Sunday, 1 May 2011

Top Of The World

The title of my blog being Sauntering Vaguely Downwards, it hasn't made a lot of sense that most of my travel has been Northwards (up) and up mountains. But Now i've been to the top of the world (or as close as im ever going to get) everywhere is now officially 'downward'. Thus here we go, travels in Tibet.

To get to tibet one must first jump through some hurdles set by the goverment, this was made a bit difficult as I was not in Chengdu when I was fixing the permit. Scans and emails later all was achieved and I had acquired a permit (which we never showed to anyone at all) Actually the permit I have is only a photocopy, the real permit was never really shown to us. Anyway enough permit talk.

Much more exciting, Trains. The train ride takes 44 hours. We had beds in the standard sleeping area. There was also soft seats, now seats on chinese trains are often over crowded places, I can't imagine doing it for 44 hours. Unfortunately we had to cross these war zones to get to the restaurant car. This meant crossing and climbing over people sleeping on the floor in amongst the rubbish they had thrown there. The train was quite uneventful except for some out standing views of the Qinghai plateau at about 3000 metres looking out on to what appeared to be an endlessly flat desert. Watched the sunrise come up over a mountain here too.

On too Lhasa then. Lhasa is the capitail of Tibet resising at an altitude of about 3400 metres. It has a heavy military presence, have regular patrols and you are not allowed to photograph them. This was my first taste of proper oppression (other than the internet firewall). The Tibetans themselves were lovely and welcoming, always having time for us and a genuine smile. The shops sell similar sorta touristy knick knacks and prayer stuff for the pilgrims. Pilgrims, literally 1000s of these guys, Lhasa is the Buddhist version of Mecca, well for yellow hat sect buddhism anyway.

The pilgrims come to see Potala Palace and Johkang temple mainly, as with all holy sites in Tibet the pilgrims walk around these sites a number of times. 3-5 usually. Potala Palace is 5km around and so the trip takes over an hour. Potala Palace is the home of the exiled Dala Lama, the legitimate head of state, in my opinion it is grander than the palace of Versailles. The sky is amazingly blue in Tibet as this picture of the Palace highlights. The guy who built it had 3 wives! One Tibetan, 1 Chinese and one Nepalese (actually wikipedia says he had five)

We also got taken to some quieter temples off the beaten track by our guide, this was not scheduled and was different. It had a much more intimate feel as we viewing actual pilgrims rather than tourists. We wouldn't have known or have had the confidence if we'd been alone. Despite spying on them they still didn't mind us trundling around, infact I think they were pleased.
Lhasa over with (3 days or so, in which Clare I only went to one bar) it was time to hit the road. 8 hours and a temple later we arrived in Shigatse, Shigatse was like a usual chinese town in that it was massive and messy. The temple we saw here had monks debating, ones would stand up and ask questions while those who sat down answered. This was shown on Michael Palins himalayas so thats worth checking out if you can.

Shigatse began day number 2 of 8 hours travel. This time the end goal was EBC (Everest Base Camp) this involved 4 hours on a bumpy dirt track of road. We also passed through some high passes of over 5000metres. We were rewarded with some glimpses of Everest far away in the distance covered by cloud. Not good omens, however this fear was not to last as we got closer it cleared up and we could see it in the fading light. However the best views were still to come. I apologise now squeamish people but its relevant. I felt really ill this night, and around 3am I got up to go outside and inevitably lost the contents of my stomach. (Either altitude or stomach bug). This in itself allowed me to see Everest, lit by nothing except a full moon and the stars in a completely clear sky. This is probably the best view I had but no camera, which can be a blessing. Anyway the clear sky held and the next morning we could see it all clearly as we walked to Base Camp proper, where the real hikers hang out in tents. They were all asleep tho...

Time to leave Everest for the 8 hour return trip to Shigatse and then the extra 8 to Lhasa the following day. Next day flew back to Chengdu which was easy enough, bringing an end to almost 6 days of solid travelling. (I spent ten days in Tibet, 8 of which were travelling days) Chengdu was kinda dull, I like it and I like returning but I was knackered. I gave the hostel staff the Lhasa beer I'd promised and promptly slouched in the garden to recap on the world and relax. On the last day I watched a football match, they were diving and acting up all the time just like normal, Chengdu lost to a rather dubious penalty.

Qingdao was similar, I ate some lovely sea food, walked around on some military ships and went to the brewery. Much to my annoyance the Submarine wasn't open to the public at this time, so thats twice in Qingdao I have now failed to walk around the sub.a In Qingdao I had arrived at 1am, they hadn't a record of my booking, and it was full... sensing disaster they actually stuck me in a double ensuite room for the same price as before, Travelling just like monoply ' Hostel error in your favour, advance direcetly to go' Qingdao's hostel also had lovely big fluffy white dog, and a rooftop bar overlooking the whole city. It was a pretty cool hostel, based in an old observatory.
The boat to Korea was entertaining, I met the only other westerner on it and we played some cards, talked about England, China and common stuff like that.

In Korea on the first day I did some cultural things, Joyghese temple which had lovely lanterns everywhere, Chungyok tower, a palace  a bell tower. Since then I have been socialising with the English teachers out here who have been very accomodating. Clar, this is where I pub crawled again - Goose to Underground to Whos, Back to Underground and then back to whos! Ha. Today I went to a play put on by expats about Vegas.

This brings us to here, tomorrow I may leave for Busan/Japan or I may spend it planning Japan a bit. It depends how I feel.
I may have left some things out, or not but ask away and i'll reply.

oh and heres some Scorpions, bugs and worms I ate :)

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