3 Nov 2004
|Monday: Nice to know I don't have to do any more chasing around for travel partners. Also moved guesthouses this morning to the Pentoc, just off Barkhor Square, for a bit more of a social life, as well as cheaper room, as not ensuite, though still nice and Tibetan in feel. And I am eating a hell of a lot of yak, had yak curry the last two nights and a yak burger for lunch.
Picked up my Nepalese visa this morning - 60 days - plenty enough time to get kidnapped in. I shall expect a high profile campaign such that I will be able to retire on the interview earnings after my release.
I walked back to town so I could see the Potala from yet another angle, but I'll spare you more Potala pictures. Then to the Great Mosque - which wasn't - and then to a nunnery, which was great. The nuns were doing their midday chanting, and I watched for a while until I realised I was distracting them (the curiousity of my foreign-ness, not my sexual magnetism), so went outside to listen.
And then I wandered around the Bokhara's inner pilgrim trail against the flow so I could appreciate the very wide variety of Tibetan Pilgrims there were. Its the nomads that are my favourites though, like Stonehenge Festival meets American Indians. And I revisited the monastery I mentioned on my first outing in Lhasa - the Merunyingpa Monastery, just behind the Jokhang, which was thankfully a lot quieter. So much so that I ended up talking to the monk looking after one of the temples, and trying to teach a friend of his how to use Excel, difficult, as it was in Chinese. And then he played a Bob Marley CD on his laptop while his friend had mobile conversations, which felt slightly irreligious to me as there were still pilgrims doing their stuff, but it is a much more human and accomodating approach to religion than we are normally used to. He wrote me my name in Tibetan as well, which was cool
And then back to the Jokhang yet again, to have another look inside. There were more (though still few) people around, but enough to discourage the rats, and I enjoyed it much more, and really appreciated the atmosphere there. Even had some more realisations about things. This monk was doing that incredible deep droning chanting thing as well, which added to it no end. And as you can see I managed to get some interior pics, which though not good, may give a hint of an idea as to the inside of Tibetan temples, etc.
And lastly this evening we confirmed all our travel arrangements. There is a French couple - Yann and Peggy; a Belgian guy Jochen - who coincidentally is in the room next to mine at Pentoc, works as a Psychologist with drug users, and also came from China; Yumi - a Japanese-American woman I had already been talking to anyway, and me.
We leave early Nov 4th with our own big 4Wd and driver, the itinerary is on the relevant section of my site, but the key issue is that I will be at Everest on the 9th! There will probably be a lull in internet communication after Shigatse at least (give my slack son a chance to respond to my urgent e-mails), but texts may still get through, its amazing where they do in China/Tibet, much better than Europe.
The temperature is dropping, the snowline around us seems lower every day, and some places have shut as the end of the season. The horses that take people who want them from Rongbok Monastery (the highest in the world) to Everest Base Camp have been withdrawn for the Winter. And very few of the places we are staying have heating!
Tuesday: Bloody freezing, particularly in the shade, not helping the stinking cold I have had for the last three days. Our showers are outside and in the shade, though it was even worse for the Japanese guy in the one next to me, whose went cold in the middle of his shower.
Whilst ambling around the Barkhor area and going with the flow, I decided to have a day off, so after more nomad-watching, I went to the Cinema to see House of Flying Daggers. As I have previosuly said, made by the same guy who made Hero, and starring Zhang Ziyi (the younger one from Crouching Tiger, Hero and many other fab films and still only 25). It was great, though as it was in Mandarin I think I may have missed some of the subtleties of the dialogue. It appeared to be a tragic love triangle involving a lot of fightng and acrobatics in very beautiful surroundings. It was beautifully filmed with sumptuous sets and absolutely ass-kicking martial arts.
And then I had lunch in Dico's (the Chinese KFC) on Barkhor Square, which felt slightly surreal as I looked down on all the Tibertan pilgrims and nomads and could see the Potala away in the distance. And then more wandering and nomad watching and photoing. There was this place I hadn't really noticed before, a large underground room right in front of the Jokhang full of shelves and shelves of votive candles. The heat blasted out of it and the floor was treacherous with oil.
And as I was on a roll, I went back to the cinema this evening to see Jackie Chan's New Police Story (or Police Story 5). As fans of Hong Kong cinema will know, it is a while since he has made a Police Story, and he is not as sprightly as he was. I could understand the dialogue even less, as this was dubbed in Cantonese (of which I know not one word). It was great though, better than all his recent Hollywood films put together. There were the usual insane stunts, but most impressive was his one on one fighting, he is still incredible, and you just don't see his skills in the Hollywood stuff. And then a nice mutton thali listening to old British love songs. It was Japanese food last night, I am avoiding the not so good Tibetan food until I have to. Over and out, Spock.
Wednesday: Last day in Lhasa, and I am going to miss it a lot. Quite a social scene last night and a lot of us were saying how much we loved it and we could stay here for ever, etc. It turns out I am far from being the only one who goes to Barkhor Square several times a day and wandering around the pilgrim circuit. And met this Dutch girl who was a big fan of my Chinese CD, though still neither of us know the bloke's name in Pinyin(Roman letters).
I have learnt very little Tibetan yet, other than 'hello' and 'thank you' (Tibetan for "I'll buy you some soap if you want", and 'no, I don't want to buy a prayer wheel" respectively). This is because most of the Tibetans I interact with in Lhasa want to speak English. I will start as we leave Lhasa, where it will become more necessary
So again starting the day wandering around Barkhor Square, pilgrim watching. And then again into the Jokhang, packed with pilgrims, but I unashamedly used my Forieng permission to queue jump this time. The good thing about going in with the pilgrims - other than the sheer atmosphere, etc - was that all the side chapels were open and so were the upstairs, all new area to me. And again, highly atmospheric, magical, and I shall miss it.
While I was in there I bumped into Yumi, from my Nepal trip group, with an Australian/American couple. She asked me if I fancied going to Sera Monastery that afternoon (I had been too lazy to previously) so I agreed, and that afternoon all four of us went there. The main thing we wnt to see as well as the usual tmples and chapels, etc, was the monks debating. This was an incredible sight. There were about 200 or 300 monks, all arguing with each other in this highly theatrical stylised way, each argument finished by the standing monk jumping forward and smacking his hands together loudly and triumphantly.
And then our group met to finalise the details, and meet our driver and 4WD. I'm happy, and I think everyone else is (though all the Americans are upset about the election, can't blame them). And then the four of us who went to Sera had dinner, a lovely Thai Curry for me, and my first taste of Chang - the Tibetan beer - had worse, but not very nice. And this is the end of my time in Lhasa, one of my favourite places. Communication may be sporadic for a while, and please pray for a heatwave for me. Everest, here we come!