Hotel breakfasts weren’t great. The food was more often that not on the cold side and that was just because the room was like a fridge, or because people left open the lids of the big metal dishes with the burner underneath – you know what I mean but for the life of me I can’t think what they are called.
Breakfast was supposed to open at 08:00 and we were to be on the road to go to Shigatse at 08:30. No chance. Breakfast was still being brought out at 08:20, but at 09:00, the bus was packed, oxygen loaded and we were off.
We soon got onto a very new smooth road, but our path was blocked and we had to turn back onto another road, which was part of the friendship highway, a road between Nepal and Shanghai – now there is a road trip to do! However being on this road didn’t last for long, as while it is the road also to Shigatse it is not the route with the view. The route with a view, and the one that we did is a boneshaker. We followed the Lhasa river, stopping for a picture at one point. The boys in the group skimmed stones and photos were taken from all angles before Sonam came to get us. There is clearly a fine line for guides in letting tours have time so as not to feel rushed while also getting to the destination. For us, this was to the first of many stops, and we did actually run out of time for the last place of interest.
Then we started climbing, the next stop would be three quarters of the way up a mountain. 4280 metres to be exact. (14,041ish feet), but only once we had paid the 40 RMB at a toll for the privilege of going over the pass and seeing the lake.
As we got out of the bus we were told that if we took a picture with or of the dogs we would be charged. All of us managed to get sneaky pictures without being ripped off, sorry – without paying. The Tibetan mastiff is considered to be one of the oldest breeds in the world, and upon reading up on them they apparently have a fierce character and are hostile to strangers. We weren’t that close anyway to find out either way!
Pictures were taken of a remarkable view and of the windy road we had just come up. I had given Eleanor a travel sickness tablet in the morning as she is prone to feeling queasy – but I was surprised that I had no complaints from her at all. Though she did have a supply of oxygen, and I wondered whether that was also keeping the queasiness at bay.
Everyone let out a gasp as we came to the top of the mountain to see the one of the largest sacred lakes in Tibet. Yamdrok means turquiose in colour and it was easy to see why it has this name.
We were let out of the bus again, and had our fill of photos, while also taking the opportunity of a squat loo that had foam in it. A mixture of biocompatible soap and water cleans the toilet with every flush but only uses a small amount of water, thus being very environmentally friendly.
We were at 4995 m. (16387 ish feet) The wind was strong as was the sun and the prayer flags were strewn across the mountain at the end of the car park.
The only way was down, and thankfully we were not doing the hairpin bends that we had done on the way up. We travelled down to the shore of the lake, parked in the car park, made our way over the road and saw a few stalls that while empty now, were clearly there for the summer trade. The lake, Eleanor dipped her hand into, it was freezing, icicles had formed on nearby stones, and here was one animal we wanted our picture with – for the princely sum of 20 RMB – and we got to dress up too!
There is no photoshopping of this photo – the skies are as blue and the water was that colour. It was just perfect.
Lunch was a good hour and a half away, and most of us had headaches coming down from Yamdrok, nothing that a few ibuprofen didn’t shift.
When we stopped in the town/village we were on a road with no tarmac, but the restaurant was open, and as soon as we ordered, more tourists arrived and ordered/ate food. We ate at a leisurely pace and then we got back on the road. A few people rested their eyes, but I and a few others literally had our cameras pointing through an open window photographing the breathtaking views. And when we couldn’t get our cameras out of the window we took it through the window.
We made our way up to the Karola Glacier and pass. We stopped on the roadside and clambered our way up to see the prayer flags strung over the road, with the glacier looming at the peak of the mountain. We were at 5039m/16532 feet. Eleanor was getting out of the bus for quick views and then back on the oxygen.
Eleanor and I were at the top of the our world. We wouldn’t be going any higher.
As we descended down and down and down, having done a distance of approximately 360kms we arrived in Lhasa. We had a loo stop while Sonam went to get the permits for the others to go to EBC near Pelcho monastery. We arrived too late to go there as it shut at 17:30. We got there at 17:50! About half an hour out of this town we had stopped at a checkpoint to have our permits and passports checked – not us physically, just our documentation which Sonam handed over in a police station, we stayed in the bus.
Night fell and eventually about 20:30 we arrived at the hotel in Shigatse. In the hotel we dumped our bags and went across the road to the nearest restaurant that was still serving food.
The next day I got up to get passports and permit from Sonam, as the others left for EBC at around 08:30. We had arranged to meet our new guide at midday in the hotel as we couldn’t go to the Tashilhunpo Monastery on our own, and more importantly we couldn’t get on the train back to Lhasa without a guide.
We went with Carmen, the confessed selfie queen, who also wasn’t going to EBC. We walked through a street market, which we would see on the way back as our train was around 6pmish, so we needed to leave the hotel around 5pmish. However, when we got to the monastery, the monks had left for lunch! We took their cue and left also. We went to Third Eye restaurant and ordered chicken fried rice. Eleanor devoured it – she had finally got her appetite back!!! She had also walked to the monastery without the need of oxygen.
Back on the streets, I had my camera at the ready. We did some shopping, including two yak shawls for me, a hat (the one being modelled below) and bracelets that Eleanor insisted on buying for her friends and for some of my colleagues. Life in the market was fascinating – including the woman with the sheep on her head.
14:30 and we returned to the entrance. I left Eleanor (with iPad) on a bench, remarkably she was not bothered at all. Carmen, the guide and I wandered around the grounds, but found that still some of the temples were not yet open. (long lunch!)
Of course you can’t take pictures inside the buildings, you can though – if you pay a fee per building!!!
As we entered into the buildings that were open you see pictures of the 9th, 10th and 11th Panchen Lamas. When the current Dalai Lama left, the Panchen Lama (spiritual authority second only to the Dalai Lama) decided to stay. The 11th Panchen Lama is still relatively young (in his 20s). He had to be agreed upon by the Chinese government and therefore is seen to be controversial.
As the day drew to a close we went off to the train station. Firstly, the station is called Rikaze Railway Station, and at 253 kms from Lhasa it takes just under three hours. Amazingly despite the fact that we were not supposed to go by train, the travel agency booked and paid for our trains at 81 RMB for the two of us for hard seats. We went through security first, and then picked up our tickets. Elsewhere in China it is the other way round. Then in the waiting room I saw a bag with a dead animal sticking out of it. Before getting on the train you need to submit your passports, tickets, permit and show that you are with a guide before being allowed on the train.
Eleanor watched a film, I read a book and watched the scenery go by, until it was dark. Upon checking into the last night in the hotel we had been in before we had a heater in our room. Luxury would have to wait to the next day. We slept with the window open, we were back to cans not tanks of oxygen but Eleanor seemed to be doing really well and we had another night of full sleep. (something that our friends at EBC didn’t have!!!)
For those of you who have read all the blogs so far, I think there is 1 more to go, plus a final one of summing up. Thank you