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Tibet

China Trip – Lhasa Express

We just got into the Lotus Hostel here in Beijing after our 48 1/2 hour train ride from Lhasa.  The train was quite fun.  Zoe really enjoyed it, and didn’t want off.  The first day we checked out of our hotel in Lhasa where Tsering (our guide) met us and a bus came to drive us to the train station.  At the station we were the only people waiting in the “soft sleeper” luxury area of the waiting area.  We thought it would be a good sign to get our own berth, but not so much.  There were 2 cars of soft sleepers and all had people in them…they weren’t all full, so some people lucked out with there own.  The couple that shared with us were very nice, though, so it was great.  Mr. and Mrs. Yu from Canada were really fun and knowledgable to talk with.  They also were quiet and went to bed when we did, so it worked out great.

Most of the time on the train we read, or watched the TV on each sleeper.  I watched Forrest Gump and Harry Potter in Chinese.  Zoe only requested her Animal Numbers on the first day.  The berth featured two sets of bunks with nice sheets, duvets, 2 pillows each, a little table, a plug, a nice window, TV’s on each bunk, and a thermos for hot water.  The boiling water was down the hall as were a set of sinks and the toilets.  We bought a bunch of noodles, crackers and a few apples & bananas at a grocery store before the train ride.  Since we’re near the end of the trip we are getting low on funds, so need to keep within budget.  We did eat one meal in the restaurant car!  It was good; some kind of meat, rice, green shooty veggies, potatoes, carrots and squash.  Great.

The scenery was wonderful.  The whole first day we were still on the Tibetan plateau, so it looked much like Nevada or western texas.  We stopped twice the first day and were able to get off for some fresh air and to grab some cheap snacks and beer from the vendors on the platform.  Zoe took a couple naps, as did we all.  The second day the scenery was alot different.  Still arid, but from Xining to Xian we went through alot of beautiful green river valleys and tons of tunnels.  It was great. 

We walked up and down the back half of the train: it totalled 15 cars, but we stayed in the rear 7 only venturing past the restaurant car once to see all the people packed into the seat cars.  The first 8 cars were all seats as far as we could tell and some people took those the whole way!  wow…that would be rough.  The 3 cars behind ours were the “hard sleepers”.  Very similar to ours, but stacked 3 high and not as cooshy or lux.  Zoe enjoyed walking to the back and watching the tracks disappear.  She slept with me the first night on the top bunk and with Bryan last night on the bottom bunk.  She seemed quite content.  We all enjoyed the relaxing pace of the train after so many days of hustle and walking.

Now that we’re in Beijing, though, we got settled into our room and will head off to see the Forbidden City and Tiannenmen sqare in a few minutes.  should be neat!

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China Trip – Lhasa on our own

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!

China Trip – To Mt. Everest

So yesterday we woke up in Shigatse and toured around the Tashilhunpo monastery. It is where the Panchen Lama is traditionally housed.  Currently, though he is in Beijing…it’s controversial….anyway, it was huge and amazing like the other places we’ve been.  We have been getting a bit monasteried-out, but it was still neat to see the giant buddha in the main temple.  Most interesting, though, was that they are remodeling some parts of the main assembly hall.  Women and men both were working hard and carrying very heavy loads; tons of bricks, buckets of mud, and hauling them up and over big stairs.  Zoe liked playing in the rocks.

Afterward we got in the bus for a four hour drive to Shegar.  The drive was scenic.  More desolate rocky mountains, but along the valleys were some very interesting farms, people plowing with their yaks, lots of folks out seeding, and kids running around.  The town of Shegar was very small, but our hotel was nice.  No heat, but the bedding was super-warm.  I think the comforters were all wool.  They were super thick and heavy!  Zoe enjoyed a long hot bath.  We woke this morning at 5am to get some quick breakfast and hit the road.  The goal was to get to the high pass between here and Everest as the sun rose.  We made it, but there were clouds over the Himalaya’s so we kept driving down the road a bit.  It was a long 100km along a graded dirt road, and was very dusty but better kept than we expected.  After we got back down from the pass a bit, the clouds started to lift, so we got some wonderful pictures of the sunrise hitting the mountains.  Everest (Qomolangma) was still obscured behind the clouds, but the rest were pretty and the clouds made for interesting pictures.  The remainder of the drive down the road and to the Rongbuk monastery was uneventful; Zoe and I fell asleep. 

When I woke we rounded a corner, and SURPRISE, there was Everest!  Gorgeous.  Only a bit of a cloud around her middle.  We stopped briefly at the monastery and then continued to the tent city.  There are about 50 tents semi-permanently setup as hotels and restaurants.  The cloud completely cleared, and our view was amazing!  From there we hopped an official park bus (the mountain is part of a national park owned by the government, who had many checkpoints along the way to make sure we were legit and had permits…thank god for our guides) and drove the remaining 8km up the dirt road to base camp.  It was incredible.  The mountain is just amazing and stands out from the surrounding brown dirt mountains like a huge rocky ice sculpture.  We all felt fine; no altitude problems.  In fact we had been higher over a pass a few days ago.

It had been very cold in the morning, so we were all quite bundled in our winter clothes.  I wore my new wool Tibetan dress, and was super toasty. Zoe had fun running around playing with rocks and watching all of the yaks carry supplies.  There were a lot of climbing party tents just past base camp; we (tourists) were not permitted to go past a certain hill to this area.  We got tons of pictures, though Zoe didn’t like posing and is looking at yaks, rocks, or generally trying to just play in most of them.  The day was just awesome.  We stayed for a long time taking pictures and playing…Bryan uploaded a bunch of pics.  (He has been the one in charge of selecting pictures and adding captions since Yangshuo) 

After our fill of the mountain, and as more tourists showed up we bussed back down to tent city for a nice lunch of fried rice in one of  the tents. After 10 minutes on the bus we realized we didn’t have doggy!!!! OMG!!!! They very kindly turned around so Bryan could run into the restaurant tent we got some rice in…there was the dog. Wow, that could’ve been a disaster. Then, we got back into our bus for the long ride back to Shigatse.   It took about 6 hours to get here, though we stopped once at the summit of the pass to take some final pictures.  The drive was pleasant enough.  Zoe enjoys the bus.  She likes to stand and look out for yaks, cows, sheep, goats, dogs, and tractors.  She also enjoys watching her Animal numbers and Animal Alphabet videos on the computer (thank you Tyler for helping me figure that out!).  She colors, too, or plays with her stickers in her notepad.  We have also collected a small pouch of toys for her…an elephant, some little monkeys, some bracelets, and a tiny buddha that she plays with.  It’s great when she naps, too!  Tonight we are at a different hotel in Shigatse.  It’s nice, Zoe took another bath.  Today she expressed her first desire for things from home.  She asked for “chair time” in the bus, and then pitched a fit when I told her we didn’t have her “boat” for the bath.  Otherwise she’s been great!  Tomorrow we are just driving back to Lhasa…6 hours.

China Trip – Tibetan Countryside

19 MAY – This morning we had breakfast at our hotel and then boarded the bus to start our 3 day journey toward Mt. Everest.  Our bus is a medium sized one, so we all have room for bags and to spread out.  Bryan, Zoe and I snagged the first row of seats so there is a bit of room in front us for Zoe to play and stand up.  After about and hour of driving we got to the bottom of our winding steep drive up to GambaLa pass – about 4700m.  Before heading up we learned about water burial and stopped at a place along the Lhasa river where they do such a ritual.  At the top of the pass were some nomads selling pictures with their yaks and dogs.  So, for 80cents Zoe got to sit on a yak and pet the nice doggies.  She loved the dogs, but was a bit nervous about the yak – or maybe nervous about the lady who owned the yak. We then drove back down the other side which was not as far to Yamdrock lake.  It was a gorgeous teal-blue huge sacred lake surrounded by brown mountains.  In the distance we could see the first of the super-high snow covered peaks. 

The weather has been amazing and clear!  Interestingly, though, the terrain really just makes us think of Nevada – brown rocky mountains with very little growing.  The only thing that seems to grow outside of the river banks is a small mossy-grass that the yaks eat….and they are all over the hills.   We got out at the lake to take pictures and touch the water.  Lunch was at a tiny random strip mall type place in the middle of nowhere, but was good.  A family from Malaysia shared some yummy canned tuna and spicy prawns in addition to the rice, yak, and veggies we purchased.  Another stop after another hour or so was at the base of a the giant Kalais kora glacier.  It was magnificant. 

A few more hours in the bus found us in Gyantse to see the Palkor Temple and palace.  It was unique in that it is walled and was actively used to fight the British when they occupied India only 200km away.  The walk around was neat – more gold buddhas and protectors and lots of locals who wanted to touch, hold, or play with Zoe.  At one point the rest of the group when into the giant stupa while we just hung outside to run around.  She loved running in the big courtyard and lots of the Tibetans and monks got a kick out of it.  One of the child monks held her hand for a while too.  Outside the monastery we bought a great mask of a ‘protector’ for our house and Zoe got to pet a very nice little puppy. 

We got in the bus again, but soon stopped to see a small farm where a local man showed us how they grind barley.  Tibetans eat barley and wheat instead of rice like the majority of China.  It was interesting and dusty and a nice break from the bus.  In fact, the whole bus ride took all day, but we stopped enough to keep fresh, interested, and awake (except for our after lunch nap).  From there on the drive was alot more green as we had entered the valleys and farmland.  Got to see many people out tilling with their yaks; this is planting season. We drove into Shigatse around 7pm and checked into the hotel.  Par for the course, we had to change rooms twice…the first time since our lock wouldn’t work and the second since our heat wouldn’t work.  Oh well, the place was nice once we settled!  Had dinner with the group which was quite enjoyable.  Bryan and I had a yak burger which was delicious!!!  Zoe had a great apple pancake and shared some yak biryani.

China Trip – Lhasa

Awoke this morning to a crisp, but sunny day.  After breakfast at the hotel (it’s included!) we boarded the mini bus with the rest of our group.  So, finally, we are back on track with the group.  It is a small mixed group which is nice – 9 of us – and only 5 of us doing the full tour all the way to Everest.  Everyone is quite nice and we get along well.

The first activity this morning was supposed to be the Tibet Museum, but it is closed for renovation this week.  Instead we went to Drupong Monastery where we could tour around and see numerous temple rooms and also see how the monks lived.  We were all well rested today and really enjoyed the monastery!  Zoe especially was happy to see monks, Buddha’s and go up and down tons of stairs.  The highlight was the biggest assembly hall in Tibet.  It was gorgeous…tapestries, paintings, tons of gold statues, and we learned about a special “protector” god called the Horse-Headed Protector – he protects children!  So, we threw him a few RMB for Zoe.  The best part was that we could take pictures (for a fee) unlike at Potala, so we took tons.  It seems most of these monasteries, temples, and palaces look similar so it will give everyone a great idea of what the whole place looks like.  I’ll post pictures as soon as we can. 

We had a break for lunch, so we shopped a bit.  I bought a couple wool sweaters for me and Zoe; Bryan got some new pants.  We then got lunch…yak momos! yum.  Afterward we visited an orphanage which was sad, but great since the kids really wanted some adult interactions.  They all sang us a few songs then took us by the hand for a tour.  Finally, we visited Sera Monastery where Zoe got blessed by a monk, given ashes on her nose, and touched her head to the Horse-Headed Protector.  She loved all the attention; I guess this is a big deal thing that Tibetan 2 year olds get.  Sadly, no pictures allowed.  The last thing we got to see were the monks debating in the courtyard.  It’s a tradition for monks to debate philosophical things.  neat. 

The evening was free…so we shopped more on Barkhor street.  I got a traditional woolen dress.  Dinner with the group was really fun as we all shared to try all the different food.  Then, off to bed early since Zoe fell asleep.  Tomorrow it’s the start of our journey toward Mt. Everest…we will slowly go up in elevation for the next 3 days until we get there.  Not sure I’ll be able to blog.

China Trip – Getting to Tibet

Well  I’m updating my blog via the blogger email feature, so hopefully these get posted.
We did not make it to Tibet the day we were scheduled.  The tour agency we went with messed up my Tibet permit; they had Bryan listed twice.  They had caught the mistake, but their agency in Lhasa only faxed a copy and the folks at the airport wanted the originals.  So, we missed our flight and the original was on a flight from Tibet that would arrive after the last one for the day.  We were pissed to say the least…I’ve had this trip planned and paid for since February.  The manager came to airport to try to help with no luck. They made it seem like not a big deal since you are only to rest that day, and we bought into it.  They paid for another nights hotel, plus some extra cash, and then arranged a private guide for our first day in Lhasa instead of the group tour. 

So, after 5 hours going to and coming from the airport we were back at Mix Hostel.  The hostel was our request since the expensive hotel they wanted us in was in a rough area of town with nothing to do.  We had the evening in Chengdu so we wanted to see the Wenshu Monastery and the outdoor teahouse, which is walking distance from the hostel.  It was enjoyable!  The teahouse was neat.  Zoe enjoyed running around with another kiddo while Bryan and I just relaxed and drank our tea.  We had a nice dinner at a fancy vegetarian restaurant and then went to Trust Mart to buy more diapers.   Apparently Zoe is a size XL in Chinese diaps – the ones we bought the day prior were too small. 

She went to bed early, so Bryan and I got some adult time chatting out with the other hostellers drinking some beer.  It was a great night, so we hung out on the deck just outside our room.
So, at 4:50AM we woke the next morning, hopped in the provided van service, found the tour company manger with our permits, and got on our flight with no hassle.  Our private guide, Tsetan, greeted us at the Lhasa airport with traditional scarves!  Then we were whisked off to our hotel: the Kalaish in the old part of Lhasa.  We are a few blocks from the Potala Palace and around the corner from Barkhor street. It’s great. 

After checking in and dropping our bags we got in the van to head to Potala for our guided tour.  The tour was great! It was so amazing to be in the same rooms as the current Dalai Lama and see the incredible paintings, tapestries, and carvings galore.  We enjoyed ourselves, but were simply dragging tired.  The reason we were meant to arrive the previous day was to simply rest an acclimate to altitude.  No luck for us…the palace has hundreds of stairs and was kind of exhausting.  Completely worth it, though.

After that we got some lunch at a wonderful restaurant our guide likes; Indian food!  yum!!!  Then we walked along Barkhor street, toured inside Jokang Temple, and shopped a bit.  It was so great to be on a guided tour, since we learned so much more about the religion and culture of Tibet than the group.  The touring around took all day, so finally at 6 we cut our guide loose.  We were beyond tired, though, and dragged ourselves back to the hotel to go to bed early.  I got some fried rice delivered up to our room for dinner and we crashed.   The Tibetans love Zoe and are a bit more respectful than the Chinese.  They don’t really want pictures, but love to touch her and play and give her little gifts.  She was a trooper today, but didn’t want all the extra attention since she was so tired.  Exhausting day…but we are here and it is simply amazing!!!!

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