Three yaks or four; that is the question
Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
96Trip End Apr 16, 2011
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Sorry....... what’s that Sarah? Write a proper blog? Do I have to? Oh... all right then.
After a quick tour of Lhasa’s three budget establishments with our guide, who picked us up from the train, we plumped for, you guessed it, the Yak Hotel in the centre of the Tibetan quarter and took their cheapest room- which was fine except for the 5 flights of stairs (quite a challenge at 3,600m!) and 10 minute walk to the shower
We had a couple of days to kill in Lhasa while we waited for the official start of our "Trekking Tour" when the other 2 members of the party would arrived and so we informed our guide on the 1st morning that we were going to visit the Drepung Monastery today and then go off whitewater rafting tomorrow. He looked at us with a look of mingled fear and horror and said “but....but.... you can’t do that!”. To understand the background to this a bit: the Chinese authorities are somewhat paranoid about foreigners being in Lhasa, where they go, where they stay, what they see, what they do, what they take photos of, where and when they go to the toilet (well, maybe not that bit). Therefore, as far as we could tell, nobody was willing to sell us a ticket to get to Tibet or arrange our permits for us unless we booked as part of a pre-arranged tour. Then, it seems, once you are there the Government hold the agency responsible for everything those crazy tourists might do and insists that they are accompanied wherever they may go. Anyway, in the end our guide decided that going rafting with another company (including Tibetan guide) was safe enough and he agreed to accompany us to the monastery and put us on a bus back at the end and made us promise that we wouldn’t try to go to any other tourist sites without him.
On the 3rd day, our fellow trekkers, Michal & Sylvia, arrived and we had a half day wondering around the tourist sites of the main city which consist of a temple (I forget the name) and the Potala Palace (former seat of the Dali Lama). Unfortunately, Sarah was laid low for this day by a dodgy chicken enchillada the night before (that’ll teach her to eat anything other than yak). The Potala Palace is very impressive from the outside and quite a sight to look at. You also get some fine views over the city and mountains from the way up. The inside, however, was fairly average as there is only really a tiny section you can visit (no idea what is in the rest of it!) and it is all dark & dusty (shutters all closed up) with a few Buddhas and things. Oh and the odd solid gold tomb. Now if that were our house, we’d open up the shutters, let some light in and set up some terrace rooms with views over the city. Still, it’s not every day you get to wander around rooms that were built in the 7th century and look pretty similar now to what they looked like then by all accounts.
In the afternoon, we had to sort out the logistics for the 4 day hike in the mountains (the “tour” we booked only really included a guide, transport and a permit- the rest we had to do ourselves- this would become an increasing source of frustration later on....) including buying the food, oxygen tanks, altitude medicine, sorting out camping gear, buying some extra layers to wear etc
So, bright and early the next day, we set off in our van for the start of the trail arriving there late morning. There then proceeded a long argument about how many yaks we needed and what the various rates for yak and Yak-man rental might be. It was quite clear to us as they were packing the yaks that we only needed three not four (besides the 4th one was brown not black and would not have looked so good in the photos) but they seemed intent on spreading the luggage over all four. Then, out of nowhere a mysterious new charge for the yak man to come along materialised, along with a government fee per yak and an insistence that an “emergency” empty yak was mandatory. Cue lots of head shaking, gabbling to-and-fro in Tibetan and some throwing of yak tea on the ground. We think the turning point came when they said that if we wouldn’t pay for four yaks then we could go with three but Yak-man wouldn’t come with us and we would have to look after them ourselves. To which we responded that this was fine: yaks only ate grass right? And we would then sell them for meat at the end of the trail. Not that long after this we set off, with only three yaks at the original price agreed with no extra charges added.
The walking was really quite tough but not in the way we expected
We then had an unexpected night in a hotel at the end of the trek: the fact that we weren’t camping the last night and would arrive at a road where we would get a car (which we would pay for) to a monastery and stay in a hotel (which we would pay for and which had the grimmest toilets in the world – think open trough -no doors or walls- but running through the men’s and then into the ladies) was sprung on us by the guide at the last minute
We then had one more lazy day spent in Lhasa (we got our old room back in the Yak hotel- which we realised is now the room we have spent the most nights in since we left) and one more sumptuous dinner involving various yak meats before bidding farewell to Michal & Sylvia and heading to the airport to have the customary 2-3 hour delay before our flight to Shangri-La.
And in recent news Michal has now posted a video he has made of our trip to Tibet on You Tube: Take a look: