Monday, November 23, 2015

Explore Tibet

driving up all the switchbacks on the way to EBC
TIBET It's a long one. Hang in there.

We made it to the train station and after they checked our permits, we walked outside and saw a sign with Jordan's name on it.One of the trip advisors, Kelsing hand come to pick us up. We drove to the Heritage Hotel where we were greeted with tea in old Lhasa right by the mosque. Yup. We were pretty much told to just rest and both of us were feeling sick, but eventually we couldn't take it anymore and walked around. We met a few other people doing the same trip (there were 2 groups of 8 and one group of 3) and even though they told us not to, we got street food from the Muslim market. It was delicious. 

Potala Palace
We both slept terribly due to sickness and altitude, and were glad when morning finally came. We got breakfast at our hotel that included fruit, toast, veggies, potatoes, noodles, some kind of egg, and either little waffles or yak yogurt with fruit. Then it was time to go to the Potala Palace which was first built by the 33rd king Songtsen Gangpo in the 7th century and then later rebuilt in the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama. Since then it has housed all the Dalai Lamas until the current one, who would reside there if he weren't exiled. We drove back to the center of town and all ate lunch at a place that had every kind of food, except Jordan whose stomach was hurting. I had momos – little Tibetan dumplings – half with veggies, half with potatoes. The dipping sauce was so much better than the plain vinegar you get in China. I was really excited because I fist had momos at the Tibetan settlement Bylakuppe in India 5 years ago and I loved them! Them we visited Jokhang Temple. We saw pilgrims doing prostrations in front of the temple. The Nepali wife of one of the kings of Tibet built this temple to house her Buddha, and its location exists because the king threw up his ring and it landed in a lake. Then a thousand goats carried dirt on their back to fill it in. It now houses the Buddha of the Chinese wife of the same king, because China's in charge. We also walked around the Bakhor street which goes around the temple and is a market place and one of the three circumnavigations in the city – the first is inside the temple, and the last goes around the whole old city. Our guide, Sonam, gave us directions back to the hotel and they were terrible. In reality, it was a pretty straight shot, but we just found our way to the main road which was way easier. The rest of the afternoon and evening we just rested in our hotel room. I was still feeling bad and Jordan was worse.

Jokhang Temple

After another mostly sleepless night, we ate and got in the van to go to the Drepung Monastery, a litte west of the city. It was the world's largest monastery with over 10,000 monks, and housed the Dalai Lama before the Potala Palace. There were lots of little narrow streets where the monks live that were fun to walk through. Then we drove to the travel agency where we had to pay our remaining balance. We were paying them hundreds of dollars but they made it feel so nice because they brought us tea and a ton of snacks! Close to the next monastery, and there was a vegetarian restaurant J and I ate at. It was pretty good, but pretty much like what we got in China. We shared steamed greens, a tofu dish, rice, and some steamed buns stuffed with cabbage. Then we went up to the Sera Monastery. We got to see the monks debating which was fun. I got to see this in Bylakuppe, but this was much more intimate in a little shaded courtyard. There were still a ton of tourists though.
Drepung Monastery
Sera Monastery
After we drove back to the hotel, we walked around the temple and got some threads that women braid into their hair.
We were finally ready to leave Lhasa. Jordan was still feeling bad with stomach issues, but I was feeling mostly better. We ate and then got on our way towards Shigatse. We stopped by the Brahmaputra River, which we followed for a while, and a homemade incense factory. Sonam told us we were driving straight there, instead of the detour that brought us by some sights, because there was construction going on and they only opened the road from 1-3pm. We drove a bit further and then stopped. It turns out the closed the main road for construction too, and the even longer detour we were going to take over the pass was also closed. Eventually all the drivers and tour guides wen to talk to the traffic police, and I don't know what they said but eventually they all came running back and jumped in the cars to start going. We had to pass the section of the closed road by driving on pretty nonexistent, dirt and sand roads that were very bumpy. We finally made it to our hotel, 3 hours later than expected. Sonam took care of our Everest Base Camp (EBC) permit while we hung out in our super cute rooms, which we didn't take a picture of because we thought we'd be back. Then we headed to the Tashu Lhunpo Monastery. It was built by the first Dalai Lama in 1447 and then became the home of the Panchen Lamas. It houses the stupa (tombs) of 7 previous Panchen Lamas. The current one was chosen by the Chinese government so no one really considers him a real one.
We wandered down the streets and ate at a restaurant and thoroughly confused the waitresses. But I got a huge pot of veggie soup for about $2! We also got Tibetan milk tea, which is just black tea with milk and sugar except the milk came from a yak. I kind of like the yak thing. It's not as strong as goat dairy products but definitely tastes different from cow. We've gotten a lot of questions about our vegetarianism. Mostly we've been a lot less strict here, especially Jordan, who mostly identifies as vegan unless she makes her our animal products she buys from PCC. I'm used to the questions and keep my answers short but Jordan tried to explain. Most people on our trip have been pretty understanding. We always knew China would give us the biggest issues but it really hasn't been much of a problem. As long as we had our little paper that said we don't eat meat we were fine (plus the cookies helped supplement our diet, obviously)!

After an early breakfast that wasn't really ready when it was supposed to be, we headed out for EBC. It was a pretty long drive, up and over passes (5400m and 5250m, the highest points of our trip) with hairpin switchbacks. But the changing landscapes were amazing. Mountains, rock formations, little villages, monasteries up in the mountains and stupas everywhere. There were cave dwellings in the sides of the cliffs, rivers and streams, and less and less vegetation the higher we got. I was thinking to myself how amazing and blue the sky had been in Tibet, but apparently I thought too soon because the clouds started slowly appearing in the sky. We stopped at a lookout on top of one of the passes where you can see the mountains above 8,000m, but most of them were hidden behind the clouds. If it was clear we'd be able to see Mt. Makalu (8463m), Mt, Lotse (8516m), Mt. Everest (8516m), Mt, Cho Oyu (8201m) and Mt. Shishapama (8020m). Still a truly awesome view. We arrived at Rongbuk Monastery, the highest in the world at 5,200m and saw the cave where a monk whose name I've completely forgotten meditated for 12 years. It was actually quite warm down there! There was a woman praying with a kitten on her lap. They've since built a new monastery just up the road a bit and have a guesthouse where we were planning on staying. Then we continued on to EBC! Some people from the other group walked, which I would have done, but our whole van drove and there wasn't any reason to walk except we had been driving all day. It was cold and we were at a high elevation and it wasn't a spectacular walk or anything. At this point it was pretty cloudy, and we could only see the bottom half of Everest. Still pretty cool. We took some pictures and hung out a bit, and then made our way back to the warm van. One of the couples in our group, Nathan and Kate from Alaska, were up there for a while. As they were coming back down, Jordan said “Man, they were up there so long, I thought they'd get engaged or something”. And they had! It was very exciting. Then our driver, who didn't speak English but had been winking at Jordan through the rearview mirror and saying “okay” to her a lot said he wanted to marry her. So I guess she's moving to Tibet! We got word that there was a snowstorm in the forecast and they were recommending people go back to the closest town, at least a 2 hour drive. Along with the other groups we decided to stay anyway. 

We were in a room with Bonni from Croatia, a flight attendant who lives in Dubai, and Antje from Germany. It was freezing, and all we had was 4 very thin beds and a bunch of blankets that never got washed. We got talking about spiders and somehow all were just cracking up at everything. It warmed us up a bit at least! We went into the common room which was slightly warmer because there was a yak dung stove in the middle of it. We got some overpriced lemon ginger tea and our whole group could not stop laughing. Everyone was looking at us but we were having a great time. We had a really great group and were lucky to all get along so well. We had also made friends with the people in the other group, and they were all really nice. Finally we had to go to bed. Jordan, Bonni and I pushed the beds together and slept sideways on 2 beds so we'd be closer to each other. We put blankets under us and all the blankets on top of us. It was pretty suffocating but it was warm. I don't think any of us slept much. It was hard to breathe, everything hurt, Jordan's stomach got really bad, and eventually I had to pee which I tried to hold as long as I could but eventually had to go outside to the outhouse. I also got a pounding altitude headache. I was pretty thankful for morning. My head was so bad, I took some excedrin but then I felt nauseous and threw up the tea. I felt a lot better afterwards. 

Some people bought breakfast and then we started driving. There had been a little snow so it was slow at first, but soon the roads were clear. Sonam showed us all the beautiful pictures he had taken of Everest when it was actually clear. Oh well, I guess I'll have to go back someday! After hours of driving back to Shigatse, we made it to a different hotel than we had been in before. It was bigger and more modern looking but there was no heat. Finally we switched rooms and were ok. We went to the supermarket and had snacks for dinner. It had been a while. We found an English TV channel about Africa so we watched that for a while and then fell asleep. 

Jordan woke up and her stomach was really bad. She was at the point where we thought she might have a blocked intestine, which can be serious. She tried to talk to a doctor in Lhasa, who didn't actually speak English like they said they did. A woman from the other group, Anita, had been a nurse for forever and helped her too. It was a painful day for her but she stuck it out till Lhasa. On our way back we stopped at Gyantse and saw the monastery and the Kumbum stupa which is the largest in Tibet, and Yamdrok lake, a giant turquoise lake that's shaped like a scorpion. People do pilgrimages around it and it takes over a week to walk around. We also saw the Nyenchen Kangsar Glacier. The angels from the other group, Levi, Lacey and Anita, made it possible for Jordan to stay at the Sheraton with them since there was a doctor there and it'd be more comfortable. She didn't actually see the doctor but Anita gave her some meds and helped her. The rest of us made it back to our hotel at about 6:30pm. We were so ready to be done driving. Since I was alone I got upgraded to a suite too, but it wasn't the Sheraton! It was still fun to be in a giant room, even though I was worrying about Jordan the whole time. It was also Kate's birthday so we had a cake to celebrate and then most of us went to a vegetarian restaurant for out last meal together.

Our last day in Tibet was Halloween. I was on the early bus so we got going right after breakfast. We picked up Jordan and she looked much better, although she wasn't completely better yet. We dropped Catriona and Joe off at the train station, who were only doing the first half of the train ride we had taken. You know, only 24 hours. Then we went to the airport. 4 of us were continuing on to Kathmandu so we said bye to the others and then went to check in. They had delayed our flight for no reason but eventually we made it to our gate, and then on the plane. It was only 1.5 hours but it cost than it did for us to fly from Seattle to Beijing! I didn't have a window seat but I could still see some pretty fantastic views of the Himalaya.

Tibet was an amazing experience. Was it worth it? I don't know. It was definitely touristy, but it has to be so that's what we expected. We had a great group and guide. It was very expensive, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to go again or if it will even be open, so I feel very fortunate to have been able to be privileged enough to go. If you only have a week to go to Tibet, this is pretty much the tour every company does. But if you want to experience more, maybe wait until you're super rich and can plan your own private tour. I have a lot of plans for when I become super rich...

people prostrating outside Jokhang Temple, Lhasa

debating monks

circle of life/death

Many of the peaks over 8,000m. If only you could see them...

Rongbuk Monastery



Everest hiding behind the clouds

Nyenchen Kangsar Glacier

1 comment:

  1. I love your updates! I just comment to make sure you know I'm following along