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| Marian Johns | Trip Reports

2010 Trip Report - Tibet trip #2

Tibet II
May 3 - 17, 2010
By Marian Johns

Memory refresher note – Last October 12 DE’s were scheduled for a trip to Tibet,  but at the last minute we were told by our Chinese tour company that no Tibet  Tourist Permits were being issued for the time of our trip which coincided with  the 60th year celebration of the communist Peoples Republic of China. China was  fearful of riots and protests in Tibet in response to this event - Tibetans are  still chafing from China’s 1951 invasion and takeover of Tibet. Then, we were  told we could go after all if we were willing to join a larger group that  already had its tourist permits and cut our trip from nine to five days. Six  people opted to go then and six held out for nine days this spring.

Well, the six holdouts dwindled to just two - me and Paul Ferry (Neal refuses to  go on foreign trips.) Despite the slightly awkward situation, (Neal evidently  trusts me) Paul and I decided to go ahead and do the trip - and share a room.  May was selected, and a good choice it was; the weather was lovely although  generally cool to cold. Ana Romero, who went last October, was impressed with  Bempa, their English-speaking Tibetan guide and suggested we deal with him  directly; we did that. I’m not sure his prices were any better, but I preferred  paying a Tibetan rather than the Chinese tour company.

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The Yak Hotel in Lhasa was our abode for the first three days. We were in the  new section – only three years old. The room was quite modern, with the latest  bathroom fixtures and….a clear glass “wall” and gauzy curtain between the  bedroom and bathroom. I kid you not! Paul and I had to look the other way  frequently. The bathroom also had beautiful, but shiny, slick floor tile. The  second morning there, I stepped out of the tub/shower onto the bath mat, and  (you guessed it) the bath mat and I went zipping across the floor. I landed on  my right foot at an awkward angle. I didn’t think it was broken, but it sure was  painful. My foot soon turned black and blue and I limped around the rest of the  trip.
The Yak is in an excellent location – we were able to walk (even with my sore  foot) to the Jokhang Temple, Tibet’s most revered religious structure and the  Barkhor, Lhasa’s pilgrimage circuit/lively market in the heart of the old town.

Of course, the highlight of Lhasa and perhaps of all Tibet is the Potala Palace,  one of the wonders of great world architecture and home of the successive Dalai  Lamas - except for the present, exiled Dalai Lama who now resides in India.

Another important stop on our tour was the Samye Monastery, Tibet’s very first  Buddhist Monastery. Although a highlight, it was a bit disappointing because it  appeared to be somewhat neglected, with trash here and there and several ditches  of stagnant, yucky water. It was there I observed a dramatic little incident  when a puppy was run over by a tractor. He yelped, bolted away on three legs and  then just collapsed. I was sure he was dead. Several concerned people tried to  pick him up, but he just appeared to be a limp, dead dog. After 10 minutes or so  they tried again, and this time he was able to stand, but otherwise didn’t move.  Next, they carried him over to a shady spot. About that time, Bempa came. When I  told him what had happened, he took out his prayer beads, and we walked over  together to see how badly he was injured – couldn’t see any blood, so that at  least, was a good sign. The pup was alive, but obviously distressed and in pain.  People brought him water and food; he touched neither. But after another 20  minutes or so he was able to walk by himself into the courtyard of the  monastery. I don’t know if Bempa’s prayer beads helped, but I was impressed to  see that Tibetans are kind to animals because, as Buddhists, they believe all  life is evolving toward higher levels of consciousness. On the other hand, they  do eat meat - yak, lamb, chicken - I’m not sure how they justify the killing of  these animals for food.

We spent many hours and many miles in the Landcruiser, driving on roads which  are engineering feats that have required extensive labor and $$ to build – many  of them are paved and climb over high passes. The Chinese have made a  considerable investment into the infrastructure of Tibet. One of the most  impressive was the road to the Everest Base Camp. Although unpaved, the  switchbacks are a marvel – seems like there must have been a hundred of them up  one side of a pass and down the other. When we finally reached a view point,  there, stretched out before us on the horizon, in a cloudless sky, were the  mighty Himalayas - a line of white, glacier-covered peaks, including Mt.  Everest, the largest and highest of all. What a memorable sight that was.

The base camp is 17,000 ft. elevation. I had been taking my high altitude  medication and am happy to report no headaches or nausea even at that height.  However, climbing a little hill for a better view left me breathless. Paul did  fine even without medication and was able to walk right up that hill.

I don’t know why, but the lakes we saw in Tibet are a beautiful blue-turquoise  color. One of the most impressive and another highlight was Namtso Lake, the  highest salt lake in the world which seemed to be entirely surrounded by white  peaks.

On the way to the lake, we passed many black tents of nomads - and right next to  the tent, we frequently saw a big truck. I have just learned how these people  can afford such a luxury. It’s all because of caterpillar fungus! Used as a  traditional medicine, these caterpillars (which the fungus kills and then feeds  off of) are collected in rural Tibet and are an important source of income,  fetching from US $3,000 to $18,000 per kilo, depending on the quality.

Now, the tale about the last two day’s train ride from Lhasa to Beijing. I had  been looking forward for the chance to ride the world’s highest train.  Unfortunately, the train trip of a lifetime turned into two days of stress for  me because Bempa purchased tickets for the 9:30 a.m. train. The train trip takes  48 hours (and travels about 2400 miles). I had read that the train left at 7:00  a.m. Turns out there are several trains leaving Lhasa every morning. Since my  plane from Beijing left at 11:55 a.m., that meant I would have far less time  than I’d planned to make my flight. So instead of enjoying the trip, I spent  those two days on the train worrying and fretting.Paul did the smart thing; he  took the train only as far as Xining and then flew to Beijing and on home.

Despite my apprehension and anxiety, I was delighted to see some wildlife on the  desolate high plains of Tibet and Qinghai Province - a couple of long-horned,  antelope-type critters and several groups of wild goats and wild asses. They are  certainly a hardy lot. Here it was the middle of May and snowing; we awoke to a  pure white landscape the second morning.

The train arrived at the station in Beijing exactly at 9:30 a.m. Then it took  half an hour standing in a queue with several hundred other people until I was  able to get a taxi. Bempa had written me a note in Chinese saying “airport” and  “hurry”. My lady taxi driver did her best, but still it took nearly one and a  half hours because the airport is far from the heart of Beijing and traffic was  unbelievably congested; signals seemed to take an eternity to change from red to  green. Bless my driver’s heart – she did it - barely. I think I was the last one  to check in and the last one to board the plane. What a relief it was to finally  be on that plane, safely belted in and on my way home.

X-rays taken when I got home showed a chipped bone in my right foot, but it  hardly bothers me now.
Note: It was amazing to see how much Beijing has changed since I was there in  1984. Gone are the thousands and thousands of bicycles – replaced by thousands  and thousands of cars. And the old blue, black and olive green Mao suits have  fallen into disuse in favor of more colorful, western-style clothes.