Disappointment with a capital D!

Trip Start Apr 26, 2012
Trip End Oct 31, 2012

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Flag of China  , Tibet,
Monday, June 11, 2012

Well this was it. Make or break. Overnight our guide had heard there had been a number of foreign groups who had been refused entry to EBC even though they had had permits. My heart sank at that news but if we didn't at least try and get through we would always be left wondering.

Breakfast sat like a lump in my throat. Even three cups of tea couldn’t wash it down. We all piled in the van, silently saying prayers to whatever god would listen. The mood was pensive. Would going to the checkpoint with the Singapore group be a good thing or bad? Was it safer in numbers or would a smaller group slip through. In the end we had made the decision to go in numbers, helped by the fact that all the Singaporeans looked and spoke Chinese.

As we approached and stopped at the checkpoint it was obvious it was heavily fortified and no-one looked particularly welcoming. Long army trench coats and automatic weapons don’t really advertise come on in! The guide told us to stay in the car for the time being and went with the other guides to make our argument. We had a permit didn’t we? What was the problem?

After significant animation up ahead it became more and more obvious that our attempt was to be futile. They even tried to take our guides license because she had brought us this far. Good for her she wouldn’t give it to them as the authorities, after all, had issued us a permit to go there and further. Apparently the road for foreigners was being fixed. Chinese tourists, however, were allowed to go on. A complete load of bollocks as it was obviously the same feckin road. Oh yeah….All Chinese except, and this was the real kicker….those from Shanghai, Shenzen, Hong Kong and Taiwan….Their own bloody citizens (Taiwan is of course debatable but we’ll leave that for another chapter). These are extremely progressive areas of China and Special Economic zones…obviously too special to be let into EBC. How would you like to turn up at Ayres Rock in Australia and be told you couldn’t go because you were from North Sydney or Tasmania!

A few more futile pleas to the guard who came to the car to shoo us away and we were all finally resigned to the fact we were not going any further. Tempers were frayed and a few harsh words towards the authorities were sprayed around the car. Tim and I had trekked for 4 weeks in 1997 to see the South face of Everest. This was to be an easier route to the north face but we were still looking forward to it immensely. Sue and Paul were devastated. It was probably their only chance to see it up close. 60th birthdays, 30th wedding anniversary…the fact that they had stuck it out in quite challenging conditions for 3 weeks already should have been more than reason enough for the gods to smile on us. Unfortunately not and we would just have to suck it up. If any of us could have got the tourist who had screwed it up for everyone in a room alone, they would have been nursing their bruises for months to come!!

As we drove back towards Shigatse I went through all the stages of anger and grief. Fortunately, the intense feelings only lasted about an hour before I started to plan how we could get there another time. Maybe the Annapurna circuit in Nepal for acclimatization then meet our lovely guide at the border for a trip to EBC and then onto Mt Kalaish…one of the holiest mountains in Buddhism….We’d have to leave it for another time though and hope the Chinese F@#king authorities woke up to themselves. We had heard they were stopping all the Indian and Nepali pilgrims to Mt Kalaish at the moment. Bastards! Many of those people sell all of their worldly possessions to make the journey for salvation. How devastating would it be for them to be stopped. When you put things in perspective, our hardship wasn’t anything compared to theirs.

So, I counted our blessings that we had been able to get the permits to come here in the first place and then negotiate the tangled web that is the train ticket purchase. I wasn’t about to let one incident, as frustrating as it was, ruin the memories of what we had already experienced or sour the activities we still had to complete.

On the way back to Shigatse we dropped in at Sakya Monastery. By this time the temples and monasteries were becoming a bit "Same, same but different". The difference for this one was the amazing collection of sacred texts. Thousands of them lined the wall, including the world’s biggest Buddhist text. Amazingly this was only 10% of the original collection. The other 90% had been destroyed during the “Cultural Revolution”. What an oxymoron. The Chinese in their communist fervor had simply wiped much of the culture of the whole country out. The irony is, they are still trying to squeeze the lifeblood out of what is left by making it into a “Tourist Attraction” for predominantly Chinese tourists who aren’t in the least bit interested in the history or religious significance but really, really like the gift shops!!

We finally arrived in Shigatse by late afternoon and were booked into a pretty swish hotel. We had a bit of a walk around town and decided it was a pretty nice place that was obviously expanding at a rate of knots judging by the construction that was happening. It would only happen faster when the new Lhasa – Shigatse railway was completed.

A nice dinner and a couple of beers, mended the still frayed tempers in the group. I think we were all still mad at both the authorities and the stupid tourists who had caused the situation, but we couldn’t do anything about it at the time….although, I have a feeling there’s going to be some fairly robust newspaper articles and letters to the Australian Foreign Minister when the Sue and Paul get home. Me, I’ll just whinge in this blog….!
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