We left Lhasa today heading to the Freedom Highway which will eventually take us through part of Tibet to the Freindship Bridge at the Nepal border.
Leaving Lhasa it is surpring to see the number of new suburbs being built (all concrete multilevel stuff), and the level of construction on roads, bridges and railway lines. The Freindship Hwy is sealed road, but thats about the best you can say about it. One lane in each direction, and severely in need of maintenance. Our bus has been shaken about quite a bit. However, the views have been incredible, with lakes, rivers, passes, snow capped mountains, and fields of barley being harvested. The highway twists and climbs as it heads to Kampalla Pass, with an altidude of 4794 metres, before gradually dropping. At all stops we are now being accosted by locals selling trinkets, or wanting money for photos. Lunch was in a tiny cafe (if that is the correct term). Headed on through Karolla Pass (altitude of 5039 metres) before arriving at our overnight stop of Gyantse. We toured Gyantse Khumbum (an old monastery) before checking into the Gyantse Hotel. Gyantse is a popular tourist destination because of the Khumbum, and the hotel is very large. Whilst the facade and foyer are impressive, the rooms are not. No lift in the building, and given the altitude, climbing two flights of steps is painful.
Dinner was in a local restaurant. I think most of us are longing for a western meal.
Today was appoximately 8 hours of travel, with many police checkpoints along the way. Apparently, drivers of cars buses etc, are given a minimum time period in which to report to the next checkpoint. If you speed and arrive early, the driver is fined. As our local guide states, if we look like being early at a checkpoint, we stop for a photo opportunity or toilet break.
A more leisurely day today, leaving Gyantse at 8:30am for the drive to Shigatse. We were booked into our rooms at Shigatse Hotel prior to midday. Along the way we stopped at Gepelwater water mill, to look at the mill grinding barley, and an opportunity to photograph the barley fields. Later on, we stopped at a local farmers house for a tour. What an eye opener. It was a largish place, with TV, but no other comparison to what we expect of a house. In winter, the animals live downstairs, with a ladder up to the house itself.
After lunch, we toured the Tashilhunpo monastery for a few hours. These monasteries are all stunning, and the amount of detail is amazing. At both the Gyantse Kumbum and Tashilhunpo monastery we have seen solid gold and silver shrines for Dalai Lhama's and Penchen Lhama's, and the amount of carvings and artwork is amazing. These places are irreplaceable.
After the monastery, had a short stroll around the local markets before returning to the hotel for a rest before dinner. Lunch and dinner were both at the same restaurant, but whilst is was basically asian food, it is geared towards westerners. Dinner even involved some good old chips.
Poon, I've seen your comment, and you'll be pleased to know I finally found a place that sells fridge magnets. We have all commented that the tourism market hasn't been fully exploited, and souvenir shops are few. Plenty of trinkets, etc on sale, but souvenirs as we know them are few.
The weather is still fantastic and the days are warm to hot once the sun rises (generally between 7:30 and 8:00) and we are all commenting that there hasn't been a need for our cold weather gear yet.
I was hoping to post a few other photo's to the album but time is getting away from me. Will try do this next time. Tomorrow we whould get our first sight of Mt Everest.