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16 - Monks, yaks and pilgrims

It was great arriving back in China - back on familiar turf. Spitting men, smelly drains, babies with no nappies, helpful signs in the toilets....

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We checked into a brilliant hostel which used to be a printing factory back in the 1970s so we were straight down to the bar to use the free wifi and drink beer for 25p. The main reason people visit Chengdu is to visit the Giant Panda Sanctuary on the outskirts of town. It really was quite fantastic and we hadn't realised that there would be so many pandas and that we would get so close. The young ones were really very cute and seemed quite playful.

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Of course, being in Sichuan we had to try the famous Sichuan Hotpot.

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We'd had one of these when we were in China before...a bubbling pot of chilli where you cook your stuff much like a fondue. This time though we decided to step things up a notch and add some duck's tongues into the mix.....probably not something we need to do again......

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And then it was on another plane and onwards to Lhasa! It had been quite a challenge getting all the paperwork and the tour organised for Tibet as the restrictions change all the time. At present the Chinese government has decided that all Western tourists must pay for a guide and a car each day. So it was a nice luxury for us to be met at the airport by our guide Nawam and transported straight to our hotel in central Lhasa. We met Sharon and Steven there who are both from Malaysia and were the other two members of our group. We all went out for lunch and immediately realised we were at 3600m as we almost passed out trying to bound up the 2 floors to the restaurant. Fi got stuck into some yak dumplings....the first of our many yak products. Yak lasagne, yak cheesecake, yak butter tea, yak cheese, yak steaks, yak yoghurt. We also walked the first of our many Koras...or pilgrim walks....around the Jokhang Temple seeing the sights and smells of Lhasa. It's imperative that you walk clockwise...the only people who don't do this are the patrols of Chinese soldiers.

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Yak Butter...

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Bryn getting stuck into the local home brewed barley beer

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Prayer Wheels a plenty whichever way you look

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We spent a couple of days with our guide doing the main sights of Lhasa. The summer palace of the Dalai Lamas, from where the 14th made his escape to India back in 1959.

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And the first of many monasteries...the Sera monastery where we were treated to the monks 'debating' in the open air courtyard. They get quite impassioned by it....

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We visited the Jokhang Temple early in the day,past the pilgrims doing their protestations out front....

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And then on with the rest of the pilgrims and followed the trail through the numerous chapels all lit by yak candles. We played spot the Buddha with our guide........trying to guess the difference between the Past Buddha, Present Buddha, Future Buddha, Medicine Buddhas, Protectors, Disciples, Tara, Kings etc etc We weren't very good at it.....Buddhism is pretty complicated.

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But we did have some fun on the roof looking out across Barkor Square and all the pilgrims doing their koras and protestations.

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The Potala Palace is definitely the star attraction in Lhasa. It was a beautiful day for it as we puffed our way up the steps :)

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No photos allowed inside as usual.....but we were blown away by it. The gold coffins of the Dalai Lamas were particularly impressive. It was sad to see the living quarters of the 14th Dalai Lama who is in exile in India. But all in all a very impressive building.

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We were glad to get out of Lhasa and to see the Tibet landscape. We did a very long day trip to Namtso Lake...one of 3 holy lakes in Tibet. Namtso Lake is at 4700m and the highest salt lake in the world. Many barren landscapes on the journey there with a few yaks in....

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The lake was really pretty....frozen round the edges, prayer flags fluttering everywhere.

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We puffed slowly up a small hill at the side of the lake for a better view. It's very wierd getting so out of breath doing so little!

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And then we off on our Everest Trip with a scattering of more monasteries on the way. We caused chaos with our Chinese guide who was quite unused to tourists wanting to walk anywhere! We did persuade him to let us walk the kora around the monastery at Shigatse early one morning. More prayer wheels, pilgrims and reincarnation merit for all Buddhists out there.

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Lots more driving and we found ourselves in Shergar at 4300m a cold, windy place. Nothing to do there apart from huddle in bed!

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And then up early for our final assault on Everest. Our first views from a distance!

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And then after a very bumpy road for 4 hours we were off...walking the 4km from the tourist camp to the proper mountaineer base camp! Lots of stops for photos as we puffed our way up to 5200m!

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But then we were there! A really great moment :)

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And also a photo of our new travelling buddy who actually stowed away in our luggage - unknown to us!

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And then a quick march back to the van trying to escape the impending storm...

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Then it was a long long journey back to Lhasa (too much for some)....

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....where we said goodbye to Steven and Sharon. We spent a quiet few days...feeling guiltly that we'd paid money for a guide and car and all we wanted to do was chill out. We did however go on a great walk in the hills around Lhasa where we saw the skyburial sites. Tibet isn't blessed with either soil for burial or trees to provide fuel for burning so they rely on vultures to dispose of their loved ones. We felt quite queasy as our guide explained how the bodies were pounded up. We walked to our first nunnery - where we were welcomed with open arms and spent half an hour chatting with one of the head nuns - with the aid of our interpreter/guide.

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We try to maintain open minds in all countries that we visit. Things are always more complicated than they seem. And we tried our best to find out as much as we could on the politics, economics, culture etc of Tibet from our 3 guides. Having Tibetan and Chinese guides did give us a more balanced view on things. Whilst many businesses were run by Han Chinese...there were options to patronise Tibetan businesses which was great. It was interesting understanding the Chinese viewpoint.......and whilst there are definitely pros and cons of Tibet being part of China, it was quite sad some of the things we found out. It's sad that they aren't allowed photos of the 14th Dalai Lama as he is their religious leader. It's wierd that the 11th Panchen Lama is stationed in Beijing and not in Shigatse where all Panchen's before him have stayed......leaving aside whatever happened to the little boy who was installed as the 11th Panchen Lama before him. It's sad that some Tibetans are seemingly not allowed to get passports. There's definitely a very visible Chinese military presence in Lhasa. Definitely no photos allowed of them!....we did see them run after tourists who tried to take photos! But just a reminder that Big Brother is always watching you in Tibet....

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Posted by FiColes 02:03 Archived in China

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