China · 33 Days · 44 Moments · June 2017

The roof of the world: summer in Tibet!

12 July 2017

Dinner at Songsten restaurant in Shigatse. Phil is excited about his Yak Sizzler!
Tashi Lunpo continued.
Tashi Lunpo Monastery in Shigatse.
Lots of dogs sleeping at the Palkhor Choede Monastery in Gyantse.
Kumbum stupa continued.
The stunning Kumbum stupa overlooking Gyantse and the surrounding valley.

11 July 2017

A fabulous Nepalese meal at the very local Tashi restaurant in Gyantse.
The Mount Nyenchen Kangsar glacier, with accompanying prayer flags and stupa. According to Tenpa, 10 years ago the glacier reached all the way to the road in the summer, and further in the winter. It has retreated rapidly and he is genuinely worried that in another 10 years it will be gone.
The stunning drive up to the Karo La pass and Mount Nyenchen Kangsar. Apologies in advance: the photo quality is pretty dire as they were through the moving van window, which is pretty grubby!
Views over the (literally) breathtaking holy Yamdrok Lake.
This morning we set off early for the long drive to Gyantse, over the 4,700m Kampa La Pass and the 5,150m Karo La Pass. After we left Lhasa we drove on the new airport road south out of Lhasa along the Lhasa river, which turns in to the mighty Bramaputra River, flowing east then south through eastern India and into Bangladesh. Even here you can feel the strength of the river which encompasses a large part of the valley it is in. As a result, you can see how fertile and lush this valley is in the summer months, with a lot of crops growing and cattle grazing. The weather was pretty grey and overcast so the photos don't really show the enormity of this river even this close to its source. Half way up the road to the Kampa La pass we stopped at a tourist view point, where Phil found a yak... As we reached the mist-shrouded top of Kampa La, the first sign we had reached the top was the huge archway of prayer flags and the piles of them built up over the years along the side of the road.

10 July 2017

One of the most iconic scenes I've had the privilege to view in Asia: from the rooftop of the Jokhang Temple over the Barkhor and Jokhang Temple square towards the Potala Palace and the mountains beyond. Priceless. Viewed from this angle, you can't see much that has changed in Lhasa in the last 100 years, which makes it even rarer a scene.
Scenes outside the Jokhang Temple around the Barkhor this afternoon.
This dude loved how tall Phil was and really wanted his photo taken with him even though he didn't have a camera or any way of having the photo himself! Such a friendly chap!
Lunch at the fabulous Tibetan Family Kitchen. The best yak momos we've had!
Potala Palace continued.
Today we had our 'official' visit to the stunning Potala Palace, the highest palace in the world. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside, as is the case in almost all the temples, monasteries and places of interest we have visited in Lhasa,

9 July 2017

More from the Drepung Monastery.
The Drepung Monastery of Lhasa, once the largest monastery in Asia.
Woke up to this gorgeous, rain-free view this morning over our breakfast on the rooftop of the Tashitakge Hotel.

8 July 2017

After walking all the way back from the Potala Palace, we had a late lunch at Lhasa Namaste restaurant. The garden courtyard is very pretty and sheltered from the sun (it had actually come out by then!) by the overhanging trailing plants and umbrellas. As is the case in a lot of the restaurants in Lhasa, they serve Tibetan, Nepalese, Chinese and Indian food. We both ended up having butter curries (chicken and paneer) and the biggest naan ever, all of which was actually pretty delicious 😋
We made it to the Potala Palace!! Utterly stunning.
After almost an hour at Ramoche, we emerged into rain-free daylight briefly before plunging into the much smaller but potentially more atmospheric Tsepak Lhakhang temple just next door.
Tenpa collected us at 11am and after compulsory umbrella purchases for Phil and Tenpa (I didn't think his leather jacket, jeans and sun visor cut it for torrential rain!) we made our way through the downpour to Ramoche Temple. You aren't allowed to take photos inside the temples here hence the lack of indoor shots. Tenpa showed his knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism and history by giving us a detailed tour of the temple, the history of the statues in both the Ramoche and Jokhang Temples and the importance of this temple linked to both Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan history and politics. He really knows his stuff! The statue in the Ramoche Temple is the exquisitely decorated ancient Nepalese figure of the 8-year old Sakyamuni Buddha statue, brought to Tibet in the 7th century, and is clearly a source of veneration to Tibetans both old and young today, as people queued to deposit renminbi notes and yak butter offerings.
So it's raining in Lhasa today. Raining a lot. Today was our bonus day in Lhasa, arriving a day before our tour to help us acclimatise. Sadly as we are not Chinese nationals we need to be booked on to a tour for the entire time we are in Lhasa. After Sherry informed me of this, my instructions to her were that we wanted to do as little as possible! Sadly I had anticipated health issues but at least this meant we could try to plan a schedule that worked in time to recover. Thankfully she totally got this and our itinerary for today just reads Ramoche Temple. Tenpa said he would come by to collect us at 11am so we had plenty of time to take things easy. Another little quirk that we entertained was that both Tenpa and the hotel staff told us that we shouldn't shower straight away after the train, as this doesn't help with acclimatising. As much as we were skeptical, we were so exhausted that we washed our faces, cleaned our teeth and fell straight asleep. Grebby!!!

7 July 2017

Finally relaxing in Lhasa!! A momo-tastic dinner of momo soup (mine), yak momos and veggie momos (for Phil), accompanied by honey, lemon and ginger tea to help with the general run-downness! We took the easy option tonight and ate in the easy-to-find tourist trap of Lhasa Kitchen. We plan on hunting down more local Tibetan privately-run spots once we aren't exhausted from the train and our headaches have subsided! To be honest, the momos were very good. The broth that came with mine was peppery and wholesome and having finished as much as I could, I have actually started to feel human again. Quite an achievement! Time for rest and recuperation!
An evening wander round the Barkhor Circuit. We decided to pull ourselves together to get out for some dinner as neither of us really ate on the train. Tenpa had explained to us on arrival to the hotel that we needed to take everything really slowly for the first day or so: walking, climbing stairs, etc. He also added that taking things slowly is a way of life in Tibet so we will be fitting in with the culture around us! The photos don't give a sense of the pilgrims walking, praying and prostrating clockwise around the holy Jokhang Temple and despite not sharing their faith we felt swept up in the momentum of people all joined together in devotion. It took the sense of holiness and spirituality you feel at Shwedagon Paya in Rangoon to another level. The other thing that struck us was that Tibetan children, adults and elderly people would come up to us with huge smiles, say vehement hellos and then walk off again feeling even better than they did before! We feel very welcomed here.
So far this seems to have held us in good stead. Our 2 days in Xining were totally necessary as we were both utterly exhausted from the end of school term and arriving back from the (amazing, successful but shattering) WSC trip to Hanoi just 2 days earlier. The train knocked us for 6 but we had started taking Diamox (medication to help avoid altitude sickness) earlier that day before getting on the train, so that may have had something to do with it. We have planned our time here to support health requirements meticulously and have an extra rest day before the tour proper starts, so keeping fingers crossed that things improve from here!
About 18 months ago I started researching into coming to Tibet and found a great website called I sent them an enquiry message regarding reliable and genuinely Tibetan-run tour companies and they put me in contact with Sherry from Explore Tibet. Our travel plans have been pretty fluid and Sherry was the best travel agent ever; not your typical pushy travel salesperson! She just seemed to have faith that we would make it to Tibet in our own time. Around January I started to bombard her with email after email with questions about the logistics of a tour that included Everest Base Camp and how to make it as successful as possible whilst minimising the risk from altitude sickness. We ended up booking their new 10-day Easy Acclimatisation tour which simply takes more time in each place to ensure you are more able to adapt. On top of this, we planned in 2 nights in Xining prior to one night on the train and arriving in Lhasa a day before our tour started to allow us more time
We both felt pretty rough when we arrived in Lhasa. I'd spent half the night throwing up and even if I hadn't I'm not sure how much sleep I would have managed. Walking out of the train station the altitude struck us immediately, as we were pretty exhausted. We were a bit overwhelmed, but our tour guide from Explore Tibet, Tenpa, persuaded the Chinese guards to let him past the exit to help us with our bags. He and the driver gave us a fabulous welcome with lots more water and traditional Tibetan prayer stoles and took us to our hotel where we were given another warm welcome with tea, more advice on drinking copious amounts of water (!) and more information from Tenpa about our tour with him. Tenpa is from a small town in the east of Tibet and goes home only once a year for Tibetan new year. His English is excellent and he gave us loads of information about the things we saw on our way to the hotel. All in all a good start, once we made it to Lhasa!
Some highlights from the train journey from Xining to Lhasa, crossing the heights of Qinghai province in to the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Highlights not featured were the awful toilets, through-the-night vomiting, snoring man and the non-optional train radio that woke us up at 7.30am after I'd finally settled down to sleep at gone 3am... needless to say it was beautiful but not so much fun 😳

6 July 2017

We just had to sign to agree to the above. F) is particularly hilarious.
Boarding the train to Lhasa!!

5 July 2017

Local Baoan (security guard) practicing his calligraphy on the pavement near our hotel.
We had a tasty and rather entertaining Gan Ban noodle dinner at a very local Muslim restaurant just a few doors down from the Dongguan Mosque. We were certainly a focus of interest for a lot of people both inside and outside the restaurant, with regular collections of kids standing outside the window staring at us! Located on the northern route of the Silk Road, as well as the Hexi Corridor caravan route to Tibet, there is a large Central Asian influence to the food here. Having been to both Xi'an and travelled the Silk Road route through Central Asia last summer it's been interesting to see these influences in a city that doesn't have the tourist focus that Xi'an puts on its Islamic heritage.
The stunning Dongguan Mosque in Xining, originally built in 1380, is an historically and culturally important religious site in China on the ancient northern Silk Road route.
Train tickets to Tibet!!
We popped by Xining Railway Station to collect our hard-earned soft sleeper tickets for tomorrow's overnight train to Lhasa. Stunning backdrop and the area around the station is certainly having a lot of money pumped in to it.
I can highly recommend Greenhouse Coffee for both their drinks and their lunch food and we are going back tomorrow to try out the cheesecake...
Taxis in Xining have interesting ceilings!

4 July 2017

We arrived! And Phil's bag came round the conveyor belt like this... Luckily his bath bag followed round shortly!
We may have spent too much time with our pupils of late, as some B612 selfies seemed necessary whilst waiting for takeoff... 😱
Official start of our journey to Tibet: chaos at Nanjing airport. Tonnes of flights delayed due to the usual Chinese air traffic control issues meant that even though our plane was there and ready to go, boarding couldn't take place as the gates were rammed with the backlog of earlier delayed flights. Luckily we were on our way with only an hour's delay: this is good going for China!

10 June 2017

Unofficial start of our journey to Tibet: Ok, ok, so we didn't get the train from Shanghai to Xining. But we did visit Shanghai in June, happened to see a train going from Shanghai to Xining and couldn't resist the photo opportunity!