Archive for June, 2010

Mandala Hotel

Hi All,

  7:30 am tomorrow, June 27, we leave on a 4 day overland journey to Kathmandu, Nepal.  (I now know that there is an h in Kathmandu and Buddhism.)  We should cross the border into Nepal on the 30th and be in our Kathmandu hotel on the night of the 30th. We fly back to Singapore on July 4th.  Not sure about our Internet access along the way though Lobsang says tomorrow night’s hotel is nicer than the Mandala Hotel so maybe we’ll have wifi.  Tonight we have to pack up, and yes, we did buy a few things, so packing is even trickier than when we left the boat.  That’s why boat travel is so nice; no packing and unpacking. 

  This morning we visited a Buddhist nunnery and this afternoon a monastery that is also a university for students studying to be monks.  We watched them during an afternoon session when young students are questioned by older students and it’s all very theatrical.  I took lots of photos and will share them too as well as many others.

  So that’s it.  Off to finish packing.

Ru

Comments No Comments »

Mandala Hotel

Hi All,

  Today we began our official tour of Lhasa with two more tour members, David and Ronnie; one French and one Swedish.  Both are tall young men who have been traveling around Asia for several months though Ronnie took some time off to visit Alaska recently.  Both are completely fluent in English.  We will tour with them to the Nepal border.  Until now we have been doing an independent tour with the same company and same tour guide.  We’re glad that we had the extra time for our bike ride and drive to the Ganden Monastery.

  Our morning tour was the Potala Palace, the Winter Palace of the Dali Lama and the burial place of the Dali Lama starting with the 5th Dali Lama.  We have also visited the Summer Palace.  After that we visited the Jokang Temple which is the most crowded place I have ever been.  More about those places in following emails.

  Here are some photos of the beautiful Tibet scenery.

Ru

Comments No Comments »

clip_image001

Our tour guide Lobsang posed for a photo on our bike trip along the Lhasa River.

clip_image002

Randal and I posing in front of the new Newu Bridge linking the train station to Lhasa City.

We continued riding along the river and across the bridge (no photos allowed on the bridge) and then along the other side of the river until I got tired. Notice what we have on our heads; no helmets! It is the first and hopefully last time we bike without them but the bike rental shops don’t provide them. My seat was too low and none of the up hill or down hill gears worked. So after about an hour when I got tired and we were about to begin what looked like a climb, I said I needed to stop. Randal said he needed to stop too but he wouldn’t have said so! Lobsang could have ridden for the rest of the day. But we turned around and rode back to town. I guess we rode about 10 miles or so because we rode about an hour and a half but stopped for photos and a phone call from our friends Stella and Bill.

clip_image003

Stopping for a rest, water and to let a giant truck go by.

There was no shoulder on the road and though there wasn’t so much traffic, there were big trucks and people often seem to drive crazy. Anything coming up in back would blast its horn.

clip_image004

Looking across to the Potala Palace, the Winter Palace of the Dali Lama.

We did a tour of the Potala Palace the day I am writing this. Nothing is allowed to obstruct the view from the Palace so there are no tall buildings in the city of Lhasa anywhere near the Palace; and none that we’ve seen so far anywhere. Even the Newu Bridge had to meet the height regulations. More about the Palace in another email.

clip_image005

The road up to the Ganden Monastery. It was a beautiful drive and the Monastery was quite interesting to visit. More about that in another email too.

clip_image006

Driving back from the Monastery along the Lhasa River.

clip_image007

The sky was so incredibly blue.

clip_image008

The view of Lhasa from the Potala Palace.

Comments No Comments »

Mandala Hotel

Hi All,

  This morning our guide Lobsang picked us up at 8 am with a van and driver for a tour along the Lhasa River and up into the mountains to the Ganden Monastery.It was an absolutely beautiful drive and the monastery was quite picturesque and interesting with a long and sad history in modern times.  I took loads of photos and eventually you’ll get to see them.  This afternoon Randal and I shared a Yak burger and cucumber salad for lunch on the roof top dining area of the Mandal Restaurant with lovely views of the surrounding mountains and the Chinese soldiers on the roof top across the way.  The Yak burger was quite good and the bun that it was served on was wonderful bread.  They do great bread here in Lhasa.

Tomorrow we’re going off to the Potala Palace which I don’t know enough about to write about now.

So far I’m most intrigued with the older Tibetan women and the beautiful mountain scenery.

By the way, Lhasa City is at an altitude of 12,000 feet above sea level.

Ru

Comments No Comments »

Our first few days in Lhasa, Randal and I would tour with our guide Lobsang in the morning, rest in the afternoon, and then go out walking about 6pm. It felt more like the middle of the afternoon because of the warmth and bright sunlight. It stays light until almost 9pm. We would leave the hotel, cross the road and turn left at the first big intersection. After a short walk we would come to a pedestrian area that led into the small, old neighborhoods.

clip_image001

In the evening, Chinese soldiers guard the entrance to this pedestrian area. Randal and I walked through it our first night’s stroll but in these photos we kept to the main road and then cut back into the heart of the old city. I took a photo of the Yak dung stoves beyond the last pillar but some soldiers were sitting there so I was waved away. When I pointed to the stove, I was allowed to take the photo. Obviously I took this photo with the soldiers. You just can’t directly point a camera at them. When we get lost they are helpful at giving us directions.

clip_image002

Chinese jump rope.

I’m guessing that the red scarves indicate these children go to a Chinese school. The school day ends about 6:30 pm There is a long mid-afternoon break which ends about 3:30 pm when the students return for the afternoon session,

clip_image003

An apartment complex. Black in painted around the window to retain heat. Many locals actually use the bicycle rickshaws.

clip_image004

Leave the main road and enter the warren of lanes lined with small shops and courtyard neighborhoods.

clip_image005

In the center of the old section of Lhasa is the Jokhang Temple. Every morning and evening people walk a circuit clockwise around the streets surrounding the temple. It is a market area and there are lots of shops selling souvenirs lining the streets. Randal and I get all turned around in these interweaving streets and always have to ask directions. These women are Buddhist nuns. We will visit a nunnery on one of our tours.

clip_image006

A prayer tower with cloth prayer sheets wrapped around it.

clip_image007 clip_image008

I sneak photos of the women whose, faces, hair and clothes are all so full of character and colorful.

clip_image009 clip_image010

Yuppie Tibet

This café with several floors with ladder-like stairs had the best yogurt cake. It was just like cheese cake but made with yogurt and tangy rather than sweet.

Comments No Comments »

Mandala Hotel

Hi All,

  Randal is sound asleep.  We actually did a bike tour along the river today.  Our guide Lobsang met us in the hotel lobby at 9 am and we walked about 15 minutes to a bike rental shop.  There we quickly picked a bike, had the seats adjusted and took off through the semi-predictable Lhasa traffic.  My bike gears didn’t work and the seat was really too low, but I really enjoyed the ride; at least for the first hour and 20 minutes.  Then I got tired and when we turned as if to climb a hill and keep going into the countryside, I told Randal I was about ready to stop.  So was he; but he wouldn’t have said anything.  Our guide Lopsang turned us around and we rode back to town, returned the bikes and Randal and I went to lunch while Lobsang went off to do his own thing.  We had almost 2 hours for lunch so decided to eat and then return to the hotel to rest before our afternoon outing to the Tibet Museum.  That’s where we’re

going in about 20 minutes.

  Anyone with hotmail didn’t receive the email about our train trip.  Apparently the file sent as an attachment was too large so they were undeliverable.  Sorry, but that’s my only option with this little netbook computer.  www.mydoramac.com will post the email and the photos. 

  Off to the museum.

Ru

DoraMac

ps neither Randal and I have been sleeping well for lots of reasons, altitude and very dry air.  We were both amazed how much we enjoyed the bike ride this morning!

Comments No Comments »

Mandala Hotel

Hi All,

  Randal and I survived the bike trip, but really pooped out during our tour of the Tibet Museum.  And now we both seem to have stomach issues….A couple of wrecks!  Tomorrow we’re going by car for a 2 hour drive along the river to a monastery.  That should be quite interesting.

  I’m about to go off to the market down the street to see what I can find for dinner.  Both of us need a rest from the spicy noodle shop and spicy anything.  Maybe I can find some yogurt.  There’s lots of it here and I had some for lunch with my special healthy chicken soup and brown bread.  They have the best bread here in Tibet.  Of course lots of years ago I did eat enough Tibetan barley bread to gain thousands of pounds.

  So hope you enjoy the train photos and see the changing scenery.  Next some photos of Lhasa.

Ru

Comments No Comments »

Just some photos of our Chinese friends and then scenery from the train.

clip_image001

Before we left for Tibet we spent some time with our friends Bill and Stella who incidentally built our wonderful boat, DoraMac! Goose and lamb and greens were cooked in the center pan on the wok. It was our last really good meal until we ate dinner in the noodle place just across the street from our hotel in Tibet.

clip_image002

Three very lovely young friends, Zoey, Singkey, and BoBo.

We took them to dinner one evening and listened to Zoey’s and BoBo’s tales of work life and job hunting. Both graduated this past June. Singkey is in her first year at University. We have known all three since 2006 when they were all school girls!

clip_image003

The small symbols say Doumen and the time is 6:19 am. We were at the Doumen bus station at 5:30am waiting for the bus to Guangzhou. You can see we are definitely at sea level as we cross one of the many rivers that make up the Pearl River Delta.

clip_image005

Traffic into Guangzhou.

clip_image006

The waiting station in Guangzhou.

One of the station attendants came to tell us when our train had arrived and we were able to follow some other folks looking for the Tibet train since it was a bit confusing. Randal is looking at a map of the train route. We made several stops and I don’t know if anyone got off but lots more people got on.

clip_image007

Low land scenery.

clip_image008

Changing scenery.

clip_image009

Towns seemed to pop up in the middle of nowhere.

clip_image010

The higher we went, the prettier the scenery.

clip_image011

Lower mountains.

clip_image012

During the night the scenery really started to change. I went to the “toilet” late at night and when I looked out it reminded me of flying over the North Pole. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera.

clip_image013

Lake and sky.

clip_image014

Glaciers and snow capped mountains.

clip_image015

Finally, the train station in Lhasa.

Comments No Comments »

Mandala Hotel

Hi All,

  Randal and I arrived in Lhasa about 7pm on June 19th.  We left the train station and were met by our local Lhasa guide Lobsang Tenzing.  Randal and I were able to walk from the station to the waiting van without much trouble though walking and talking took a lot of breath. The altitude does make a difference and takes getting used to.  The evenings are warm and sunny.  It stays light until almost 9pm and Randal and I have taken to afternoon rests and evening walks with a later dinner.  We have done some exploring with Lobsang and also some on our own though we always seem to get somewhat lost in the warren or alleyways and lanes in the old part of Lhasa which is within walking distance of our hotel. There are two Mandala Hotels and yesteday evening we were led astray by some of the omnipresent Chinese police when they directed us to the wrong Hotel Mandala.  But eventually we recoginzed the landmarks down the road from our Hotel Mandala and stopped at our regular noodle spot for dinner.  They don’t speak English but really try to help us and took me back into the kitchen to find vegetables.  We’ve eaten there every night.  And evey night it has been really good with wonderful spices and flavors. 

  Randal and I do well enough during the day but both of us have problems sleeping.  Randal can’t catch his breath. My nose and throat are so dry from the altitude and the dry air that I get headaches and swallowing is painfull.  I wish I’d brought some Oceanspray nose spray and some Vicks.  There are pharmacies here but so far none with English speaking staff or western medicines.  But each day is better.  I almost slept through the night last night.  The first two nights I had to keep getting up to take hot showers to ease my sinus pains.  Thankfully it worked and the hot water was plentiful.  The good news is that if you hand wash anything, it dries in no time.  But the hotel laundry will do the big stuff: I’m not!

  I know little about Tibet or Buddism, but am learning.  And the women in their traditional Tibetan dress are so lovely and interesting.  I have been sort of sneaking photos but eventually will ask someone to pose.  Our guide Lobsang says Lhasa has changed greatly in the past 20 years.  We don’t spend much time talking politics.  He just tells us the history and not to point my camera at the Chinese soldiers.  I did inadvertently include some soldiers in a photo of some Yak dung burning stoves and one soldier came to wave me away.  I pointed to the stoves and he nodded ok and let me take more photos so it was really not a big deal. 

  I am learning to use the photo program on our mini-computer so hopefully will be able to send some Lhasa photos soon.  I have certainly taken lots.

So that’s it. 

Keep going Sox!

Ru

Comments No Comments »

There is so much to write, it’s hard to start. Actually the problem is more the zillions of photos I’ve taken and which ones to send?

We took a bus from Doumen to the bus station in Guangzhou. Then we took the train from Guangzhou to Lhasa, Tibet. The bus trip took about 2 hours. The train trip took about 56 hours. It was an experience. The scenery was amazing, the soft-sleeper too small for 4 adults, the “bathrooms” went from ok to bad, and the dining car is a whole story of its own. We slept really well the first night and badly the second night. The couple sharing the soft-sleeper cabin was really very nice and we all were on our most polite behavior. They were actually coming to Lhasa for a medical conference. She was a nurse and we’re not exactly sure what he did but it had to do with the non-medical side of medicine. Like most people taking the train, they brought all of their own food. The train had a hot-water dispenser so you could make instant noodles and tea which most people ate. We brought tea, coffee, crackers, peanut butter, a few oranges, and some cookies. . We had to rely on the dining car. We also brought our own mugs and utensils and any necessary bathroom supplies like toilet paper, soap, towels, etc

clip_image001

Randal and I were on the left side of the small cabin and our companions were on the right side. Randal had the bottom bunk and I had the top bunk. We all shared the table in the middle. Very close quarters.

clip_image003

Our cabin mates.

clip_image004

The storage space over the top bunk. The bunks were definitely long enough and wide enough for us to sleep comfortably and there were wonderful down comforters. Sometimes the train would be really warm and sometimes it would be really cold. That is a TV screen and each bunk had one but no one ever turned it on. Randal and I packed in duffle bags and had two extra bags, one with food and one with my odds and ends. They fit in the space allotted but if we wanted anything from it was a pain to go digging around in them and then repack. So like everyone else we spent the train trip in the same set of clothes.

clip_image005

Train travel….. I got on the bus in Doumen with my funny tie-dyed dress and finally took it off when we got to our hotel in Lhasa! I pulled on some flannel pants early on and they stayed there the whole trip too. I looked incredibly odd, but I was quite comfortable since everyone slept in his clothes. You can see Randal’s knee so there was room for both of us on the bottom bunk during the day while we watched the scenery go by, read or snoozed. We shared the tiny table and each bunk had netting where you stored stuff too. The yellow bag holds our food stuff. I am reading Jane Eyre which I’d never “had” to do in school. I had brought 3 books to China but finished them so needed to go to the Doumen bookstore where I knew they sold some classics in English. I am actually enjoying it.

clip_image006

The wash area for our car of soft sleepers. Each soft sleeper car had two toilets too, one Asian and one Western. By the middle of the second day both were out of order so we used the ones in the next car. By the end of the trip you didn’t want to go into the Western toilet unless you were wearing knee high rubber boots. Randal and I were the only Westerners on the train so maybe only we noticed. We were in cabin number 8 so there were at least 32 people in our car, or could have been if they were all full, though we have no way of knowing. It felt very full and some of the children hit the emergency beeper button making us crazy since it beeped just outside our door and it took forever for a train attendant to turn it off.

clip_image007

There were fold down seats in the narrow hall way which made walking through the car slow going. But it was nice to sit out there too if no one was smoking. Lots of smoking on the train.

The dining car misadventures……

clip_image008

Nothing in English and the picture menu in Randal’s right hand disappeared before we were able to use it and it never reappeared again. Waitresses would eventually hand us a menu in written in Chinese and look at us exasperated with our inability to order from it. The dining times listed were nowhere connected to reality. Lunch was hours after the time listed and we were only finally served because lovely young women who spoke a bit of English helped us order eggs with tomato, a small whole cooled fish, and some rice. The first night we walked to the dining car about 6pm though it supposedly opened at 5pm. We were told the dining car opened at 6:30pm so we returned at 6:30. Then we sat till about 7:30 though others seemed to be getting food…I finally made enough “noise” that they took me back to point to what we wanted since none of our English speaking friends were there at the time. Randal and I were the only Westerners on the train.

clip_image009

Dining car friends Echo and Echo’s Auntie Chen.

Echo is studying to be a dentist and believes that English is an essential language so speaks it quite well. That was lucky for us because none of the dining car staff ever acted as if they wanted to find any way to communicate with us. Echo helped us with dinner one night and lunch on our last day. We had our other dinner meal because one train staff finally came over to our table and then took me to the kitchen to point at the food. Not sure why the waitresses couldn’t have thought to do that but they just didn’t seem to want to make any effort to interact with us at all. Any help we ever received was from the other passengers or the train staff, never the dining car staff. The food was relatively expensive and not bad except for the last lunch which was bad. Randal and I had never experienced this type of bad service anywhere in China so were very disappointed.

clip_image010

The scenery was amazing as we climbed higher and got closer to Tibet.

We traveled 5,000 kilometers 3,100 miles and climbed from sea level to 12,000 feet above sea level. The train cars aren’t pressurized as airplanes are, but the gradual climb allows you to adapt to 40% less oxygen in the air. Along the way we saw, yak, sheep, antelope, small burros and small horses. The trip itself was not at all boring; it was more the cramped compartment and dining car that made us want it to end.

More scenery photos next email.

Comments No Comments »





Ruth and Randal




Boston Red Sox hat travels the world.