Journal - Napló

Days 309-316. Tibet (China 1.)

Posted on February 20, 2011 at 9:15 PM

   You cross the Sino-Nepalese border, and enter a vast museum - the land of Tibet. You observe the exhibited world from behind the  window glass of the bus, but only the part that is deemed as “worthy” by the organises, i.e. the part that does not undermine the prestige the Director.

   Sometimes the looking glass disappears and the visitor can touch what he sees. But it is always the same for everybody.

   Dead things belong to the museum, things that are not viable anymore. Tibet is the past, China is the present?



Day 309


  I think we were not the only ones, who appeared at the first day of the organised tour at the bus with a pinch of doubt in their mind. Even so, the doubts soon dissolved. We formed and excellent team: ca. 20 people from all around the World. Couples, friends, lonely travellers, who – just like us – are not great fans of organised tours, but had no choice and so accepted this package. Mexico, USA, Israel, Indonesia, England, Germany, France, Holland, Spain and Hungary…these were the countries of origin of the passengers of the minibus.

   Alex and I sat at the back. When my head hit the roof that was 30-40 centimetres above, I acknowledged that the road is a bit bumpy.



   The border goes across a valley, the border guard booths are located on the mountainsides, facing each other. We crossed the Nepalese part fast, but had to spent hours and the Chinese side.

   Chinese rule over Tibet is strongly disapproved internationally, and also among travellers. The Chinese authorities see American backpacker tourists as their main enemies. Europeans have it slightly easier, but they/we also had to go through a thorough check.

   They had as unpack everything from our backpacks, paying special attention to books, as bringing in any book that deals with Tibet, carries the picture of a monk or deals with Tibetan Buddhism, is prohibited. An officer browsed suspiciously through a book of an Israeli guy for almost 20 minutes.



   On the Chinese side we got a new tour guide and a new bus and then we set out along the mountainside towards the sky. After a few kilometres a perfect asphalt road started instead of the “shaky, stony serpent”.

   The sky was overshadowed by dark clouds, which made the sea of mountains seem even wilder. We stopped in the town of Nialam, and took to our cold, multi-bed rooms.

   I was somewhere else. The cold, wet air, the monotonic, boring houses, the empty road, the dark clouds above the town, the wild mountains that  seemed beyond reach, sleeping in the unheated room under the heavy, thick blankets. Even though this was the present, the current location, this made up the atmosphere of the little Tibetan town, I felt like being in Norway or in Alaska. I was happy, but in my memories.




Day 310


   We climbed up to a height of 5200 metres with the minibus. You could breathe the same way as usually, but every 1-2 minutes your body suddenly reacted, indicating that the usual method is not enough this time: I felt like someone, who suddenly comes out of the water after a long dive, and grasps for air hungry for oxygen.

   Among the infinite number of mountain peaks at this time of the year (May) only the higher ones (over 6000 metres) were covered by snow. The lower ones „got rusty from all the percipitation”, and remained barren in the shadow of their grizzeld relatives.

From time to time small villages appeared at the side of the road, where white, flat-roofed houses were the homes of families, who lived mostly out of herding yaks.

    As we stopped on a plateau, our guide pointed towards a snow-covered peak: the Mount Everest.

   The sight itself was not particularly impressive, as we ourselves were on 5000 metres. The magic of the moment was created by the fact that we were observing the highest point of our planet.


   We spent the night in the town of Lhatse. Although the bus always stopped in front of a restaurant at lunchtime or dinnertime, Alex and I set out, searching for a less „shop window” place down the streets of the city. And we indeed found one behind a small curtain: 3-4 tables, at one of them few army officers and a lot of beer cans, at another one some policemen, at the third one – few Tibetan men and women with a startled look on their faces. The 3 policemen were eating so we pointed at the heaps of dumplings in front of them, indicating we also want the same. Finally we received a large pile each. Using our eating sticks clumsily, drinking the tea slowly, we enjoyed the atmosphere of the evening and the dinner.


Day 311.


   The bus took us to a larger city, to Shigatse. The quality of the accomodation jumped to luxury. Twin rooms with a bathroom, shampoo, Western-type toilets, television, lamps that could be turned on and off from the little cupboard beside the bad, plastic cards for opening the doors. In our room there was some trouble with the electricity, we were unable to close the window, to flush the toilet and the card also didn't work at our first try.

   After lunch we paid a visit to the Tashilompu monastery, the home to 900 monks. We were not allowed to take photos from outside, but inside there were already video cameras hunting for the illegal photographers, who did not pay the horrific price of the photo ticket.


   A group of young monks in a red cap were preparing for a ceremony. The kids giggled, made jokes, wreaked havoc, while their leader, and older monk tried half-heartedly to make them behave. Then they suddenly got silent and entered a hall in an orderly manner.

The buildings of the monastery were houses with all white walls an painted grey windows, except for the main buildings. As we discovered its labyrinth-like hidden spaces, silently admiring its golden Buddha statues, our guide „gave us” some free time.



   Alex and I took to the city. We walked around a place that looked like an American small town, except for the signs. A wide asphalt road, dull, 1-2 storey buildings. Asking for an Internet connection, we took the dark stairs to climb up to the first storey of a large building. We pulled a heavy curtain that served as the door, aside and we entered an enormous hall. There were more than 100 computers, large screens, sofas, private rooms, youngsters smoking cigarettes, playing computer games. Not exactly the place where you jump in just to check your emails.



Day 312

   We drove to Gyantse to visit the Khumbula-stupha and then to the Phalkhor monastery, which also contains a stupha that has a second floor and 77 chambers. Some of us were persistent enough to check all the 77 little rooms, sometimes using their flashlights to see the different Buddha depictions and frescoes. From the top of the stupha there was a view onto the city and to a fortress built onto the top of a nearby mountain, having a long castle wall leading up to it on the mountainside.



Days 313-315. Lhasa


   On our way to the capital of Tibet we stopped under a glacier that has been melting at record speed in the past few years, and then we climbed down a bit and continued our path along a majestic lake.


   The 2 and half days spent in Tibet strengthened me in my determination that this will not be the occasion where I really get to know Tibet and that I will need to come back at a later time. At a time when I can be free to discover the villages among the mountains and when I can't check the Dalai Llama's room, because he is busy negotiating with somebody.


We had 1 hour at our disposal for the Potala Palace. Buddhas, stuphas, frescoes that were decorated with milimeter-precision, words saying you should hurry up, "photo-taking forbidden" signs - these all mixed chaotically in my head as I left the building that towers over the city with its blindingly white walls.


   We visited the Yokhang temple; one of its wings just got a new roof. A group of women and men were singing and walking at the same rythm and used a disc attached to a stick to pressurise the roofing material.


   Another monastery where the young monks, surrounded by tourists, ask questions from their peers and at the same time give each other a clap of the hand. This - presumably ancient - ritual now has started to become circus-like.


   The museum, instead of Tibetan culture, pays tribute and memory to the Chinese leadership. There is immense police and military presence on the streets. Giant, modern buildings overshadow the small Tibetan houses.


    I can't really say whether the tourists or the soldiers were more numerous. But surely not the locals.


   My depressed mood in a while turned into apathy. I think I spent more time talking with some of the members of the group in the garden of the hotel (otherwise, the mood was great) than outside the walls of our hotel.


   We got to like our kind tour guide during the 1 week we spent together.


Unfortunately we didn't understand anything from his tours and most of us gave up fairly easily,to put together some kind of information from one or two words we cought, he was member of the team.


Day 316.


    Several members of the group flew home, one couple stayed in Lhasa. Eight of us took a taxi to the new, too grandiose building of the train station.


   In the first 1-2 hours the train ran along the mountains, and then gradually we melted into the solitude of the endless plateau.


   We spent the largest part of the 14-hour train ride in the company of an American, Nicole, who, while chain-smoking cigarettes and chain-drinking beers, entertained us with excellent stories in her peculiar style.


   She told us about her favourite pub in New York: if you enter this gathering place for war veterans, you are immediately ostracised if you do not look bad or alcoholic enough. The magic of the place is provided by the constant, immense drinking, the occasional drunk baseball bat fights, and the great mystery that you always drink a lot there but somehow never seem to pay. A bar, from where you cannot get kicked out.


   After ca. 1100 kms, at the first station five of us got off. The French couple, the German Vita and us. We were quite tired as we set out to find accomodation in the Golmud night.


The horrific prices of the grand hotel beside the station made us walk to the opposite side, where we found a small hotel managed by a married couple.


   After a little bargaining we got the three-bed room with a promise that we would leave until 9 in the morning (then we did not yet know that in China not all hotels can receive foreigners). We paid yuans worth 1.5 dollars each.


   The next morning the French couple said goodbye and headed towards the South. Vita, Alex and I decided to check out this city, which the guidebook predicted to be dull.

translated by Szegi

Categories: English, China, by Peter

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