The first stunning sights we saw were a series of lakes with the most amazing turquoise colours. The first lake was Yamdrok lake and the others were all artificially created lakes. The Yamdrok lake has special significance to the Tibetan people, so it is extremely unfortunate that the Chinese have built a hydro power plant, using the water of the Yamdrok and the other nearby lakes. The Chinese presence is widely felt in Tibet and ensures an uncomfortable period of time whenever it is mentioned.
Along the way, we also stopped at several monasteries, each different in their own unique way. The Pelkor Chode monastery in Gyantse was the most authentic experience so far in our trip. There were no tourists and we were lucky enough to be able to see the monks go about their afternoon prayers (even if it did feel like we were intruding a little). The Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse was another different experience. The monastery was like a medieval walled village, filled with tiny cobbled alley ways. While here, we followed the pilgrims as they walked the kora and enjoyed exploring the little alley ways.
We spent a night in a small village, Shegar, to help us acclimitise before we set off for the big one, Everest Base Camp! The road to Everest was a long, bumpy 100 km of dirt road but we were all so excited that we didn't seem to notice it. We stopped along the way to appreciate the sights - the first glimpse of Mount Everest nearly had me in tears, I was so thrilled to be there.
We got dropped off at the base camp and spent about half an hour just taking it all in. It is hard to write about it was like just being there. For so long, I have wanted to see Mount Everest, so being there was just so special. The photos really don't do it justice. To think that we were already 5000m above sea level and this majestical mountain was another nearly 4000 m above us , was a little difficult to comprehend. We walked the 8km back to the Rongbuk monastery where we were staying, and my goodness was it a long walk. Despite the herbal medication and the nurofen, I felt like I had been hit by a train. After a rest back at the monastery, I felt well enough to sit outside and enjoy the sunset over Everest. Toilet stops that night were also amazing experiences - I have never seen so many bright, bright stars (no, not even in Wuxi!). Waking up the next morning was extremely special too - we looked outside our hotel room and could watch the sun rise over the mountain, absolutely amazing.
We began the journey back to Lhasa, all of us having experienced something very special. The dirt road felt a lot bumpier on the way back! The last few days have just been spent driving and looking forward to a hot shower and clean toilets! Clean, warm and hygenic hotels are yet to find their way to Tibet, so we had some interesting accommodation experiences along the way. We have experienced the filthiest of filthy pit toilets with bouncing floors (not what you look forward to in the middle of the night!), no heaters (our record was a night of -4 degrees .... in the room!), rooms with no electricity, hotels with no sinks and the most disappointing of all, a hotel room with an ensuite and a bath ..... but no hot water! Am now back in civilisation and looking forward to NYE with Gunnar back in Wuxi tomorrow night. I hope that everyone is well and enjoying summer!
One of my favourite things about the monasteries is the architecture. I love the contrast of the white washed walls of the buildings with the mountains and the sky. The doors and windows of many of the buildings are particularly attractive, with their bright colours and intricate painted patterns and carvings. Yellow is a sacred colour in Tibet - only monasteries can use this colour.
In the afternoon, we visited the Sera Monastery, home of the debating monks. Unfortunately, they were not having a debate today, so I will just have to come back for another visit! They debate deep philosophical issues such as the existence of 'I', a concept in which Buddhism does not believe.
The altitude really seems to zap your energy, so this afternoon I treated myself to a few hours sitting in a local restaurant, drinking hot lemon tea and eating cheese cake (I would have preferred some Christmas pudding!) next to their stove which is fuelled by yak dung.
Things did get a little silly as the night wore on - there were dart competitions where the darts occasionally missed the board, pool competitions with staff who didn't know how to hold the cue, Rolling Stones impersonations, the 'Bevins' (Tony and I) V the 'Aristocrats' (Pete and Nat) pool game, and some hair styling by a very feminine stylist (Tony) on an unsuspecting model (myself). A lot of fun to finish the year on.