City at the Top of the World

Trip Start Mar 04, 2004
Trip End Jul 02, 2005

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Wednesday, October 6, 2004

WOW! I actually made it to Lhasa! This has been a dream of mine for a long time and in the past two days I have taken in some of the most incredible, historic and jaw-dropping sites and culture. Luckily I did most of acclimatizing in Zhongdian China so was able to get right at the sight-seeing despite the 3600m altitude. Can you believe I am writing this 3.6km above the ocean, above my home town of Victoria and my second city of Wellington? The mind boggles.
The Lhasa big three, the Potala, Jokang and Norbulinka were tops on my list of must-dos but first I must relate my very fortuitous first day in Lhasa. On the flight in I just stared and stared at the mountain ranges, already snow-capped and the otherwise barren landscape below me. I've really missed proper mountains while away from Canada and now I am getting a full dose. I arrived at the airport, which is 95km from Lhasa and managed to hook up with two out-there Aussie guys named Russie and Yuppie. We finally settled on splitting a cab. However, when I gave my bag to one of the cabbies, another raced over and started a tug-of-war over the fare, with my bag as the rope. Thinking my bag was about to explode I launched myself at the two of them and clamped down on their shoulders hard enough to make their knees buckle and for them to give me my bag and back off. Other than that episode the drive in was excellent. Very scenic along the river and we passed some small Tibetan villages. I also saw my first indications of the havoc wrecked by the Chinese Cultural Revolution when we passed a destroyed hill-top zhong or fort. We got into Lhasa and found most of the hostels packed out, due to the Chinese national holiday and the fact the every Western traveller seems to be congregating on Tibet in October. We settled into Snowlands Hotel and got some tasty yak and rice tucker. I had my first brief siting of the Potala Palace and couldn't take my eyes off it till the cab turned into the Barkhor area, which is the main Tibetan area of Lhasa, the rest having been taken over by Han Chinese. Then I went searching for a 4WD tour to Mt. Kailash. I must stepped in a puddle of luck on the way because after checking all the notice boards I found all the posters of said notices and walked right into an 18-day trip of Western Tibet with three guys who all seem cool, though I have only spent an hour with them. They had all been trying to organize a trip for a week or more and I walked into one two hours after arriving! I will be leaving sometime around the 10th or 11th if all the permit processing goes well. The plan is to head out to Mt. Kailash, the most holy spot for followers of the Buddhist, Hindu and Bon faiths. Kind of like an Eastern Jerusalem. We'll see a lot more on the way, including Everest Base Camp and some important monasteries. I am very stoked about this trip and if all goes well it should be a huge highlight of my entire backpacking trip.
On a different note, I have just been informed that my thesis has been deposited in the Victoria University of Wellington library and that I have graduated with my Master's Degree! Sweet times indeed.
Tons more to tell but I must get to bed so I can head out early for Drepung Monastery, formerly the largest monastery in the world with 10,000 monks in residence.
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