26 year old Canadian, Dutch resident travelling to every country in the world (111 so far) to become the first Canadian female to visit them all. Bestselling travel AUTHOR and founder of popular #TRLT Twitter chat.
“Wow, I hardly recognize this place,” Ammon said the next morning as he and I searched for cheaper accommodations among the many hotels in the neighbourhood. At some point in the night, little cleaning angels must’ve passed through Lhasa.
By some organizational miracle, the streets were now somehow cleaner than many of the plates we’d been eating off. It was as if we’d woken up in a completely different town than the one we’d walked through briefly the night before.
We’d rented a six-bed dorm that was separated by a partial wall, and it even had a private shower and toilet. Not only that, but it cost fifteen cents a day less per person (20 ¥ instead of 25 ¥).
“Tibet is a plateau, with most of it sitting between four and five thousand metres (13,000–17,000 ft), so you can imagine how high these mountains are. That’s what’s kind of cool about it. Obviously, oxygen becomes an issue. Some people can actually die from altitude sickness, but mostly it just causes nausea and headaches.”
To counter our slight altitude sickness, we decided to take the precaution of relaxing for the first few days while our bodies adjusted to the change.
“We have a few days here to acclimatize and sightsee.
We’re probably going to end up staying for about a week in Lhasa, ’cause we have to pick up our Nepal visas here.”
Walking made our lungs struggle for air, and we were constantly out of breath when we’d go out looking for authentic street food or to eat in cheap local restaurants.
Surprisingly, it was Ammon who suffered the most from what was, thankfully, a relatively mild case of altitude sickness.
“But we’re taking good care of him. Hopefully he’ll be better by his birthday so we can go to the Potala Palace,” Mom said.
We spent this time doing laundry, reading books, playing cards, and just generally vegging out.
Chapter #27 “Privacy”
“You can’t. Your hair is beautiful. Why would you want to chop it off?”
“We even got to see the monks during one of their debates. They were all gathered around in groups of two or three. Of course we didn’t know what they were saying, but they were waving their arms and slapping their hands in front of the other guys’ faces,” Bree said.
“Drepung is the biggest monastery around Lhasa; some say it’s the biggest in the whole world…
… and it’s built right on the side of a mountain.
It used to house ten thousand monks in its prime, but not anymore. Only about seven hundred monks live there after the Communists killed most of them,” Ammon said.
“It’s by far the coolest thing we’ve seen in Tibet, possibly even in all of China.”
Chapter # 28 “A Holy Province”
We were ready to see more of Lhasa on Ammon’s twenty-sixth birthday.
” If what you say is true, that Tibet wants to break away from China and be its own country, why are there so many Chinese flags everywhere?” Bold red flags flapped from windows on nearly every story of every house, including the Tibetan part of town where we were staying.
Despite this, monks and regular Tibetans were busy making their pilgrimages, spinning their hand-held prayer wheels as they peacefully walked the streets.
A Tibetan ma ni lag ‘khor is a cylindrical wheel on a spindle that can be made of many different materials: metal, wood, stone, leather, or even coarse cotton.
The Om Mani Padme Hum mantra (meaning, roughly, Praise to the Jewel of the Lotus) is traditionally written on the outside of the prayer ornamentation. It’s believed that spinning it counter-clockwise gives the same effect as reading or reciting the inscriptions, and that simply touching one of these holy wheels can off-set the risk of bad karma.
We made our way to the magnificent Potala Palace on foot. It was a huge, thirteen-story building with white staircases and dozens of windows with rusty-red accents that loomed over Lhasa on the hillside. Gazing up at it, nestled in a natural bowl surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world, I was thrilled to think that this was the home of the Dalai Lama.
The more Ammon told me about the religion and the history of the conflict that had occurred there, the more I realized just how little I’d actually known about this renowned place. I was once again struck by how very much more there was to learn.
As we approached the entrance, Bree said, “Look at all the tourists.”
From our perspective, being attacked from every direction by beggars seriously detracted from the area’s holy vibe.
All we wanted was some peace and quiet so we could reflect on the spiritual aspects of this unique setting.
We anxiously anticipated entering the famous Potala Palace where the Dalai Lama had once reigned.
” The central masterpiece was a whopping 14.85 metre high stupa (49 ft). Its 3,628 kilo (8,000 lb) solid gold casement, lavished with eighteen thousand five hundred pearls and semi-precious stones, holds the mummified body of the fifth Dalai Lama.
“I wonder how they felt when they looked at their former selves’ tombs, considering that he was all of these guys,” Bree said.
Chapter #29 “Little Miss Unpopular”
‘Everyone is better than you. You are not a good friend. And you will not have any.’ I felt like he`d put a curse on me, one I couldn’t afford to have.
Chapter #30 “Hello Money”
From there, we made a day trip to Gyantse’s Pelkor Chode Monastery
Gyantse’s Pelkor Chode Monastery
Gyantse’s Pelkor Chode Monastery
Gyantse’s Pelkor Chode Monastery
We met four Swiss guys who were on a boys-only backpacking trip during our stay in Tibet, though, and it felt really good to speak English and be understood for the first time in weeks.
Our vehicle didn’t have a rack, so we piled our luggage into the storage space behind the back seat, and Bree sat on top of it.
Once we were finally on our way, the road was like a big, jittery gravel pit.
“I just can’t believe this is the right road.”
“We were in a giant gravel pit surrounded by barren mountains.
“It may not be scenic in the traditional sense of the word, but I think it’s cool in its own way, ’cause it’s so high that nothing grows,” Mom said.
We were forced to stop when the Swiss guys’ truck got stuck in a large mud puddle blocking the road.
The rain had just stopped, creating a huge, magnificent rainbow that provided a welcome streak of colour amidst the grey.
We knew we were high up from the lack of vegetation and the emptiness of the thin air. The scenery was a mix of grey, stony passages, and high plateaus the colour of dead grass.
Luckily, it wasn’t too long before a random bulldozer happened by and pushed and lifted the vehicles from behind to rescue them.
After long stretches of nothing, we’d come across small, random, and apparently forgotten communities in the mountains.