Last days in Lhasa..

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

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Flag of China  , Tibet,
Tuesday, June 12, 2012

We had a late buffet breakfast and set off for Tashilumpo monastery. Dedicated to the yellow hat sect and the Panchen Lama. Same, same but different again. This time we learnt what a great man the 10th Penchan Lama had been. The Chinese government had given him a choice during the "Cultural Revolution" to either get married (not allowed by the sect) of have Jonkhung temple destroyed. Of course he married. They then destroyed the stupors of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Penchan Lamas so nr 10 managed to gather up all the bits and put them all in one stupor. He then protested about a dam in the area that would have a profound effect on the lake levels and local communities. He was invited to Beijing and then upon returning to Shigatse he died 3 days later. The Chinese authorities had a stupor built and his remains interred within 10 days despite the locals wanting an investigation into cause of death. You can draw your own conclusions. The 11th Panchen Lama as chosen by Beijing and lives there. He comes to visit once a year and surprise, surprise….no-one bothers to visit him!

We suffered through the stupid speed checks again. A three hour journey taking almost 6 due to the ridiculous time limits set and the multiple checkpoints. Bureaucracy gone totally mad. By the time we got back to Lhasa we had used up 15 copies of our paperwork (permits etc)!!

Back at the hotel in Lhasa I started to sort out the next leg of our journey. Rather than take the Southern Silk Route by bus we would hook up to the Northern Route via Lanzhou, Turpan and then down to Kashgar. This meant we could travel by rail for most of the journey and hopefully not be troubled by the landslides that were so common at this time of year. Then there was banking, souvenir shopping and arranging visas for countries further down the track. Thank god the internet was working at the hotel.

First up the next day we had to change our train tickets. Rather than hop off in Golmud we were going all the way to Lanzhou hopefully. The best laid plans of course. After waiting in line for about 10 minutes at the ticket office she told us we couldn't have  sleeper tickets to Lanzhou, only seats. But we could have sleepers to Xining….the stop before!!!! And then we could take a bus or another train to Lanzhou. But hang on a minute. We couldn’t have two tickets. No, she couldn’t refund our previous ones, we would have to go all the way out to the train station.

No probs….REALLY……At least we still had the assistance of both the guide and the driver. Of course the lines were way longer at the station and tempers were getting frayed. We saw an absolute cretin try and push into our line…get thwarted by a security guide once…try again and when he got a serve from a small Chinese girl, got totally feral and actually smack her glasses from her face. Where are all the guns when you need one. …Or security personnel for that matter. Tim had to control himself not to totally deck him then and there.

We finally got our refund and then our new tickets and could set off for the Summer palace…or Norbilunku in Tibetan. Here we saw some lovely gardens and the summer palace for the 5th, 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas. The 5th started the place. The 13th loved carriages and had been an avid traceller to foreign places to promote Tibet and the 14th of course had to flee when he was 25 lest those leading the “Cultural Revolution” in the area send him down the path of the 10th Panchen Lama. It was lovely to finally see some sign of him…and quite frankly I was a bit surprised we were allowed to see this part of the complex. Wonders will never cease OR am I just being cynical that this is where the gift shop was and obviously where most of the people come to see… Disney Tibet at its best.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting shit done for the next leg of the journey and then we met for our final dinner. IT was to be a buffet and then Tibetan Opera. Food…OK. Opera…not bad actually. It was great to get an overview of all the different styles of traditional dress in the different areas as well as see the moves to some of the songs we had been hearing over and over and over again on the Van CD.

One of the most distressing things we learnt….not for us but for our lovely Tibetan friends and future independent minded tourists…was that the government was now going to limit permits to big groups of 10-15 of the same nationality. And …ALLl companies would have to book through a big Chinese company. This basically cuts out small operators like ours that cater to groups of two to four or five people who like to have more control over what they do and see.  Just fine if you like following a guide with a flag and getting ushered into every shopping establishment that gives a commission ….YUK, YUK, YUK!!!!! But absolutely appalling for anyone who wants to get a bit deeper under the surface of the true Tibetan culture. Tibet Disney….here it comes. I have a deep dread that this will do more damage to the Tibetan culture than the” Cultural Revolution” strove for. I really hope not but we’ve seen the ugly side of Chinese Tourism in so many places now I am very pessimistic.

I will be leaving Tibet with a deep sense of awe and respect for the Tibetans themselves who have retained their dignity and faith in the face of the Chinese Invasion. They live with guns, soldiers, police and checkpoints and yet still manage to worship to the best of their ability. A simple Tashi Delek is enough to make a connection with them and usually raise a heart-warming smile from both young and old. I love the way their faces light up when they realize you are make an attempt at their language and respect them as Tibetans.  

I also leave with a passionate dislike for the Chinese Authorities and their heavy handedness along with Chinese mass tourism. I have met many wonderful individuals in China but a whole bus load of 50 or more is enough to cower even the heartiest traveler. And no I don’t care if I never visit here again. We have another two weeks to travel west and hopefully enjoy the hospitality of another group of minorities…..We’ll see if that experience changes my mind any.
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