7 Days in Tibet: Lhasa

School ended for teachers on a Saturday. That was also the day that we needed to leave to get our trip under way. There is only one direct flight from Shenzhen to Tibet and it is a little overpriced. You can save at least a 100 US if you first fly to Chengdu and then fly into Lhasa. We chose the second option because it made our short trip to Chengdu on the way back easier to arrange. There were 2 groups of travelers that made up our party of 6. Sunia Joseph and I were one group and Erin, Elizabeth and Jasmine were the other. It happened this way because the 3 of us had plans to hit up Chengdu after the Tibet tour. The other 3 were scattering like leaves on the wind after Tibet.

Our flight arrived in Chengdu later in the evening and the plan was to take a taxi to a nearby hotel that Erin had arranged for us. It was hard to find and our taxi driver stopped and talked to a bajillion people while he searched for it. So a ride that should have taken 10 minutes took about a half hour. The other 3 had arrived earlier and they came out and helped us find the place. When we walked in we handed our passports over so they could have the information for their database and that was when we noticed that the sign offered the bedrooms by the hour. We were feeling super excited by the prospects of the hotel as we were given our room keys. The nice thing about arriving late and leaving early is that the only thing you have time for is sleeping and you definitely don’t have time to worry about the hourly rate.

The next morning came early and it came loudly. The lady from the front desk was pounding on our door to get us up for the ride to the airport. Which is almost nice except that when we went downstairs groggy the driver was still sleeping on the couch. We got there with plenty of time to spare and we sat waiting for our flight to leave. The 2 groups still existed because we had booked with different flights that left for Lhasa 10 minutes apart. We were even in a different terminal then they were. The flight was uneventful and the food was edible but sadly flavorless. I was caught using my phone to listen to music and was told to turn it off. Then I was caught reading a book on a phone and was told to turn that off. In China you are not allowed to use your phone even in airplane mode. I knew this but had forgotten when I decided to leave my iPad at home (iPads are okay after take off and before landing). I usually get away with the music thing because I keep it in my pocket but I brought wireless headphones. After all the things I had brought along to entertain myself being banned, I asked for the 2  pronged headphones so that I could watch a movie on their entertainment system. She said something to me and I gave her confused face and then she said something to Sunia, who they always expect to know Chinese but she is American and Korean. Sunia apologized and said one of the few phrases she know is in Mandarin about not understanding. I figured with the flight attendants exasperation and wildly gesticulating hands that I wouldn’t be getting headphones, so when she left I tried to figure out what to do. Then she suddenly reappeared with headphones. Unfortunately despite having an hour left to watch something they decided to spend 20 minutes of that time with super long  messages in Chinese followed by noticeably shorter English summations. So I did not get a chance to watch much of the movie I chose called: Lost In Hong Kong.

When we arrived and I first step foot off the plane I felt dizzy. The altitude change was very noticeable and we were all moving at the speed of sloths. If you moved too fast you got light-headed and just moving at all was something that could easily get you winded. When I grabbed my bag off the luggage belt I almost fell over with the wave of dizziness. The good thing was I did not have a headache and I was not getting sick. The other three were waiting by our luggage unloading area for us when we arrived. This allowed all 6 of us to leave the terminal together. What struck me as strange was that they were actually checking luggage  tags. In fact every flight from then on had somebody there to check our luggage tags. I think it is a nice thing to do but I can only remember this happening one other time when I traveled.

Our tour guide, Kelsang, was waiting for us when we very slowly ambled out.He draped a white shawl around our neck as he greeted us. Then he and the driver helped us load the bags into the car and we drove an hour from the Lhasa airport to the city of Lhasa. The views were astounding and we were all amazed at the beauty of the surrounding countryside. The music the driver slipped in during our ride were jingles from Bollywood movies and that would be the prevailing theme for most of the music played in the car. We spent the hour looking out the windows, peppering Kelsang with questions, and chatting. I was intrigued by the prayer flags in the car and decided that if I was to get prayer flags in Tibet I would get those ones (I found them in one shop and the guy was not in a bargaining mood and I ended up leaving Tibet without them). Kelsang explained to us about the different colors of the prayer flags and because my brain needed more oxygen I promptly forgot this information despite my interest. Luckily for me I can google the answer, according to Wikipedia: Blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth.

We eventually got to our hotel, the Yak Hotel. Despite its name it was a beautiful hotel with pretty darn comfy beds, I would go so far as to say they were the second most comfortable beds we would stay in during our travels. This was where we first noted what would be a trend of ornately decorated lobbies , ceilings, and guest rooms.

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We went to our rooms on the 4th floor, with no elevator. My bag was whisked from my hand and carried up by a woman a foot and a half shorter than I was. I labored up the steps and had to take constant breaks to catch my breath and felt extremely grateful that I hadn’t insisted on taking my own bag. There were no elevators in this hotel and the steps the first two days we were there were exhausting. I normally take the stairs over an elevator in most situations but when you are already struggling to function stairs really suck.

As a group we decided to go eat but it was a group of 5. Sunia stayed back to sleep for the time we had before we would be picked up again by Kelsang. We walked over to a place called Tashi 1, after it coming highly recommended by another group we met in the lobby. I ordered a BWhat came was a bunch of vegetables with a little meat, a home-made cream cheese spread, and some Tibetan bread that looked and felt just like a tortilla. I took pictures of the milk tea and the home made cheese spread but I did not take a picture to show you because I was starving and I just dove in and with the help of the altitude I failed to take pictures of most of the food we ate this entire trip. I was delighted by the bobi and felt like I would get it again. The group got momos and Tibetan butter tea to share. Momos are dumplings with yak meat filling. They were awesome. The best part was the hot sauce they provided to dip them in was spicy and also had a nice cumin flavor. Tibetan butter tea tastes pretty much how it sounds but I had a few cups and I could see growing to like it.

After we ate we explored a little and I bought a hat.

We walked all the way down to where a temple was and I suddenly realized how badly exhausted I felt so I walked back to the room alone. I was a little lost and disoriented because of the altitude. I ended up walking a couple of streets past my hotel but ended up finding it. After climbing the 4 flights of stairs, I collapsed on the bed and slept until Joseph came knocking. I let him in and then laid back down and was asleep soon despite him talking to me. The next thing I knew we got a call and I answered. It was one of the girls wondering where we were. We were late meeting Kelsang in the lobby and everyone was waiting on us. So we threw on shoes and headed down.

Kelsang took us back the way we had went to eat and down the street to the temple where I had turned around and went back to the hotel. The temple was called Jokhang Temple and is considered the spiritual center of Lhasa. It has been around in some form since 647 AD. I do not remember a lot about the tour. My brain felt like mush up there while we acclimated to the high altitude and I can recall very few things as a result. I remember learning that they paint the area around the windows black to help capture the Sun’s heat. I remember learning about this huge cooking pot that is now decoration. Apparently they used to cook in it when all the monks were together and now it is filled with water and fake flowers. People put money in it thinking it is holy but Kelsang told us it is just decoration. My most vivid memory was of how picturesque the place was with the backdrop of the sky in the background. It was so blue in between the fluffy white clouds. I have lived in China long enough to be moved by the lovely clear blue of a sky.

After the tour we walked around a little more before heading to eat at Lhasa Kitchen. The food was pretty good but we liked Tashi 1 more. We called it a pretty early night after that.

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