There had been no rush to get up in Shigatse and therefore I let Eleanor sleep – it had been a late night on the 29th as in the restaurant all of us, apart from our Singaporean friend who looked worse the wear for altitude sickness, had played Heads Up. An App that generates words which you then describe and the person holding the phone (and who isn’t looking at it) tries to guess the word. A late, but fun night.
We were late back into Lhasa as well on the 30th and as breakfasts weren’t inspiring, the alarm wasn’t set and so we both had a good night’s sleep going into New Year’s Eve. We ate some fruit and a cereal bar and I made hot chocolates before I ventured to the shower. In the hotel in Shigatse, I had run the shower for a long time, stripped, got in, and quickly got out again – the water was luke warm and I was not having a shower and hair wash in those conditions! I should have tested the water in the first place!
Anyway, back to Lhasa, if Martin had come with us, the plan for our last night (1st January) was to stay in the highest Intercontinental in the world. When Martin didn’t come with us, and when I was faced with having two extra nights in Lhasa that I didn’t count on, I got Martin in the UK to book another night at the intercontinental. Our two extra days were going to cost me money, and not just in the hotel but in shopping with a 9-year-old who loves to bargain.
We had been directed to a market that sold souvenirs. The items we bought could have been purchased in the old back streets, but it was handy having everything in one place. The Barkhor Market used to be sellers in and around the Barkhor circuit but have moved out into one area now. Granted it was about 11am, but the inside was full of sellers, brightly coloured material, prayer wheels, Tibetan dress, hats, bags and much more.
I bought another couple of scarves (all of which have been admired in school this week), Eleanor also got traditional Tibetan dress and I got one too the next day in the back streets with the help of a man who translated for me – he just appeared from a neighbouring shop.
The prices we thought were actually quite reasonable, so we didn’t bargain that much. They also accepted Wechat pay and Alipay (payment through mobile phone apps – a bit like Apple pay). Extremely happy with our purchases, and with a lighter wallet we went off to find lunch.
The Tibetan Lonely Planet guide had a number of eateries that sounded up our street. And so we tried Snowland, and the next day the Lhasa Kitchen. The day of the Potala Palace we went to the Tibetan Family Kitchen. This restaurant was in a family home, and with writing on the wall from all the patrons. Snowland, like the Lhasa Kitchen was quiet, both afforded us an excellent selection of Chinese, Indian, Tibetan and Nepalese food, and on both days we had curries and fried rice. Snowland was also Eleanor’s suggestion for our last meal when we met up with the group who had returned from EBC. Quotes of “it was the coldest night ever experienced” and “Eleanor would never have coped” reassured me that of course we had made the correct decision not to go.
Lunch had we walked back to the hotel and asked for reception to phone a taxi for us – reply – “no”. So the receptionist took us outside to hail one. A few stopped, but then drove on. A feeling in my stomach told me that the Intercon was far and that getting back from dinner with everyone on the 1st would be difficult. But that was tomorrow’s issue.
Taxi obtained, it would be 30 RMB, the meter could have been put on, but no. Arriving at the hotel which the Lonely Planet calls a monstrosity, it isn’t hard to see why – it is totally out of keeping with Tibetan architecture. That is – until you get inside. A completely glass ceiling atrium (which was cold), housed buildings that looked like the monasteries we had walked round.
Due to Martin’s super-duper use of IHG hotels – it counts to be loyal. We were upgraded to a suite. We had no need of oxygen cans or tanks, as here they had an oxygen bar, sadly this was a room with oxygen pumped into it. My imagination had us sitting at a bar with oxygen masks. Also at the flick of a switch we had oxygen pumped into the rooms at night. The room was also warm!
As part of our package we had use of the club room, which for New Year’s Eve included the buffet. Steak, turkey and a massive chocolate log were eaten, with the background noise of a frenzied man commentating some sort of show. It was over by 9pm despite it being NYE!
Eleanor and I saw the new year in, in bed but awake and on the phone to Martin, which must have been weird for him as it was only 4pm in the UK!
Breakfast the next day was worth it, I then repacked everything and then we left to back into Lhasa. Fleeced by the taxi driver who wanted 50 RMB, who then, on the way picked up another passenger and put the meter on for him!!! We didn’t even get dropped off where we wanted to go. Eleanor and I therefore got out at the back of the Potala Palace and walked to the front, had some photos taken, went for lunch and then we did more sightseeing/shopping.
The old streets of Lhasa are bustling. There is one area where streets come together and there are sellers there of “antiques”. Also this was the pigrims’ circuit (The Barkhor) which circles Jokhang Temple where you can only walk clockwise. The bottom right photo shows Tibetans lining up to go through security before continuing their pilgrimage. The tour did this when we were at the hospital, and I wasn’t sure that without a guide we could have gone further.
We met the others for dinner, swapped stories and then we left. For we had to get back to the hotel.
We hailed a taxi, who stopped, took one look at the taxi card and drove off. I had been prepared to pay over the odds.
Trying again for the next taxi, a very nice 4×4 pulled up, window wound down, and in near perfect English the driver asked where we were going. I showed him the taxi card, he said get in. We got in. I know. I know. Strangers and all that but he seemed genuine. And in fact he was. He was the General Manager of a Tibetan Carpet factory, had been in Lhasa for three years, before that he was a ground staff manager at Qatar airlines in Doha for four years. He was listening to radio in English. We exchanged details, and the carpets the weavers produce by hand are gorgeous (and expensive) but he has also said I can have a discount! We arrived at the hotel safely. Phew. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers or Andy as I now know him as!
The next day, we collected Marius, the german student and off we all went to the train station to embark on our 46 hour train which turned out to be 50 hours as once we were off the Tibetan Plateau we encountered snow for the journey up until Wuxi. (the stop before Suzhou). We ate from the dining carriage (which we got kicked out off when we started playing UNO. But the staff could only get us out when they handed us a translated note! We had fruit from one of the vendors on the train platform when the train stopped, and as our luxury we had a Chocolate Orange which a friend had given us, when her son returned from the UK after a university interview.
50 hours is a long time, when you expect to be off the train at 10.56 on the 3rd day of travel. Arriving at 15:00, when you have no food left, the dining carriage has also no food and when the hard drive full of films has stopped pairing with the iPad (some 4 days earlier) was tough. But with books, games and colouring and Marius who got off the train in Xian after 31 hours, Eleanor was semi entertained – but it was easier when she was watching films!!! I finished off Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer. Which is the fascinating story (later made into a film with Brad Pitt) of two German Prisoners of War escaping a POW camp in India and making their way over the Himalayas before ending in Lhasa and setting up their lives.
Our experience was over. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I do it with a 9-year-old who had a cold at the start? No.