Lhasa, Tertrom & a whole lot of cake (Ultimate elevation 13,000+FT)
October 24, 2010, 4:22 pm
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With a few weeks dedicated to simply romping around Lhasa I ended up concentrating on 2 things: enjoying old friends and allowing them to feed me absurdly large quantities of food cause the trek left me looking like an offspring of Skeletor.

My first, much-anticipated reunion was with Tsetru–my best Tibetan girlfriend. We’ve known each other since I made my first trip to Lhasa at age 20 and was then fully adopted as a family member during the subsequent years living there. Though her children are now taller than me, she hasn’t changed a bit.

Here she is at work; she has a stall where she sells beads and trinkets:

Tsetru is originally from an area of eastern Tibet where most women follow the traditional fashion of weaving a few pounds of turquoise and coral through their hair. An upcoming post will go a little further into exactly what she wears and how she wears it.

Not long after arriving into town I turned a year further into 30-something. Tsetru, her husband and a small group of friends took me to Tertrom, my favorite spot outside the city, for the occasion. Tertrom is a sacred hot spring, nunnery, meditation retreat of Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal, and one of the more wonderful places in central Tibet. The combination of altitude and hours of soaking among nuns and pilgrims in boiling hot holy water makes for something special.

The view of Tertrom’s temple buildings and nun residences with the spring hidden below:

The trip was perfect– 2 and a half days spent soaking (sorry, the springs are nudey so no photos) and exploring the canyon’s sacred spots.

Tsetru picked some very tasty garlic greens for use in our birthday dinner:

On the night of my birthday, we were joined by another friend from Lhasa who carried in a blackcurrant-flavored cheesecake complete with musical electronic birthday candles (that wouldn’t stop singing so we were forced to smash them) and a feast of duck and veggies to accompany our home-cooked meal of yak meat stew. (After all, my Lhasa visit sub-theme was eating). We finished the party with a long, late-night soak in the springs where we floated around staring up at the stars.

Here is the birthday party on the way back to Lhasa. This field of mustard flowers beckoned:

Little did I know that I had another party waiting in town. My friend Ming had a day of festivities planned that included another cake, a bohemian Chinese folk band to sing “happy birthday”, and the only really good bottle of champagne in town.  Spoiled rotten I was.

Appreciate the borrowed “Jiang Zemin” glasses below. Very in at the moment:

Current location: Riding camels in Rajasthan.


Lhasa! Day 24 – 30 (Elevation 3650M / 12000FT)
October 15, 2010, 4:16 pm
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This trip has brought me back to Lhasa for the first time in over 6 years and I was way overdue. My friends’ children have grown into tall, highly fashionable adults, the streets are less pokey and more flashy, and the city limits have expanded in every direction. It was overwhelming at first. I cried a lot. But then I settled into it and enjoyed reunion after reunion. 

But before the reunion tour of the city began in earnest, I got to revisit a lot of my favorite landmarks and holy sites with my most excellent group.  The magnificent Potala Palace is always a highlight:

They’ve instituted a wild new rule though: we had only one hour to do the whole circuit around the palace. And they warned that if we overstayed by one minute we’d need to pay 1000 Yuan, and for two minutes 2000, and so on. So we made sure not to drag our feet.

The mountain on which the palace is situated was first used as the meditation retreat of Songtsen Gampo, the first Buddhist king of Tibet, in the mid 7th century. It was the great 5th Dalai Lama that started construction of the Potala in 1645. Below is the entrance to the White Palace, which houses the living quarters of the DLs:

Also outside the White Palace. I like anything with clouds:

Random tourists vying for a photo opp with the big city below:

The Potala was the winter abode of the DL, and a beautiful spot called the Norbulinka was his summer residence. It was his favorite. We spent a warm afternoon exploring the latter on the group’s last day in Lhasa. We then had a little goodbye picnic just outside the summer palace grounds:

Tim & Daniel:

The lovely Chloe:

Mike chillaxing:

Craig & Paul:

And some crazy that crashed our picnic:

(nah, that’s just Pat)

After 5 days in Lhasa, and a wonder-filled month together, the group head back to New Zealand. It was strange and sad to suddenly be without them. The next posts will detail some of the mischief I got into on my own (well the G-rated stuff at least)…

Gyantse: Day 22-23 (Elevation 3997M / 13050FT)
October 11, 2010, 10:13 am
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Ahhhh, Gyantse. It may well be my favorite town in central Tibet. I don’t actually know it that well, I’m never able to spend more than a day or two on my way to and from Lhasa, but it always impresses me. Somehow it has retained that slower pace. Local farmers still mozie into town on horse-drawn carts and after stocking up on supplies they plop themselves down on the sidewalks and have a picnic.  They sit for hours drinking homemade barley beer and playing games– but not in a lazy, good-for-nothin’ sort of way; more in a wholesome, hard-working-farmer-deserves-a-picnic sort of way. Real joie de vivre. You also still see livestock roaming around and I even experienced a Gyantse cowboy running his herd of horses through the main street. Anyway, I’m happy to see that Gyantse remains great.

It’s also beautiful, with the ancient fort, temple buildings and old town still standing. Below is the Kumbum, meaning 1,000 images, built in 1427. It is the largest chorten in Tibet with 6 floors and 77 chapels, each housing a deity. It’s fun (and a bit head twirling) visiting each as you do kora. It reminds me of a big, elaborately frosted birthday cake:

We then head up to the Gyantse dzong or fort, which was built in 1390. The dzong played a big part in the British invasion of 1904. Tibetan forces were able to keep Younghusband and his men at bay for about two months with only primitive weapons.

Despite the warning, we did not take a “devious route”:

The view of the old town from the top:

Strange promptings at the cliff’s edge (we didn’t follow this advice either): 

Chloe and Simon on the stairs that were a lot more vertigo-enducing on the way down:

After a day and night in Gyantse, we head the rest of the way toward Lhasa: our final destination as a group. Our route took us past Yamdrok Tso, one of the three major sacred lakes of Tibet. It is over 45 miles long and is the site of a hydropower station, the largest in Tibet.  A shot of the resulting resevoir below:

Our excellent drivers taking a rest by the lake. Pema, left, is my personal fave. He’s too cool:

And onto Lhasa…

Shigatse: Day 21-22 (Elevation 3840M / 12600FT)
October 10, 2010, 6:06 am
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Today we approached the most civilization that we had seen in close to a month. Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet and has really expanded since I last rolled through in 2004. After weeks of nothing but open landscape it was wild to come upon paved streets crowded with car dealerships and multi-story discos.

After a good night’s sleep in a clean, soft, elevated bed a few of us (those who did not sample the multi-story discos, tee-hee-hee) went for pilgrimage to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. The monastery was founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama but it is more famously known for being the seat of the Panchen Lama, the highest ranking tulku lineage after the big DL.  The expansive complex was busy with pilgrims making offerings:

(more photos to share but they’re refusing to load!)

In Shigatse I was able to reunite with my dear friend Mike. Mike and I lived together in Lhasa for several years and he’s now situated on a farm outside of Shigatse where he is helping with a Braille without Borders project. Among the myriad of wonderful things he does for BWB, he has established an organic garden initiative where he teaches Tibetan blind students and adults to plant, grow and harvest vegetables. He has also been helping local farmers rethink their use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. We took a trip to the farm as a group and wandered around the beautiful property, its classrooms and cheese factory, and row after row of green houses with Mike as our guide. Here he is with one of the season’s newest carrots:

After our idyllic afternoon in Mike’s company we head toward Gyantse, our last stop before reaching Lhasa. On the way we took a break at one of the few remaining water mills where roasted barley grain is turned into tsampa– the barley flour that is a staple of the Tibetan diet. Fast running stream water flows into the mill, turning the stone grinding mechanisms. Tibetans prize tsampa ground in this way over that processed by machine: they say it’s not only better tasting but far more nutritious.

Me and the jolly man of the mill:

(That’s tsampa on the lense)

We enjoyed the sun and stream-side mill with a picnic of BWB tomatoes, artisanal cheese and freshly baked bread then head the rest of the way toward Gyantse…

Between Saga & Lhatse: Day 20 (Elevation around 4600M / 15000FT)
October 6, 2010, 4:29 pm
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Yikes!  I apologize for the multi-month hiatus. I’ve made it across a few more areas of Tibet since the last entry, and had sweet reunions in several of my favorites. I’ll try to catch up to that quickly, internet connections willing.  It has been so good, though a little too busy!

So here we return to us winding down the Kailash journey. Waking up outside of Paryang, we took a long day’s drive towards Shigaste, Tibet’s second most important city, to make camp between Saga and Lhatse. It was our last night of camping and nature made sure to make it a memorable one. It took an extra hour or so to pitch tents with kajillion-mile-an-hour winds attempting to whirl us towards Oz. But once the air calmed playtime began with the local pastoralist kids. We were camped in their meadows amongst yak, sheep and goats.  


And after cart-wheel tutorials concluded we settled in for our last eve of hanging in the dining tent:

Okay, I’m being ousted from my internet cafe. More soon…