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Goodman's Travels

Lhasa - Tibet

CHINA | Saturday, 12 May 2012 | Views [1898]

Saturday 5th May.

Lobsang, our guide

had left his telephone number with us so we were able to ring him at about 7.30am to tell him Wendy was not up to doing any tourist sites today. We had improved after we got off the train on Friday afternoon and thought we would be fine. Unfortunately the headaches and general lethargy set in and Panadol was required. Allan did a couple of short walks to buy some fruit and bread but it was not until 11.00am that we ventured out of the room to walk the main drag of Lhasa which is called Beijing Xarlam. We walked down as far as the Potala Palace which we were to visit in the next day or so. We took one look at the amount of steps and decided to make sure we left it until we were feeling much better. Our stroll lasted about an hour and a half and when we got back to the Lhasa Hostel, Lobsang was waiting there for us. He was concerned about Wendy’s health and had brought her some altitude sickness vials that promised to bring relief. She decided to give it a go.

Maybe it was a combination of the Panadol and the ‘snake oil medicine’ but we felt better that afternoon and went for an hour long walk. We found a restaurant that sold Indian, Western (whatever that is), Italian, Nepalese and Tibetan food. Allan had some Indian food and Wendy ordered a Tibetan Set. The Indian food of was a mutton curry and whilst it was quite good, it tasted like it was cooked by a non-Indian. Wendy’s Tibetan ‘curried chicken set’ consisted of a flavoursome curry, spiced vegetables, rice and chilli, all this along with some Naan bread meant we had a nice meal. Back to the Hostel, bed and a movie.#

Sunday 6th May 2012

Woke feeling much better although our sleep was broken quite often due to the altitude sickness. The sickness was hitting us in a number of ways. We had headaches, lethargy and along with the general pollution, we had minors ‘colds’ that entailed blowing the nose a lot. Wendy also developed a bad cough.

Breakfast that day consisted of a salad sandwich and a piece of fruit. We met Lobsang at 9.00am and set off for what turned out to be a fascinating day. We firstly walked the 1000m from the Hostel down to the Potala Palace where we registered for next days tour at 10.00am. We then did a U turn and walked back down Beijing Xarlem to the Jokhang Temple where we spent the next three hours listening to the history of Buddhism and Lhasa and the Tibetan way. The Temple was surrounded by pilgrims circumbambulating the temple in a clockwise direction. If you wanted to go around, you had to do it in a clockwise direction. To not do so would be disrespectful. Jokhang Temple is the spiritual centre of Tibet, the Holy of Holies, the destination of millions of pilgrims. We went though the Temple of Prayer Wheels at prayer time. The whole area was a working temple and to see the locals and the pilgrims praising Buddha in the many varied ways was fascinating. There were people from aged 20 to aged 80, practising a prayer ritual that meant you stood upright with a piece of wood in each hand. You then went down to your knees and then flat on your face, using the wood in each hand to slide onto the ground. You do this 500 times per day (apparently).

 

Another form of prayer is to hold in your right hand, a prayer wheel, you rotate the wheel in a clockwise motion. Inside the prayer wheel is the scriptures written on paper and wound around the wheel. There are many and varied Prayer Wheels but they all have the same significance in Prayer.

This photo was taken in the bowels of a back alleys off Barkor Street where everyone was praying 'the mantra'. Lobsang said it was a special day, we were lucky to see it. He has never taken anyone else there and didn't know how we would be received.

After lunch we went to Norbulingka, The Summer Palace, it is 46 acres and located in the west of Lhasa City. The Summer Palace is exactly that. In the summer time the Dalai Lama spent most of the time here and in the winter he spent it at the Potala Palace. The day we were there, there was a Tibetan Opera being performed by the Lhasa Opera Company.

It was very interesting and we guessed the storyline. It may have been about a Prince/King (man on horse) and a female who toyed with his affections.

We watched it for about 15 minutes (the most we’ve watched any Opera let alone a Tibetan one)

The costumes were spectacular.

We then walked around the Summer Palace in a clockwise direction and viewed four Palaces of the Dalai Lamas. No. 5, 8, 13 and 14 (the current D.L.) That took about 2 hours. When it was time to go, we walked past the Opera which was still going.

Lobsang noted that the Lhasa Opera Company performers are paid very well but he didn’t elaborate what that meant.

After our dinner that night we strolled down Beijing Xarlem to the Potala Square Garden which is basically a very large public area situated directly opposite the Palace, where the locals gather and enjoy the Gardens and the water fountains. In the middle of the Square is a large area that is commonly used for communal gatherings and festivals. That night we were lucky enough to come across a few hundred people doing what could be best described as a ‘line dance’ to music that was piped across the area by loud speakers on light poles.

They were being led by a lady in the middle and quite a number of children joined her there. Basically, they formed a very large circle and danced to the music in a similar fashion to that of line dancing. Another interesting feature of the event was that the very large water fountains (maybe 20 or more) sprayed in time with the music. Yes, sprayed in time with the music.

 

When the music went high pitched or up tempo, the fountains changed shape, direction and height. It was very impressive. The other interesting feature was the presence of three Army Guards with weapons going through the crowd making sure they didn’t encroach on the middle. They made sure the spectators were separated from those dancing. Also in the background was a large Fire Brigade truck fully ready to hose down any trouble.

The people were having such a great time I don’t think this would ever be necessary. We stayed around long enough for the Potala Palace lights to come on, it is quite spectacular in the dusk with the lights on.

Monday 7th May 2012

We were booked into the Potala Palace walking tour at 10.00am however Lobsang called for us at 9.00am and we walked to the Palace entrance where Lobsang advised us it would be better if we went unguided from there as guided tours are restricted to one hour and if a guide allows it to go over that time limit, he is fined a substantial amount and also it would give us more time to walk up and through it at our own pace. This seemed reasonable. So, we made our way slowly through the security at the main entrance, then another security point further into the outskirts of the Palace and we went up more steps to the ticketing office. It costs 100RMB per person. We were happy with the progress we were making, the illness was still with us but we were coping.

The Potala Palace is Lhasa’s cardinal landmark and stands out like a beacon in all directions.

It was set up in the 7th century by a bloke called King Songsten Gambo.

It is set on 41 hectares and has over 1000 rooms, although some say there are only 999 rooms. Some are dedicated to secular use and others for living. We followed other touring groups so we didn’t get lost. The important aspects of the Palace and the Buddas 1 to 14 and all the relevant statues, relics, artefacts and paraphernalia all had English translations so we didn’t feel we lost anything not having a guide. They can be over-informative sometimes and most of the information, whilst informative at the time, is lost soon after. The Palace is a fascinating place . After about 2 hours we met Lobsang at the rear gate.

We then took him back to the Hostel so Allan could get out the Ipad and show him where Australia is.

He has led a sheltered life and comes from a nomad family about 2 hours drive east of Lhasa. He has 3 brothers, 2 of whom are Monks and live in a monastery and the eldest brother still lives with his parents. He knows very little of the outside world. That day, we taught him the difference between Australian and Austria. Where Australia is on the map, how big it is and some minor information on the lifestyle. We also showed him the trail we had been on to get to Lhasa and some of the photo’s we’d taken. He said he wants to travel but cannot get a passport. It is very difficult for people under 50 y/o to obtain a passport and then they have many hurdles to jump. Mainly ones of ‘reason’ and sponsorship.

After he got bored with that we asked him to take us to a local Tibetan Eatery and he could line us up with a bowl of Tibetan noodles. Tibetan Noodles is the staple of the locals. He took us to a place he had never been before. He ordered Yak noodle soup and some Momo’s. The soup was a little tasteless. It had very little Yak meat in it, some spring onions, a tasteless broth and some home made noodles that were undercooked. The Momo’s were excellent. A Momo is basically the same as a wonton but the dough is thicker. Allan tried both Tibetan Teas. The first was a black tea made with Yak Milk and sugar which tasted OK, the other was a Tea made with Yak Butter, he didn’t like it. So now he had tasted most things to do with the Yak although straight Yak Butter was not on his agenda.

We wandered around after lunch looking at oil paintings of Tibetan life. Seen a few we liked but couldn’t agree on which one and apart from that, they were ’over the top’ expensive relying on the rich tourist. They missed out with us.

That afternoon we went to the Sera Monastery. Built in the 1419 it is one of the three great Monasteries in Lhasa and one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug sect of Buddhism in Tibet. The Sera monastery is known for its Buddhism Scriptures Debating where monks are seen preparing for monastic exams by staging mock debates in the ritual way. Some sit cross legged under trees while others run from group to group giving vigorous hand-claps to end the statement or make a point. It is all part of the education and promotion through the ranks for the Monks.

Even the Dalai Lama went through it.

The visit was fascinating and the ablution block disgusting.

Tuesday 8th May

Later start today, 9.30am to the Drepung Monastery. This is the largest monastery in the world and is part of the Gelug sect. Drepung Monastary means ‘ Auspicious rice Pile Temple’.

 

A couple of interesting aspects are the use of solar hot water heaters for their cooking water as shown in the photo below. You can see the pot sitting on the satellite dish being heated. Beacuse you are at about 3700m. it only takes about ten minutes to heat the kettle.

It also shows in the background the Prayer Flags that cover parts of the hillside as part of their hopes and dreams for eternal happiness.

It is situated at the foot of a mountain so of course there are many steps to be climbed to enjoy it. Again it was a fascinating place and Lobsang did a great job of explaining the history and beauty of it. Three hours of walking up and down steps and hearing the same history over and over again was enough and we took the afternoon off.

The afternoon was spent washing and snoozing. At about 5.00pm we decided to go to Barkor Street again and do a bit of haggling. Souvenirs for us and the offspring. Allan enjoys the haggling and its marvellous how much they will take you for if you let them. We have a philosophy that they will never lose on the deal, now matter how much you buy it for. For instance, Allan haggled for a Yak statue. They originally wanted 550RMB, after ten minutes of saying no, being physically pulled back and continually being asked ‘but whatsa you best price’ they agreed on 130RMB. This is typical. The T shirts always start at about 95RMB, they normally sell for about 35RMB dependant on your will.

Somehow during all the walking, haggling, walking away, saying NO, and forgetting what you really want, we ended up with two Yak statues. They will be book ends.

 

Wednesday 9th May - leave Lhasa

We were booked on the 1345hrs Train T28 Lhasa to Beijing, so we had a leisurely morning, bought some provisions for the train trip, packed and showered as late as possible and waited for Lobsang to collect us and take us to the station. Our bags are getting heavy.

We exchanged email addresses with Lobsang.

Got to the train station at about 1215hrs, said goodbye.

Got onto the train at about 1310hrs only to find people already in our berths. The people in our berths had been put in there by a couple of shifty Chinese travel guides who had sold them a package deal and told them they would get them a 4 berth cabin. They had booked the tour to Everest Base Camp in February and so expected they would be looked after. We booked ours only 10 days ago and got two bottom bunks. The dodgy Chinese Travel Official had told them just to stay in the cabin and they would sort out the people (us) when they arrived. They had stuffed up in the bookings and said they would fix it.

The Chinese Travel Officials then tried to talk us into giving up a bottom bunk so they could have four together. We said NO WAY. We had travelled right throughout south east Asia in middle and upper bunks and this was our first time at two bottom bunks in a soft sleeper. It turned out the four people, were a family of 3 from Germany/Switzerland (1 girl aged about 9) and an American and they told the Chinese Travel officials they would leave the train if they couldn’t get a cabin. The Travel Officials did some horse trading with some other Chinese passengers but failed. They approached us again and we again told them NO WAY. They went away again and tried some more horse trading. We were nearly at the stage where decisions had to be made, it was 15 minutes before the train was due to leave. Allan would not see the four of them go off the train because of this and was nearly to the point of selling his bottom sleeper to the Chinese Travel Officials when miraculously, the Travel Officials found a way around it. We think they bribed two Chinese passengers. (we hope they got a good price)

The family and the Yank got their cabin as they were promised and we got our two bottom bunks in what was the best train accommodation we had had on the Shoestring Tour.

The train has oxygen pumped slowly into it but with four in the cabin we decided to use nasal oxygen just to ensure we didn’t go to over 5000 metres and feel the same as before.

That evening we dined on pre-packaged rice and stew. It is a small package that has four components, 1, a rice vessel, 2 a sachet of stew, 3 a heat package, 4 a water sachet. It works well. You put the stew into the rice, put the lid tightly on the container, pull the string at the side of the container which releases the water onto the heat pack. When the water reacts with the heat pack it produces tremendous heat. So hot you cannot handle it on the bottom. After 15 minutes, you have a meal. Great for camping, not so great for a train meal. We even had a cold beer with dinner, the first one for quite some time.

Allan made friends with the German family and the Yank. They are Michaela, Hans ,Katarina (aged 9) and Fred Allen the yank (aged 56)

                                 

We met them for a drink in the dining car on the second day of the train trip. Katharina was a great little girl and amused herself with the help of IT equipment.      

                    

Lhasa has been a great trip for us although the altitude sickness has certainly impacted on our activities. It has been very educational and Lobsang has been a tremendous guide. There are a few things we won’t miss. The constant smell of incense no matter where you went. The acrid smell of Yak butter. The pollution in the air was sufficient for a good percentage of the locals to wear face masks. A lot of the parents made their children wear them whilst they didn’t.

Our two Chinese travelling companions in the top bunks are very nice fellows. The only word of English they know is thank you. They were very good travelling companions.

 

 

 

# Before leaving on the ‘Asia on a shoestring’ tour, Allan copied about 20 movies onto a portable hard-drive, so we watched one of those on the 10inch Dell laptop we brought with us. We also had a pair of small computer speakers that got power from the computer. A nice little entertainment package. We were also able to plug our Ipod/iphones into it when we wanted music and on the occasions where we had wifi in our room we were able to listen to radio around the world. We mainly listened to the Sydney ABC radio to keep us up to date. On our Iphones/Ipad we have an App called TuneIn which will provide feed from any radio station in the world. NOT IN CHINA.

They have blocked access to outside radio from them. Every time we tried to use it, they directed us to what they said was a ‘similar Chinese radio station. We got around that by going through the computer and getting direct feed from WWW.ABCradio.com.au

 

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