After a 4 day stint in Lhasa it was time to move on. We (the G Adventures crew and me) stayed still for so long to try and get used to the altitude. I was lucky and didn’t feel sick, get headaches or have any major symptoms at all but I was exhausted. Walking up just a few steps made me lose my breath and go a little light headed. The capital is 3,600 metres above sea level and the climb was going to be gradual but far higher.
Before I move on I should probably cover a few more bits about Lhasa as it is an incredibly beautiful city. A lot of money has obviously been spent (by the Chinese government) to restore facias and squares, with big flower displays and sculptures. The homes in the city centre are often in big white buildings, with window boxes and ornate colourful window frames. The shops and restaurants are now mostly Chinese run but with our lovely guide, Ashok’s, assistance we sought out the Tibetan owned places and enjoyed eating local food. Ah the food, now if you plan to head to Tibet you need to know you’re going to have to learn to love the Yak. These hairy beasts can only survive 2,000 metres above sea level so it’s the meat of choice. The Tibetan’s are clearly proud of their resident animal and it’s all about the Yak. Yak Hotel, Yak Laundry, tee-shirts saying ‘Yak, Yak, Yak’, but mostly Yak food. The meat is mostly yak whether that’s Yak fried rice, Yak steak, Yak momos and Yak soup or often in dairy form, so Yak yoghurt, cheese and milk is standard. There’s nowt wrong with a bit of yak but for breakfast, lunch and dinner it can get a bit much. Fruit is hard to come by in Tibet, well fresh fruit is anyway. After desperate fruit cravings we bought some apples and oranges shipped in from Chiili. Luckily fresh vegetables are readily available so I wasn’t completely vitamin deficient.
We visited various monasteries and temples whilst in Lhasa, all definitely worth checking out. The architecture is unique and there are tombs aplenty! I tried so hard to get my head round the various Dalai Lamas, Panchen Lamas, Buddhas but if I’m completely honest I failed. Every local guide has a slightly different version of events and I’m not even sure if the info on the web is accurate. Much is cloaked in secrecy and history in some places has been rewritten. Someone needs to create a massive org chart with timelines, Christ I’m so western! The locals are deeply immersed in religion, using spare time to visit various places of worship and many getting down on the ground and committing hours to prostration.
So must sees in Lhasa are the Potala Palace by day but go again at night and stand back and view the huge building which when lit up against the night sky on a mountain gains a 2 dimensional feel. It’s very Lowry-esque, minus the people but with the obligatory Chinese flags stamped on it. You should also check out the debating monks and chanting nuns. The monks are very vocal, clapping and slapping their hands, using rosary beads to emphasise the seriousness of their points. They argue out various religious discussions in a courtyard of the Sera Monastery at a set time each day. The nuns sing their chants in low then high tones within darkened convent rooms. It’s enchanting to watch the religious women, faces full of character passionately engrossing themselves in this daily ritual. Sit back, close your eyes and enjoy the mesmerising voices.
We travelled on, venturing to higher and more remote cities and towns. We stayed overnight in Gyantse, Shigatse and Sakya. These places were slightly less impacted by the Chinese rule but the police stations and security were prominent. As tourists you’re often subject to visa checks and often get hauled off buses to stand in line and have your documents scanned. Expect to see poverty and tough living conditions. The rooms became more basic and as we reached even higher altitude the temperatures dropped. We slept on wooden benches with rugs on within concrete shells. I imagine the rooms were not dissimilar to family homes. The food got more basic too, no showers and the toilets were aherm… interesting.
We came across sky burial sites within the mountains. It’s still a very normal way to leave this earth in Tibet, to die and have your limbs chopped up and taken by vultures. It may seem a little alien but I think it’s a beautiful ritual and would happily pass on from this life and get taken by nature up into the clouds.
Walking became exhausting but I would do it all again because the views were absolutely stunning! Eventually we reached Rombuk (over 5,000 metres above sea level) and Everest Base Camp. It was absolutely freezing! Getting to the camp has to be arranged with military precision as there’s a huge amount of security. I was so happy to tie my prayer flags with all my nearest and dearest’s names on – planting their wishes in the skies!