Archive for the “Tibet” Category
Randal and I did a quick trip to Singapore Thursday and Friday. We needed to add pages to our passports at the Singapore American Embassy. Friday morning I was going with our cruising friend Marie Louise to observe her watercolor class. We had a wonderful time and it all worked out though it might not have. For our passport pages I had checked to see cost, Embassy opening hours, if we needed an appointment; and printed out the form we would need. It never occurred to me to check if the embassy would be open Thursday. Isn’t the government always open? Except maybe July 4th or some other American holiday. Shouldn’t "CLOSED JULY 22, 2010" be in huge letters on its web page and not buried way deep in the site? Well, it was closed Thursday which we found out when we got to the embassy which is no where near any MRT entrance so involves a long bus ride or lots of walking. Thankfully Randal could take our passports back early Friday morning, fill out the new forms because we had the wrong ones directly from the US Embassy website, have them accept my signature from the wrong forms, and have them back to us by 3 pm with no additional cost for the rush job. Everyone was really nice and helpful. While Randal was being a hero and going to the Embassy in the morning (for 2 hours) and then back in the afternoon, I spent the day with Marie Louise! Marie Louise has found a wonderful teacher and he generously allowed me to watch the class, included me in the time he spent with Marie Louise and then showed me his sketchbook/watercolor paintings from Penang and George Town. His name is Seah Kam Chuan http://www.seahkamchuan.com/ and you can see his work on his website. Thursday, to console ourselves, and because it isn’t far from the American Embassy, Randal and I stopped at Kinokuniya bookstore and I bought A Year in Tibet by Sun Shuyun written in 2008 by a Chinese woman married to a Brit. The book came from a BBC documentary she created. I also bought My Journey to Lhasa by Madame Alexandra David-Neel who at age 55 disguised herself as a male pilgrim and journeyed overland to Lhasa. The book was published in 1927!
We heard from our Tibet tourmate David. He and Ronnie are in South Africa. They had just gone swimming with "great white sharks" the day he sent the email. http://www.project-7.se/ is their website if you want to see what they are up to.
Tibet # 18 …… Last few photos on our drive to Zhangmu
Herds of Yak (foreground) and sheep and the last views of snow-capped mountains.
The next story has 4 scenes…..
Where water flows is where people can live or pasture their herds.
Map of Tibet hanging on the restaurant wall where we stopped for our last lunch in Tibet.
The tiny insert up top shows Tibet in Red and China in Greenish. On the big map, Lhasa is in the middle of the very top part of the small purple where it meets the brown. Below the purple is a country called Bhutan. On the left side of the little green thumb is a tiny bit of India. To the left of that is Nepal. Below Bhutan and Nepal is India and Bangladesh….Midway between the green thumb and the far west end of the green where it meets the pink, in Nepal is Kathmandu. (I need to learn paint or PowerPoint and just put arrows!) So you can see that we traveled through only a very tiny bit of Tibet but we did visit its three largest cities, Lhasa, Shigatse and Gyantse.
We drove along through the mostly treeless geography late into the afternoon (you can only go so fast over bumpy dirt roads.) Then we rejoined the paved highway, went around and then down and then climbed a bit and then around again, all in a fairly short distance and then we were in a whole other eco-system
Drizzle and tree covered mountains and huge waterfalls.
Driving around narrow roads with blind curves, drizzle and fog and lots of signs warning of rock slides.
Zhangmu seems to be one very long road lined with everything crammed into the one possible space level enough to put this road. We arrived, checked in, went to an ATM, ate dinner, went looking for an Internet Café (Internet was down in town,) went back to our hotel and went to sleep. Early the next morning we got up, packed, ate breakfast and drove off to go to the border. There was a traffic jam but luckily some VIP types were in vehicles in back of us so our line of cars got to go first. With cars and trucks parked on the road, it’s practically a one lane road through town.
Our room was a tiny square with 2 twin beds, lots of quilts, an electric kettle that sat on the floor, a toilet/shower /sink combo and very dreary until you looked out the huge window and had this view. We slept with the window open and breathed in that wonderful moist, warm air and slept well.
Leaning out our window to take a photo back where we had driven from earlier in the day.
It would have been a quick trip from Zhangmu to the border, but the road had washed away.
Working to clear the road.
Luckily the VIP types were still in back of us. The Tibet “highway department” actually isn’t in charge here but the Chinese soldiers are. After about 30 minutes the road was cleared and we were sent along first: it was only one-way traffic. In the really rainy seasons, people can be stuck for days waiting for the road to open.
Tibet on the left and Nepal on the right.
It was time to say good-bye to Lobsang and our driver. They were actually going to collect a group of tourist coming from Nepal and “reverse our tour” back to Lhasa! David, Ronnie, Randal and I decided to stay together and share the cost of the “ 4 wheel drive taxi” journey to Kathmandu. Our Tibet tour was officially over but we were all going to Kathmandu and got along well so it was nice to stay together.
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Ronnie taking one of the many photos that we all took of Everest.
We kept wanting to stop and take photos because the view of the range was almost more amazing than eventually seeing the peak of Everest at the base camp. And with all of the clouds we worried that by the time we actually got there, the peak would be enclosed by clouds. Lobsang was very cautious about predicting how clear it would be when we finally arrived.
We had turned off the Friendship Highway and onto a dirt road, a long and windy dirt road!
And then there would be a community because water was available; probably run off from the glaciers.
Looking towards Everest
Looking back over road we’d traveled. I just fell in love with the landscape.
So did David and Ronnie.
Here we are posing. It’s bright and sunny and I’m wearing a t-shirt but no sweater because it is quite warm.
We still had a distance to go.
Here drove along the road towards base camp so we could take a bus to the actual spot with the Everest sign and as far as you can go. But, alas, when we arrived, the last bus had already left and we would have to walk a few miles if we really wanted to go. We weren’t allowed to take our own van. Randal didn’t want to walk and I wasn’t sure how I’d do, but David and Ronnie were determined so Lobsang left us in the van and he David and Ronnie walked part of the way. Lobsang left them to take their photos and then returned to the van. After about a half hour’s worth of photos, David and Ronnie came back, very happy, but very windblown and cold. They had wanted to capture the sun setting on Everest. Lobsang said that we would all go again the next morning when the bus would be running. We had gotten to the EBC late for a few reasons. We’d gotten a late start that morning because Lobsang had to go to get our Everest permits and that meant waiting for the “permit office” to open. And then we stayed a while at the monastery while he did that and then we kept stopping for photos. Would we have rushed along if we’d known the time of the last bus? I hope not. It might not have been the best possible planning on the part of Access Tours, but it worked out fine as it was.
We knew that our accommodations at EBC were going to be very basic. “Comfortable class hotel twin-sharing room accommodation in Lhasa, Shigatse, 3 star standard. The best available hotel in EBC area, Sightseeing hotel. (Still very poor due to the remoteness) That’s what it said in the info we received from Access Tours. During the 217 mile drive from Shigatse to EBC, Lobsang began to explain the choices we would have for the night at Everest. He said we could stay in a very basic hotel with no heat and no running water, a family homestay, or a tent right at the base camp. He seemed to say that the homestay would be best because the family would provide a yak dung fire for heat and local interest. The tents would have the best location for viewing Everest. He seemed to imply the hotel was a poor third option. At least that’s the impression I got. Randal had pretty much hated our Indonesian Long-house Homestay. And our friend Lydia had done a Tibet homestay in November of 2004 and said she’d never been so cold. I figured from past experience we wouldn’t be doing the homestay option. And when we felt the wind and cold near the tents while we waited for Ronnie and David, I knew Randal and I weren’t going that route either. I don’t know what David and Ronnie would have chosen under other circumstances. When they came back to the van Lobsang told us that he thought the hotel would be the best choice for all of us since it was so late; by then about 9 pm. We would all be in one location (easier for him to keep track of) and that’s where we could also get dinner. We all agreed and drove back to the hotel. It was basic. There was no heat or running water. But dinner was good and so was breakfast. The views were wonderful. There were plenty of blankets to keep us warm. I did wake up about 2 am and when I came back down from the second floor bathroom I got one of my altitude headaches. No way to take a hot shower so I took 600 mg of ibuprofen and spent a miserable night. If I hadn’t been so tired I would have taken my towel and wet it with the hot water from the huge thermos in our room and then put it on my face. It’s exactly what I did in the morning and it did make me feel better.
Ladies’ toilet and wash room. View from the ladies’ room
I ate noodle soup for dinner and a huge pancake for breakfast. The food was plain but good. We arrived at the hotel, checked in, ate dinner and went to sleep. We ate breakfast about 7 am and then checked out and drove off to go see Everest in the morning. So nothing much to show about the hotel.
Across the dirt road from our hotel was the Rongbuk Monastery.
If our timing had been better, we were to have visited the monastery. But we needed our morning to visit the EBC so the monastery visit didn’t happen.
“Rongbuk Monastery lies by the foot of the Rongbuk Glacier at 5,100 meters (16,700 ft) above sea level, making it the highest religious building, as well as one of the highest-elevation settlements and overall structures ever built and colonized. It is only 200 metres (660 ft) lower than the north side Everest Base Camp of Mount Everest. ….It is accessible by dirt road - a two to three hour drive from the Friendship Highway, soon after kilometer marker 5145. (Those hours seemed to take us forever!)
Climbers must pass through Rongbuk in order to reach the highest peak of Mount Everest via the North Face. It has been described as having some of the most dramatic views in the world, presenting a panorama of the Shishapangma, Mount Everest, Cho Oyu, and Gyachung Kang peaks to visitors
From the distance we saw parts of that cloud shrouded panorama and it was most amazing.
Our view at breakfast!
Next email: Base Camp
July 21, 2010
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Friendship Highway was a two lane road through miles and miles of open, mostly uninhabited landscape. I was never bored with it, though the closer we got to Everest the more we all wanted to finally be there. The Friendship Highway splits into two routes at Lhatse and that’s where we stopped for lunch.
Our lunch stop was the place of David’s famous tiny yak burger.
The huge parking lot at this complex was empty except for one other car of tourists. They were also the only other people eating here. Locals ate elsewhere. Good thing my cheese naan and yak chili were filling because it would be 9:30 pm before we ate dinner!
Tingri is both a town and county in Tibet and the highest point on our trip, higher even than Everest Base Camp.
17,217.84776902887 feet above sea level.
Thousands of prayer flags were hung from this sign. I imagine that being so high makes it a holy place ideal for hanging a prayer.
There were folks selling souvenirs or “photos” and probably living in that tent. Notice the little boy in the white hat at the left of the photo.
I just didn’t have the heart to say no so I paid to take a photo and then she asked for more money because there were 2 people in the photo. Then I did say no though they don’t have many other ways to earn money and at least it wasn’t begging. She made an effort to dress for photos with that huge silver belt.
This woman was asking for money.
Most of the time we all just learned to say no. I had bought a bag of candy in Shigatse and did start giving it to the children who asked for money.
Randal looked at the souvenirs but didn’t buy.
I picked this up from the ground at Tingri thinking it was just a broken piece of molded concrete. Ronnie looked at it and he said he thought it was a fossil. Originally the area was underwater until India bumped into Asia and caused the uplift that are now the Himalayas. It might be an ammonite? Or it’s a piece of concrete.
We continued on seeing green fields interspersed among the mostly desert.
Sometimes small communities, not really towns, would be located where there were water sources.
On the left side of the highway you can power lines which seems quite amazing.
We stopped for petrol in this small town where we saw the original form of horse power also refueling.
In many parts of mountainous, unpaved Tibet horses are still the main means of transportation. The towns that do exist are very tiny and you can drive through in about 2 minutes.
We were just about to pass another pony wagon as I took this photo. You can see how rock strewn the ground is and we saw this for miles and miles.
Finally we were able to catch our first glimpse of Everest off in the distance with its summit in the clouds.
Next email lots of Everest photos!
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Mount Qomolangma known to us as Mount Everest
This sign is planted at 16,600 feet. The summit of Mount Everest, the highest place on earth, is over 29,000 feet and actually still growing!
I was still cold enough to not be so smiling. I had on a thermal shirt, wool sweater, Red Sox Hoodie, a neck warmer, my heavy weight rain jacket, my B Hoodie hood and jacket hood.
After breakfast we took our packs out to the van and noticed the windows were iced over. That’s actually when we realized that we had no heater in the van which made it colder inside than out. But there was nothing to be done other than get in and drive with the side window opened a bit for the driver to see. It’s about 5 miles from the hotel to where you get the base camp bus. If we’d had all day, it would have been nice to walk from the bus parking area to the actual spot where we took that photo. Instead we got into the freezing cold bus and drove there, about 2 miles or so.
Even here there were bits of something for these yaks to eat. I was tempted to walk up closer, but smart enough not to.
Randal with his biggest smile of the entire adventure.
Randal was pretty cold and still having breathing issues so after these few smiling photos he walked around for a bit and then watched as David and Ronnie and I walked up to the top of that small hill behind Randal’s head. Lobsang said to go slowly and I did. I had to stop a few times when I felt myself getting a bit light-headed. But it was definitely worth it.
All of the water on the left is snow and ice melt from the glaciers.
The view at the top.
I was warmer here than I had been since we arrived at EBC because the sun was so bright!
I might have liked to have gotten closer; but not any higher!
Stone soul houses! I didn’t build one here; just by the lake.
An exuberant David holds up his “Lhasa” hat. He and Ronnie had bought the hats in Lhasa so they would look like the locals. Not a chance.
Everest reflected in the pool of water
We all took about a zillion photos from every angle.
And then, all too soon, it was time to go. We had a long, all day drive to the border town of Zhangmu where we would stay overnight and then cross into Nepal the next day.
July 21, 2010
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It was lovely walking through the quiet parts of the monastery.
Empty butter bags left on a window sill.
I love images like this.
I read that how women braid their hair, the number of braids and the style can indicate their family connections or where they live.
Old aunties take a rest.
Placing a bet? Having a fortune told?
The lady in the very center with a dark hair seems to be getting her money ready. The women are all wearing such a variety of hats! Hats indicate local styles and different areas of Tibet have different styles though the white floppy kinds I think are more to keep the sun off than any other reason.
Across the road from the monastery was a small space with some interesting life size sculptures. All showed interactions of local people with visitors. And all of the visitors were made with Caucasian features.
A local man with his sheep talking to a visitor on his bicycle.
He was crying because he wanted to be held by his mom, not sitting on the sheep so his family could take a photo.
A visitor, a local boy and a soccer ball.
Everyone seemed to ignore the statues of the women because there was nothing to sit on or climb on though you could have climbed onto the young girl’s arm. You can see the monastery across the street.
Interestingly, most women tourists I saw didn’t wear anything that short and most had small cameras rather than video cameras.
While Randal and I waited to meet Lobsang, David and Ronnie, we walked past all of the small souvenir stalls and then into a small grocery store where I bought candy to give away and Randal bought candy to eat along the way. It turned out to be a long way so we all ate some of my candy which was kind of like nougat and not too bad.
Then it was back into the car and off for Everest with a stop for lunch along the way.
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I took lots of photos at the monastery and the small park just outside of the entrance. It will take a few emails to share them all.
Tibet # 15 Tashilhunpo Monastery
The Tashilhunpo Monastery has a great deal of historical, religious, and modern political importance associated with it and the Panchen Lama. If you just “Google” it you’ll get lots of anti-Chinese opinions and lots of “official” Chinese versions of any event in Tibetan history. Because of that, I’ve broken my rule not to use Wikipedia because “probably” it doesn’t fall into either camp, though no one is really responsible for Wikipedia’s accuracy. If you’re really interested, go to your local library and see what they have about Tibet. At least library books have been edited and reviewed and there are books representing all perspectives though I was disappointed in our online magazine database which seems to include mostly articles written either by the Chinese press or the Tibet government in exile and not what I would call neutral sources.
Lobsang walked up ahead to get our tickets followed by Randal, David Ronnie.
Saying there were lots more visitors here than the Pelkhor Monastery would be a gross understatement and there wasn’t a chance at all of anyone being locked in a room unnoticed.
“It was founded by the first Dalai Lama in 1447 and is the spiritual home of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second most important spiritual leader. The monastery houses 900 monks today compared with the 5,000 in 1959. Key buildings are the Maitreya Chapel with a 85 ft gilded bronze Future Buddha statue, the Kelsang Temple, with its grand hall, the Panchen Lama’s Palace and the 115 ft Thangka Wall where giant images of the Buddha are displayed on April 14 of the Tibetan lunar calendar. Photography inside each building costs 75-150 RMB. “ AA Keyguide China 2009 edition p 212
Randal and I didn’t see any of it. The lines were way, way, way too long and after not liking the crowds at the Jokhang in Lhasa I really didn’t protest when Randal said he didn’t want to go into the really crowded buildings. Ronnie and David didn’t take any photos because of the cost. I first thought that they should just raise the price and let everyone take photos. But many people who come are real “pilgrims” who have made great effort to visit what is a place of religion for them and not a photo opportunity. So there is no reason for them to have to pay a high fee. I did take lots of photos of the women working in and walking through the monastery. Lots of photos.
This photo has a lot to say.
I asked permission before taking the photos. The adorable twin girls have shaved heads. The mom has some butter in her had to add as offerings at the butter lamps. The people on the left side of the photo are mostly tourists with cameras. The ones on the right in more traditional Tibetan clothing are there to visit the monastery for religious reasons. The stack of flat yellow bags are bags of butter for sale.
This looked like a bag check where people could buy their butter and leave their backpacks. The man in gray is carrying his prayer wheel as did many people and their long strands for beads. No one was stopped from wearing their backpack.
It seemed the majority of religious visitors were women.
Not serious visitors!
Look at the young woman in the middle. . When I started to work with the picture, the young woman in the middle looked familiar as did her jeans.
I photographed these women at the Pelkhor Monastery the previous day.
Same young woman? What do you think? She certainly is very pretty as are many of the Tibetan women.
I followed this woman for a while just to take a photo of her shoes.
Actually, most of my photos are of the women we saw.
This was only part of the line waiting to see the giant gilded Future Buddha and why Randal and I didn’t see it.
Once inside all of those people are forced into really narrow walkways that are dark and filled with the smoke of butter lamps. We had separated from David and Ronnie and later when we caught up, they sheepishly said they’d cut the line. They were determined to fill their 6 month, 7 continents with everything they could see. Randal saw everything on his bike trip in 2000 so can easily skip stuff now. I never would have cut the line so there really wasn’t so much time because once inside the lines go really slowly as many people actually spend time praying. I don’t remember David or Ronnie saying much other than it cost too much to take photos and if you’re trying to share the story with others, photos are essential or there really isn’t much of a story.
Restoring the damage done during the Cultural Revolution.
I loved the blue aprons first seen worn by the Ani Tsamkhung nuns.
I don’t know what actually prevented me from going up to speak with these women instead of just taking their photos. I was definitely impressed by their strength. The blue aprons are worn lots of different ways. I don’t take it for granted that people speak English and actually assume that most don’t. Many Tibetans, especially those outside the bigger cities, don’t get a chance at many years of school and even if they do, many are required to learn Chinese rather than English.
This woman is carrying what is probably a container of new butter for the lamps.
I did go into one of the smaller chapels and on the way out everyone, including me, jumps up to ring the bell.
A small group of monks sit in a courtyard that was once full of hundreds learning Buddhist philosophy.
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Randal and I are now 100% sure we’ll be home this fall. We leave Singapore September 29th and return to Singapore November 22nd. Sounds like a long time to be home but I already feel panic to get everything done we’ll want to get done. We want to visit family and friends from Roanoke, other parts of VA and those friends up North. We have all those "health" appointments we do annually. It will definitely be good to be away from the tropical weather. We will move the boat to Sebana Cove early in August and most likely leave it there while we are away.
Tibet # 14 Shigatse
Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet with a population of about 80,000 making it about the same size as Roanoke County. It is 160 miles southwest of Lhasa and it had taken us all day to cover those 160 miles. We were driving along what is called The Friendship Highway.
“The Friendship Highway is a scenic route on the Tibetan Plateau. It includes the westernmost part of China National Highway 318 from Lhasa west to Lhatse then south to Nepal as well as the southernmost part of China National Highway 219 from Lhatse to Gar in far western Tibet. Friendship Highway begins at Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. It passes near turquoise Yamdrok Lake and through Gyantse to Shigatse, Tibet’s second-largest city and home of the Panchen Lama. Continuing west parallel to the Yarlung Zangbo River/Brahmaputra, it passes Lhatse and forks just beyond at Chapu.
One branch continues west and upriver as China National Highway 219, finally crossing the Brahmaputra/Indus divide near sacred Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, then on to Ali in Gar County.
The other branch (Our route) from Chapu maintains the Hwy 318 route number. It turns southwest and crosses the main Brahmaputra-Ganges divide at Lakpa-La, 5,250m/17,225′. Descending 800 meters onto alluvial plains of the Bum-Chu — also known as the Arun in Nepal — the highway passes Xêgar (New Tingri) and Old Tingri, both gateways to Rongbuk Monastery and the north side of Mount Everest. Continuing southwest, the highway climbs over Lalung-La (5,050m/16,570′) above headwaters of the Matsang Tsangpo (Sun Kosi). This stream as well as Bum-Chu/Arun flow south into Nepal, two of the Seven Koshis joining forces before breaking out of the Himalayan foothills and continuing south to the Ganges. Friendship Highway then descends through Nyalam, then more steeply through a canyon to Zhangmu where Friendship Bridge crosses into Nepal at a mere 1,750m/5,740′ elevation. The extension to Kathmandu is named Arniko Rajmarg.
Scenery along the highway features important cultural monuments, the upper valley of the Yarlung Zangbo (Brahmaputra) River, vast grasslands and meadows on the plateau, and mountain vistas including five of the world’s highest peaks: Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma as well as largely unexplored and unclimbed peaks east and west of Lakpa-La reaching about 6,400 meters. Friendship Highway is also important to pilgrims making their way from all corners of Tibet to the spiritual center in Lhasa and to the sacred circuits of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar.
I read one blog where a woman said she’d been warned that the scenery would be monotonous but she found the whole route beautiful. That’s how I felt too!
We basically just stopped in Shigatse to spend the night so we didn’t see anything other than the few blocks around our hotel which wasn’t in the newest part of the city. We arrived in time to get our room, lug our stuff up three flights of stairs, and then walk off to dinner.
Looks a lot like our concrete block hotel in Lhasa.
Behind the curtain is the bathroom, odd! When we first went into the room I noticed an unpleasant smell coming from the bathroom. I tried to flush the toilet and it wouldn’t flush. Randal was still back in the lobby checking us in so I walked down the 3 flights of stairs and over to the lobby and told Lobsang our toilet wouldn’t work. He said that the hotel was full so we couldn’t change rooms but someone would be sent to fix the toilet. I walked back to the room and when I got there, someone was checking the toilet in David and Ron’s room next door. Actually she was just spraying air freshener to fix what she thought was the problem with the toilet. I motioned to her to come to our room (she didn’t speak English) and she started to spray. I showed her that the toilet wouldn’t flush so she left to get more help. By then, Randal had struggled his way up the 3 flights to our room and realized that the water to the toilet had been shut off so turned it on. It worked; not so well as David and Ronnie’s but it would do. And the room did have an electric kettle so we could have our early morning tea and coffee. There was no Internet option in the room, but the small business center had a few computers that weren’t very busy though the hotel was actually full of mostly western tourists.
A glass wall separated the bathroom from the rest of the room. The curtain was sort of a lacy see through material. Not sure whose idea that all was. The bathroom and the bedroom had plenty of light so that couldn’t have been the reason. But the water was hot and that really was more important than an odd glass bathroom wall. They also could have left a bit more room between the toilet and the shower stall. (Our next night we had no running water at all and a squat toilet and the night after that the toilet was in the shower, and in Kathmandu there was only hot water after 7:30 am)
Looking down from our room onto the main road.
The hotel had a dining room, but we thought we’d go out for a walk and find a place that wasn’t so aimed at tourists. We walked several blocks and only found one restaurant that wasn’t just a storefront set with a few tables. (There were more choices, I’m sure if we had walked further, but we were too tired.) We went in and it was not touristy at all: nothing was written in English and no one spoke English. I used my picture book to order broccoli and Randal ordered fried rice. They cooked the entire head of a huge broccoli but we ate most of it.
One of the shops along the way sold solar water heaters and we saw them everywhere in Tibet.
“The per capita utilization of electricity in Tibet is far lower than the national average. (National Average here must mean the average in the country of China.) The region lacks coal, and it is therefore impossible to develop thermal power. The existing large and medium-sized hydroelectricity stations only generate enough electricity to satisfy the needs of Tibet’s dense urban population, while farmers and herdsmen scattered in remote mountain areas must manage without. However, with its dry climate, thin air, negligible cloud, and annual 3,000 hours of sunshine, Tibet is especially suitable for developing solar energy.” http://www.tibetinfor.com/tibetzt/question_e/3/038.htm
And this is also pretty interesting…..
Harnessing the Tibetan sun http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/itw-tibet-tt0604.html
In many villages throughout Tibet, there are two ways to cook a meal. There’s the traditional open fire, fueled by yak dung or the region’s increasingly scarce wood. And then there are solar cookers, concentrating mirrors made of two-inch-thick concrete and covered with a mosaic of small glass mirrors.
The fires produce a lot of smoke, which, especially in the confined quarters of a kitchen, can lead to lung disease. The solar cookers are clean, but so heavy that it takes four people to move one, and they have a poorly engineered focus that sometimes lights fires, cooks food unevenly or even damages metal pots.
When MIT student Scot Frank and Catlin Powers of Wellesley College visited Tibet two years ago, one thing they kept hearing from the villagers was that it would make a big difference to their lives if there was a solar cooker that was lightweight enough to be carried with them when they went off to spend the day tending their fields or their flocks, yet strong enough to stand up to the strong winds that howl across the Tibetan plateau.
A team of students from MIT and from Qinghai Normal University in Tibet’s Amdo region ended up producing exactly that. The lightweight dish they produced, inspired by Tibetan nomadic tents, is made of yak-wool canvas panels, supported by bamboo ribs, and faced with reflective mylar. Easily disassembled and transported by one person, the cooker can then be quickly reassembled in the field and staked down solidly on the ground to resist the wind. In the fall, the students will begin testing their prototype in several villages, and make the design available to local factories for manufacture.”
(You can read the rest of the article at the link. I’m not sure what model is in the photo but it seems to need to be held down by a huge rock.)
These two women were using a huge sewing machine to sew on this giant piece of heavy material. They laughed at my wanting to take of photo of them at work. They probably think it’s the most normal thing on earth to be working as they do.
Then we walked back to our hotel, up the 3 flights and went to sleep.
The next morning we went to the hotel restaurant for the breakfast buffet. Breakfasts were included as part of the tour. There was great bread again and eggs and peanut butter and it was hard to avoid overeating. I drank about a gallon of tea. The dining room was full and you could hear many different languages. But most people were speaking English.
We loaded up the car and drove off to visit the Tashihunpo Monastery founded by the first Dalai Lama in 1447. While we stayed there, Lobsang went off to get our Everest Passes that we’d been too late to get the day before.
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I feel as if I’m spending more time writing these emails about our trip than we actually spent in Tibet. I might be learning more about Tibet too as I research so I can explain the photos to you.
Tibet # 13 Lhasa to Shigatse Pelkor Monastery – part 2
It was like walking the walls of a castle.
David, hands in his pockets, without his trusty video-camera.
I had my camera with me and was taking photos when I noticed that David didn’t have his camera. You had to check them or pay to take photos outside too. I hadn’t known that and my camera was small enough to be in my backpack so with no one around to monitor things, I definitely was faced with a moral dilemma. Luckily David decided he wanted to take photos as we walked along the walls, too, so went back to get his camera and Randal gave him money to pay for me to take photos too. At the time we all resented having to pay for photos. But now that I have been reading about the lack of government support and the political restrictions placed on the monasteries and nunneries, I wish I had given them more money. Especially the nunnery in Lhasa.
David with video-camera.
Ronnie and David divided the tasks; Ronnie mostly used his really good still camera with the huge zoom and David took the videos though I think he said that his camera could also take single photos.
Gyantse Dzong (my photo)
“Gyantse Fort or Gyantse Dzong (Jiangzi Dzong) built on the rugged hills surrounding the Gyantze town (once the third largest town in Tibet) has an arresting presence behind the town. The fortress is dated to 1268 and a castle was also built in side by local Prince Phakpa Pelzangpo (1318–1370) who was influential with the Sakyapa overlords. Buddhist guru Butan Rinchen Drub of Zhalu resided here at the invitation of the prince and made it his religious seat. Later, in the 14th century, the palace was moved from the fort to the Gyantse town where Kunga Phakpa had built a larger complex of buildings and monasteries. During this period, he also built a temple on the hill top called the Sampel Rinchenling. However, this is seen only in ruins now except for some murals made in genuine Newari and Gyantse Tibetan styles” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palcho_Monastery Wikipedia had just about the same exact photo on its website.
Randal only took out his camera when we got to Everest.
You can see a room built into the side of the mountain just behind the top of Randal’s hat and the fort walls behind.
If we had the day to spend here I would have walked up to explore: but we only had about an hour or so because we had to get to Shigatse to get our Everest permits. You need permits for everything: to go to China, then to go to Tibet, then to drive through Tibet, then to go visit Everest……
Some of the buildings that must have been used for residence or classrooms since this was not only a monastery but also a college.
“Other Information - Background: Richardson mentions this site in High Peaks, Pure Earth , London: Serindia Publications, 1998, p. 325, " … the thriving town of Gyantse (Rgyal-rtse) (1936-50), well-placed for trade with both Shigatse (Gzhis-ka-rtse) and Lhasa and on the route to India. It is rich in art and architecture of the fifteenth century created by the Gtsang prince,Rab-brtan kun-bzang ‘phags-pa. He enlarged and embellished the temple founded by his father near the rdzong which crowns the summit of the great rock overhanging the town. But his greatest achievements were the enlargement or virtual reconstruction of the Dpal-’khor Chos-sde temple and the building of the magnificent Sku-’bum mchod-rten (1936-50). The former is the heart of a community of monastic college residences spread over an extensive hillside enclosed by a fortified wall. Although the Sa-skya-pa scholl originally predominated, all other religious schools were represented here." http://tibet.prm.ox.ac.uk/photo_2001.59.8.79.1.html
After the fact, I am trying to read more about what we saw so that I don’t just show you photos with no explanation of what you are seeing. I have stumbled across some interesting web sites. The Tibet Album is one of those sites with amazing photos showing 30 years of Tibet’s history.
The Tibet Album presents more than 6000 photographs spanning 30 years of Tibet’s history. These extraordinary photographs are a unique record of people long gone and places changed beyond all recognition. They also document the ways that British visitors encountered Tibet and Tibetans.
Featuring photographs taken by Charles Bell, Arthur Hopkinson, Evan Nepean, Hugh Richardson, Frederick Spencer Chapman, Harry Staunton and the previously unidentified photographs of Rabden Lepcha.
Our specially designed functions (maps, zoom, album…) enable you to browse this site in many different ways. Photographs appear in a variety of formats and can be linked to the visual narratives they were originally used for.
This site provides access to the photograph collections of two important British museums - the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) and the British Museum (London).
The Tibet Album is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
I loved the way it wasn’t just round but had zigzag corners.
I don’t know what this tiny door led to, but you can see that someone as tall as Randal would have had to bend over to walk in.
These women in local Tibetan dress were walking up the hill behind the temple while I stood under my green umbrella and watched.
Not an easy hike and no high-tech hiking clothing.
Ronnie and David in front of the octagonal stupa.
I wish we’d had time to climb to the fort. I wish I’d paid more attention to the design of the entire complex. And I wish we’d spent more time in Gyantse because I have read that it is much more “traditional Tibet” than either Lhasa or Shigatse.
Our last stop before we arrived in Shigatse was a barley mill where roasted barley kernels were ground into flour. Barley flour is a main staple. This mill fascinated Randal much more than the monastery had.
I was wearing a navy blue wool sweater so the fact that when we left the small mill only one elbow of my sweater was dusted with flour was pretty good.
The finished product. We paid for photos here too.
It was a very small, narrow building.
This was the water wheel that wasn’t being used. The other one was too fast and too blurry to photograph.
The stream provided the power.
Eating barley tsampa…..
http://tsampa.org/tibetan/tsampa/theory_and_practice/ shows the process of mixing the tea and flour to make the traditional staple called Tsampa which Ani the nun in Last Seen In Lhasa always carried with her.
“I once met a foreign girl in Amdo who hadn’t eaten tsampa before. While the mother of the household was preparing her a bowl I could feel the anticipation rising. Soon I would again see a miniature carneval that would end in half of the tsampa being on the floor, with the rest stuck to her fingers like somekind of glue. The Tibetans, clearly more sensitive to her nutritional needs than me and the dog, offered to roll it up for her; to my delight she declined the offer. Several twists and turns later the whole spectacle came to an end. Nearly clean fingers, nothing for the dog. "How did you do that?", I asked. "I used to do pottery", came the answer.
Making tsampa is in many ways like working with clay. On the one hand it is a matter of getting the right proportion of ingredients, of balancing the fine line between mud tsampa and sand storm tsampa. On the other hand, it takes a skilled hand to shape it into an edible piece of art without spilling it left and right.”
If you go to the website you can read more and see photos of the process.
Next email Shigatse to Everest!
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Usually when we are traveling I take good notes and know ahead of time what we will see: but not this trip. It was Randal’s idea to go to Tibet and I just sort of went along with it so I really didn’t read up ahead of time and we didn’t take a travel guide. Actually the only thing I read about was altitude sickness and robbers in Nepal, both a bit off putting. And visitors must be part of a tour to visit Tibet, so we would be on a “group” tour with a fairly set itinerary. As we traveled through Tibet I would just download my photos with a broad heading like, Lhasa to Shigatse, because I haven’t figured out Windows 7 picture program and it didn’t allow me to select photos for separate folders. I usually do that in XP so I can label folders with the exact name of the place where I took the photos The point of all that is this: I was pretty sure I remembered visiting a monastery after the glacier and before we arrived in Shigatse and that’s what my photos showed. But our tour print out said that we didn’t. Our entry ticket wasn’t stamped with a date I could read. Randal said that he didn’t remember. Luckily Ronnie and David were there too so I checked their website and read what they had to say.
“We finished the sight-seeing of the day by going to the Pelkor monastery. David coughed up some money in order to be able to film and take photos inside the monastery. He got so caught up in his filming that he didn’t notice when a monk locked him in, in one of the rooms – the monk didn’t notice him sitting there and filming the inert statues for 3.5 minutes ” http://www.project-7.se/?s=tibet
It was really fun reading what Ronnie and David had written about the Tibet tour and their gallery of photos is wonderful. If you select PHOTOS on their website and then click on Galleries, you can find their Tibet photos. Randal and I are even in a few of them!
Pelkhor Chode Monastery
“Founded in the 15th century, the Pelkhor Chode Monastery is the most famous site in Gyantse, 162 miles southwest of Lhasa. The marvelous octagonal Kumbum (Palace of a Thousand Images) stupa rises up within the walls, with nine tiers, 75 chapels, and 108 gates. Containing a lengthy pilgrim circuit past the magnificent murals, the stupa was completed in 1427. Gyantse’s hilltop fort, the Dzong, dates back to 1268, and has superb views. “ p.306 National Geographic Traveler China It sounds pretty interesting so I wish I’d paid more attention.
Ronnie taking photos of the nine tiered stupa with some of the fort walls showing on the left.
If these weren’t monks I’d say they were all participating in some sort of gambling activity.
There were very few tourists here unlike the monastery we would visit the next morning in Shigatse.
I think the containers hold recycled candle butter.
The women are wearing the lovely aprons indicating they are married.
Lobsang explaining about the mural.
Part of the problem with taking photos is that you concentrate on the photos and not listening to the information about the object you’re photographing. I did look at the mural and saw that it was covered with smoke soot and was fading. Small denominations of Chinese money are donations from visitors. I think Lobsang said it also had some astrological symbolism or the history of the monastery, or….
Carvings on the wall looked like polished wood, but Lobsang said they were mud!
This is a giant covering made of yak skin. It covers a piece of artwork used for special occasions. In the Tibet Museum I saw a boat made of yak skin that looked almost like this though it was stretched tight to make a boat. It felt like leather which made sense.
The Chinese government allows photos of high lamas or abbots though not photos of the current Dalai Lama.
Lots of yak butter in this photo. There are yak butter candles burning in the metal bowls. The tall white decorative pieces in front of the statue are also mounted on stupa shaped sculptures made of barley flour and butter!
I had paid to take photos in this room and while there took many photos of this monk molding the small stupa shaped objects. Randal and Lobsang had gone on ahead so one of the other guides explained to me about the flour and butter and asked the monk if I could take photos. I asked if I could touch it and he said no but broke off a small piece of unused dough so I could feel what it was like. Most monks and nuns do some type of creative work whether it be painting or sculpting or tending flowers.
I was fascinated watching this monk mold the small stupa shaped object.
I don’t know what the monk is doing; but he was up and down pretty quick and I don’t know who the statue is supposed to be. I think probably some form of the Buddha.
There were large Buddha statues around the room and all held their hands to indicate different things. Visitors have put donations into one of the hands.
I finally left this room and went off to find Randal, Lobsang and the guys. After getting a bit lost I found them and they asked me where was David? I had noticed a monk locking the door of the room behind me but I hadn’t noticed that David was still inside taking his video of the Buddha. He was locked in. He managed to get the attention of the monks and they let him out and he finally found us.
Next email, walking around the outside walls of the monastery.
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“The lake lies in the mountains more than 2,700 feet above the Yarlung-Tsangpo plain and 14,700 feet above sea level, with a surface area of 245 square miles meandering between peaks and up tributary valleys to form an ornate, serpentine letter Y. It is the largest body of fresh water on the northern side of the Himalayas and stores 530 billion cubic feet.” P 40 Tibet Abode of the Gods. The book goes on to talk about the controversy surrounding the building of a hydroelectric power plant and its ecological effect on the lake, the impact of the power plant on the religious belief the Tibetans attach to the lake, and the needed electricity it would generate. The power plant went online in 1996. We only saw a small part of the lake so I have no idea what impact the power plant has caused. We didn’t see any activity on the lake. Tibetans traditionally don’t eat fish and the weather was too cold at the very end of June for recreational use of the lake if it ever gets used for that purpose which Lobsang seemed to imply that it didn’t.
This photo from Wikipedia shows the Y shape of the lake. Lake Puma Yumco is the oval shaped lake.
The lake shore.
Hundreds of stone piles were built near the lake. I built one too.
Barbara Erickson writes about seeing what I’m guessing are similar piles of stones near the Samye Monastery. “Near Samye Monastery, Tibet’s oldest, we passed a miniature city of stone houses built on the side of a sand hill. Pilgrims had made these simple structures, none more than a foot high, out of a few flat rocks so that their souls would have dwelling places when they died.” P 169 Tibet: Abode of the Gods. Of course, you do see these piles lots of places and I built my first one at a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge.
Our driver, Lobsang, and Ronnie stand near our van while above them you can see the other load of tourists stopping to photograph Yamdrok Lake. When we stopped we were instantly approached by other Uncles with their yak. But we had our yak photos so just walked off to the lake shore.
I did take a photo of this woman and her dog.
By this point the weather was getting colder and I was wearing a thermal shirt, wool sweater and my Red Sox Hoodie. Wearing something over your nose warms your breath which I learned after the fact. Many women wear coverings over their noses and mouths. I should have so my nose and lips would have been saved from the cold dry weather.
Our next official photo stop was the Kharola Glacier.
It was massive and amazing and there’s no way you can tell that from these photos.
I had never seen a glacier and was pretty impressed. I raced about taking a few photos and then looking for something hot to drink. Again and again, our stops were just too short to take photos, search the “souvenir tables,” interact with the people who lived at the foot of the glacier and just look around. It was too rushed and it was also our first feeling of being cold and maybe we didn’t bring enough warm clothes!
It was sort of “right there” but far away too. That’s David in the corner of the photo.
I can never think of what to say to people who have so little when we have so much; so I didn’t go visit with these people across the road from the main parking area. I can’t imagine their lives. It was quite beautiful at the foot of the glacier but the conditions are primitive and at times, probably unsafe with the instability of the glacier and rock. Maybe they only live there in the warmer months. I wish I knew.
This is zoomed and cropped so you can see. I was so far away and wonder if they were just looking or actually looking at me.
On our side of the road with the huge parking area there were some stone buildings and tents and local people selling stones and yak skulls and prayer wheels and beads and flags. And I hated to look because I really didn’t want to spend much money and I really don’t enjoy the bargaining process unless I really do want to buy something. The one thing I did buy was some hot, sweat Tibet tea. I had told Lobsang that I wanted some tea and he sent me to a tent at the back of the parking area. The woman motioned me inside and went to hand me a bottle of water. But the two men in the tent were drinking hot tea and I pointed to that. So she motioned me to sit down and I did and smiled at them all and they smiled at me and I could have spent a lovely time there drinking my glass of hot tea. But we had to go. So I took the glass with me and motioned for the woman to follow which she did because I had her glass. I went to the van and found one of our “Chinese train” mugs and poured the tea in the mug and returned the glass. Then it was back into the van and off we went. By the way, the van had no heat but we never realized that until we were at Mount Everest. I guess the 6 of us gave off enough body heat to keep it warm enough at lower elevations.
Where plateaus were fed by mountain streams, there was lots of lush agriculture. But irrigation hasn’t been made available everywhere and many farmers still struggle in the desert lands. I had a year of geology freshman year at UMass but paid little attention. Learning from the pictures in our text just didn’t give me enough visual cues. This image of stream erosion really grabs my imagination and now I would pay attention. We did happen to catch a National Geographic special about the formation of the Himalayas the other night and that explained quite a bit about what we had seen and how I could have found what looks like a sea fossil at the highest point of our road trip.
Our next stop that morning was the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Gyantse and after that it would be time for lunch.
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