Yesterday we slept in a bit in Shigatse then boarded the bus for our return trip back to Lhasa. The drive typically takes 4 hours, but currently there are speed restrictions so it takes 6. This meant that our driver had to check in at a police booth to get a card timestamped, then they would check his time at the next booth. He was a great driver, but we did end up stopping about 4 times to wait 15 minutes so we didn’t appear to speed. I guess the fines are steep – about $30 per minute over the allowed time for that section of road! Anyway, the stopping broke up the drive. At one stop we simply parked across the street from a house and 5 kids came out to play with Zoe. She loved digging in the dirt (and yak poo) with sticks like the others. At another stop we were near a waterfall! I had to pee and unfortunately put my bum into some sting weed. There are few toilets here, so going outside seems the norm. We’ve seen all kinds of people squatting to go along the road. Honestly it’s cleaner than the toilets; they are usually pretty filthy. In Tibet they have typically been simply a long trough to straddle and squat alongside all the other ladies. I don’t mind the toilet style so much as they are simply just dirty. The drive was pretty and different from the route we took to Shigatse – it was more direct and along the Yarlung river.
When we returned to our hotel in Lhasa – the Kailash – it was about 4pm. I went across the street to get a massage from a blind woman and Bryan and Zoe went out shopping. He found the coat he wanted for Christmas (but it was $200, so I didn’t get it) for $30! My massage was good; I guess there is a blind school here and people believe blind folks give good massages since their touch-senses are better than seeing people….probably true. In the evening we went out with our group and treated our guide Tsering and driver Yan to dinner. Our group of travel partners was great – Martin from the Netherlands is a 19 year old out of high school who wanted to travel before he figured out what to do in college, Lana from CA is a young professional who took a couple months to vacation, and Bill from Poland (I think, but now he lives in Australia) kept to himself except for the occassional outburst of complaints regarding traffic laws and ID checks.
Today we had the entire day to ourselves. Zoe and I slept in while Bryan went to the nearby WiFi cafe to chat with the fam on Skype. After breakfast we decided to try the entire citywide Kora. It’s the pilgrimage route around all the Tibetan Buddhist sites in Lhasa. We had a bright sunny day and Zoe wanted to ride the stroller so it was wonderful. We started in the Barkor area where we finally found a great, cheap, yak wool rug. The store we originally walked into had a few, but I didn’t like them since they had butterflies on them. So, the shop owner directed us down this alley into his house where there were others. I negotiated him down on a lovely one that has alot of symbolism to it. So, for $65 we got a great 4X3 rug that is pretty and colorful. After that we continued along the kora passed the Muslim section of town, the mosque, and the river. The next thing we came to was the blue buddha carving hill. We ran into a group of people chiseling religious texts into slate who loved playing with Zoe. As we continued along the route we saw the gold yak statues, potala palace again, and stopped for some cashews. We really enjoyed the park around the back of potala where we rode on a duck boat that Zoe loved. Our afternoon was hot as we continued around the kora. Zoe fell asleep in the stroller.
When we got back to our hotel we were beat so we decided to just have some noodle and chill out for the evening. We went to a local grocery and stocked up on noodle bowls for our long train ride tomorrow. The train departs at 8:30am. We will be on it for 2 days and 2 nights! I’m very excited as this will be the relaxing part of our trip. The Lhasa express is very new, the highest train in the world, and super nice. We have booked ‘soft sleepers’ so we’re in a 4 person cabin where Bryan and I have the two bunks on one side. It will be fun to meet people, eat in the restaurant car, read a bit, watch more Animal Numbers, and watch the scenery go by!