameless hate propaganda than in the usual western ones, killing and raping children and their school teacher among other subtle displays of unabridged violence. It's really crap, but a welcome change from the Chinese propaganda channel cctv9, the only English spoken channel out of 60 or so we can receive here. That channel is an endless scroll of programs showing the fantastic achievements of the people of China, no matter how trivial (wong xin hai yesterday gave a heart rendering performance for an extatic crowd of 12 passers-by in the village of schonenbergweide in Germany, a full report) and the unparallelled beauty of the Chinese countryside. Other than that, there's a sports channel that shows NBA matches because there are 2 Chinese playing in it. Today the Houston Rockets play the of the other chinese dude... and the whole country is glued to the screen.

The stomach is still good, but I'm feeling really full. The diarrhea stoppers worked so well that I haven't had a shit since Gyantse 4 days ago and I fear my intestines can't contain more food. In the morning I finally manage; it's a beautiful solid brown specimen. I don't think I've ever looked quite so lovingly at a turd before. I'm cured!
We have breakfast with Patrick and Sergio, who are going back to see Everest Base Camp, and then head to the station to get on the train.
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