Saturday, May 06, 2006

7 days in Tibet - part 1 of 3

best swing in Lhasa
best swing in Lhasa,
originally uploaded by vfowler.
Touring for a week in a Landcruiser jeep with new-found friends is a great way to have a look at this amazing place and wonderful people. I won't kid you though, the Tibetan environment is harsh and the culture still has that magical buzz about it.

become a vegetarian for a whileI'd decided to go vegetarian for the week. Meat dumped on the filthy streets doesn't exactly pass my minimal hygiene standards. In a post-tour celebration, our gang discovered while eating the Italian gelato that rats live in most places throughout Tibet, even as residents romping around in the ice-cream shop while the staff are entertained by their antics! If rat shit on your pillow is too much for you, don't even bother making it to Lhasa, let alone the wilds beyond.

Jerome and the CruiserOur first day out was great. All of them were actually, but I've got to start somewhere. We realised early on that Tibetan people, ie. people that don't live in Lhasa, are fairly poor. Any way to make a bit of money is a good way. Even standing at the top of a 4990 metre pass in knee-deep snow with a yak on a string, one can make a real killing when a bus loaded with camera-toting tourists rolls past.

Yam drok tso (lake)Yam drok tso (lake) is this beautiful turquoise colour, even under overcast skies. Annina and Petri who will remain forever known as The Finish Couple, had joined forces with Koichi in another vehicle that caught up with ours at the lake. Their humour kept me reeling through our many meetings throughout the country.

Bente spins prayer wheels MVI_1440 (on Vimeo)These monasteries, such as Panchen Lama's Palchoi Monastery, are something everybody will see when visiting Tibet. The entrance fees will undoubtedly be higher than your guidebook says, so take some extra cash or don't visit them. Despite asking, there's no student discount either. flour man and Fowler manOur driver decided to take us to a site that possibly no-one has ever visited before: a road-side flour mill. We were confused at first as to why we were stopping at... no-where in particular. A wash of fresh air woke us up and our curiosity was sparked. Free taste-testing on the grains and we witnessed the grinding process. Amazing! Michael Jackson said it doesn't matter if you're black or white, but this is true one-up-manship. The miller man was black and white all over!

Petri reading financial signsmonk styleOn the second day we spent longer at the Shigatse monastery than our driver hoped. We later learned that the shear distance of the afternoon drive all the way to Shekar and the condition of the road was draining to say the least. If you've ever seen the Paris to Dakar Rally imagine something just as enduring!

drowning, not wavingWe are envious of our driver who sees these sights every week, whereas we might only ever visit this fascinating monastery once in our lives. The monks may choose to live in squalor conditions, but they all wear these trendy boots and there is money (perhaps some counterfeit too) pasted to every nook throughout the monastery.

bulldozer on the worksThe rally segment of our journey is supposed to be for 4-wheel-drive vehicles only but a few times we passed a Citroen blasting a way through the construction site. Amongst the rubble here, gender equality is reality as Tibetan women work alongside their male counterparts in the dusty mess.

Finally upon arrival at a crumby hotel, the place had the monopoly in town and made it hell for us to simply check in to the Spartan room. The hotel does have a restaurant though, with menu items such as an individual singular vegetable, steamed bum and curd breast.

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