A Travellerspoint blog

Shigatse Tibet

26/9/2012

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.

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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.

27/9/2012

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.

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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.

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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.

Posted by HimalayanPeter 06:37 Comments (0)

Lhasa Tibet

25/9/2012

A relaxed start today with a 9:30am departure for the Tibetan Museum which opened at 10:00am. More security checks to enter the museum. However, we spent 2 hours at the musem, which was quite good. It contains some very interesting pieces.

Lunch was at a Tibetan restaurant in the old town, after which we had some time to wander the streets. Lhasa is an amazing city with plenty of growth (mainly chinese people and concrete buildings), but the old town has retained its charm and mystery. There are modern shops, and street stalls.

After the old town, we drove a short distance out of Lhasa to the Sera Monastery, the 2nd oldest monastery in Tibet. From the street it looks fairly run down and small, but once you enter the grounds (after another security check and xray), the monasterary is large and has a run down appeal. We toured through some of the buildings (no photos inside), and then watched the monk debates. This is a real experience, and whilst I took plenty of photos, I also took a video as this has to be seen and heard to truly appreciate. Suffice to say it is not a standard debate, and takes place in an open air enclosure, with tourists (and chinese police) encircling the monks. The debate appears to take place between individuals or groups, and involves plenty of pantomine.

This is our last day in Lhasa, as we make an early start tomorrow for Gyantse, which involves 8 hours of travel. We were back at the hotel by 4:30 pm, with dinner (a tibetan banquet again) in the hotel at 6:30pm. I think we are all looking forward to an early night, given the long day ahead of us. Also some of our travellers are still suffering from altitude sickness. Over the next few days, the altitude will continue to incease, and altitude sickness may re-occur in those of us that are currently feeling fine.

The weather in Lhasa is superb, with blue skies, some cloud, and hot. Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are essential. So far, the tour has been superb, and I enjoyed my time in Lhasa. Looking forward to getting out in the country, and seeing Mt Everest. Our guide is talking about an early start one day to see the sunrise on Mt Everest. Sounds great.

Don't know what the internet situation is so my blogs may cease for a few days.

Posted by HimalayanPeter 06:04 Comments (0)

Potala Palace & Jokhang Temple

24/09/2012

What a day! Visited Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple today. Fantastic.

But I'm jumping the gun. Yesterday, after arrival in Lhasa, I had a headache and was a bit light headed. Christine (our tour escort who has done this trip 8 times previously) warned us that the effects of altitude sickness would be worse on the first night. She was right. Didn't get much (if any) sleep last night as my heart was pounding, my head ached, and I was going to the toilet frequently because of all the bottled water I've been drinking to try and avoid the affects of altitude sickness. Fortunately, at some stage in the early morning, the effects dissapeared. One of our fellow travellers wasn't so lucky, as the tour escort had to arrange a visit during the night by a local doctor as her symptons were so severe. After an injection and 3 hours of IV solution, she was fine this morning.

Left the hotel at 10:00am to drive to Potala Palace. Had to pass through a couple of xray scans by the chinese authorities to get into the site. Out group was booked in for 12:00pm to 1:00pm as the Chinese authorities set a strict time limit on tourists within the palace (wandering the grounds and climbing the steps are not included in the 1 hour time limit. Given the heat (Lhasa is very hot at the moment) and altitude, the climb to the entrance was slow going, and we were all struggling for breath. No photography is allowed within the palace, but it is an incredible place and well worth the effort. The size of the place is amazing, and the interior is incredible.

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After the palace, we had a late lunch at a tibetan restaurant in the old town, before walking to the Jokhana Temple.This is also an incredible experience, and the views from the roof are amazing. Photography is allowed in the temple, with the exception of the Inner Temple. Although both the Potala Palace and the Jokhana Temple are open to the public, both are still used by monks, and extremely popular with pilgrims. The number of pilgrims making donations and prostrating themselves around both sites is amazing, and many people walk around the Potala Palace 3 time (clockwise) daily.

Had half an hour to walk around the shops and markets of the old town before heading straight to the Himalayan Hotel for dinner and a cultural show. We were not impressed at having to sit around for almost an hour before the meal was provided (Tibetan buffet), and the show didn't start until 7:00pm, but the show was definately worth it and our earlier complaints were forgotten. Only an hour, but the costumes, singing and dancing were incredible.

The only discocerting issue about Tibet and Lhasa is the large police and military presence. They are stationed on most street corners, and outside parks and attractions such as the Palace and the temple, and are even located on the roofs of some buildings. Photos of police and military are forbidden. Checkpoints exist throughout Tibet, and driving from the airport to Lhasa yesterday we had to stop at a checkpoint. Passports were needed to enter the Potala Palace.

Today was a highlight of the tour.

Posted by HimalayanPeter 07:43 Comments (1)

Lhasa Tibet

I've made it to Tibet!

Day started with a 5:30am wake up call, in readiness for a 6:30am departure to the airport. The hotel provided a breakfast box for each of us, as the restaurant was not open at that time. However, the breakfast consisted of 1 slice of dry bread, 1 small bread roll, a mini swiss roll, and what was either an orange or a lemon. Still, I ate most of it. Raining in Chengdu this morning, but got to the airport and through customs with plenty of time to board our Sichuan Airways A319 for the 2.25 hour flight to Lhasa. The flight was full (mostly Chinese tourists) and although I didn't have a window seat, the view of the Himalaya's was stunning. Breakfast was provided on the flight, but was a cross between boiled rice and porridge, with dry bread rolls and a couple of slices of fruit. The fruit was delicious!

Arrived at Gongkar Airport which is 47 kms from Lhasa and met our locat guide Rinchin (or Alex) and our driver Mr Du. Drove through several tunnels (one of which is 2.4km long) to reach Lhasa. After checking in and settling into our rooms, had a chinese banquet lunch (very nice and very filling). The altitude is telling on us all, with minor headaches and lethargy until we adjust to the altitude of 3,650 metres. Went for a brief walk after lunch (along the local street) but it became to much so headed back to the room to rest and acclimatise. Tomorrow will be a big day.

Weather is fine and surprisingly hot with clear blue skies which were missing over Chengdu. We had a brief glimpse of the Potala Palace in the distance as we drove in, but will visit it tomorrow.

There is plenty of construction taking place both within Lhasa, and on the route out from the airport. Not sure that the construction is an improvement for Lhasa. There was a chinese checkpoint to be passed as as drove from the airport, and plenty of signs of police and military presence. We have been warned not to photograph police, or military installations.

The Tibetan Hotel comprises a new and old section, and we are in the new section. Rooms are large, with internet access. As I write this, I am sitting in my room looking out the window at the moutains which surround the city. It is now 4:50 local time and dinner is at 6:30, but I intend staying in my room until dinner to get rid of my headache.

We are staying here for 3 nights, so I am assured of internet access (slow) during this time.

Posted by HimalayanPeter 01:51 Comments (0)

Panda's & Buddha

22/09/2012

An early start today with an 8:30 departure for the Panda Research Centre, as panda's are most active in the morning. The centre was crowded, but we saw pandas in open enclosures. I lashed out and made a sizeable donation to the centre, in return for being able to nurse a panda (in this case, Erxi, which means Double Happiness, a 1.5 year old male panda). It was an experience, and I have several photos as proof. Lunch was toasted sandwiches and fruit at the panda centre.

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Left the centre at 12:30pm for Leshan, a drive of 2.5 hours, to view the sitting buddha carved into the side of a cliff. The buddha is 72 metres tall, and the best way to see it is from the river. So we joined the rest of the tourists for a half hour ferry ride to view the buddha. It was spectacular, and for the first time since arriving in China, saw some blue sky and sun instead of smog. Then back on the road for the return drive to Chebgdu.

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Went straight to a restaurant for a buffet chinese dinner, before returning to the hotel at 7:45pm. There was an optional visit to the theatre this evening to see a chinese mask performance, but based on the long day and tomorrows early start, I declined.

This was our last day in Chengdu, as we fly to Lhasa in Tibet tomorrow. The flight leaves at 8:30am, and the airport is out of town, so we have to leave the hotel at 6:30am. Bags are to be outside our rooms by 10:30pm tonight for collection by the agent, who will get them to the airport, and arrange our boarding passes etc for our collection in the morning.

We have a local Chinese tour guide (Jason) until tomorrow, when we are met by a Tibetan tour guide in Lhasa. We also have an Australian tour escort, who has done this trip 8 times previously. She assures us we will get headches tomorrow because of altitude sickness, and tomorrow no activities are planned so that we have time to acclimatise. Drinking plenty of water helps. Of course, the tap water in this region is not safe for drinking, so we have to buy bottled water. Fortunately, the hotel in Chengdu provides 2 bottles of water a day for drinking, cleaning teeth etc, and tonight they have provided 4 bottles to ensure we are hydrated for tomorrow.

We are all looking forward to tomorrow and hoping that the government re-opens Everest Base Camp to visitors by the time we are due to visit.

Posted by HimalayanPeter 07:04 Comments (0)

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