Tibet – Battle between Old and New

Was fortunate to be part of the 22-pax group from Yongo to explore the classic routes of Tibet for two weeks. Few days around Lhasa with one long bus journey westwards all the way to Everest Base Camp and short detour to Nam-tso.  We flew into Lhasa from Chengdu, and experienced the long 2 nights train ride (Lhasa-Chengdu).

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience for myself. It was nothing too new for me since I have trekked the Himalayan mountains from Nepali side and experienced the heady Tibetan monasteries during China’s Jiuzhaigou trip.

More mixed feelings seeing the current Tibet, especially the bigger cities of Lhasa and Shigatse drowning in rapid development and capitalism. Modernisation swept in after the completion of the famous train line from Beijing to Lhasa in July 2006. Disheartening to see cities and towns transforming into just another typical Chinese model.

Beyond the ugly development, Tibet never fails to impress visitors with its expansive natural landscapes – huge clear lakes, big snow-capped mountain ranges, rugged terrains and open grasslands.

We were lucky to catch a clear view of Mt Everest north face & peak as we departed from Shegar back to Shigatse. The peak was shrouded in thick clouds during our visit to Everest Base Camp the day before.

Also managed to get some nice views of Yamdrok-tso & glacier at Kharola during our bus ride across the mountain ranges from Lhasa to Gyantse. Combination of blue skies, mountains and waters always bring happiness to me.

(View of Yamdrok-tso from Khamba-la)

Unfortunately good weather didn’t hold up towards the end when we endured a long whole day bus ride from Shigatse to Nam-tso. It is home to Tibet’s biggest saltwater lake and apparently highest lake in the world (with surface area above 500 km2). Persistent cloudy weather and strong winds even into the morning hours didn’t do justice to the beauty of the lake known as “Heavenly Lake” in Tibetan.

(Nam-tso with Nyenchen Tanglha range in the background)

Plenty of Tibetan monasteries during our journey across southern Tibet. Covered the important ones in Lhasa, Gyantse & Shigatse. One of my personal favorites was walking the kora up to the 5th floor of the Kumbum @ Pelkhor Monastery. Enjoyed the experience more since it was not crowded – only a handful of tourists and pilgrims praying and giving their offerings. Plus the leisurely climb up was rewarded by the wonderful view of Gyantse fort and town below.

(Kumbum inside Pelkhor Monastery)

Potala Palace definitely is a must for anyone visiting Tibet.  It grandeur lies in its majestic buildings perched on top of a hill. Nevertheless, its magical appeal slowly diminished as we shuffled through the 20 plus rooms/chapels open to visitors for our “strict” 1 hour tour. Obviously an efficiency tool designed to fulfill the thousands of daily tourists to Potala Palace.

(Potala Palace as seen from Potala Square)

Lighter moment came when we visited Sera Monastery famous for its debating monks. Every afternoon (except Sun), the monks will congregate in a special debating square where they take turns thrashing out questions and answers in “kung-fu” style. Reckoned the monks enjoyed the attention by the visitors as noticed some gladly become very acrobatic and boisterous when there’s nearby photographers.

(Monks debating inside Sera Monastery)

One of the challenges faced during the Tibetan trip was dealing with AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). It is not uncommon for people to suffer headaches and grogginess – especially since we landed at 3,490m at Lhasa on Day 2 and our bus journey on Day 3 took us past several high mountain passes exceeding 4,000m. Funnily it’s always the younger travellers who suffered, the older participants responded very well to the higher altitudes – even right up to the highest point at Everest Base Camp at about 5,200m.

Survived my longest train ride todate during this trip : Lhasa-Congqing-Chengdu. The first leg was a 46-hour journey to Congqing, then brief lunch break before 2-hour fast train from Congqing to Chengdu. Unfortunately we caught the train on the wrong odd date – hence our train didn’t go directly to Chengdu as originally planned. So our initial 44hr train journey became an arduous 52hr trip.

Fortunately with wonderful travel companions, the 2 nights ordeal slipped by quickly as we spent most of the time snacking & eating, chatting and sleeping.  Most actually found their best sleep on the train as we were lucky to secure soft sleepers – 4 bunks to each closed compartments.

(View of the soft sleeper compartment from outside)

Food wise – nothing to shout about as Chinese food was mostly Sichuan style. So expect  it to be spicy, salty and oily. Ended up eating more Nepali food which was more palatable with the curries and naan/rice.

Given the opportunity, I won’t hesitate to make return trip to Tibet. Definitely would like to check out Mt Kailash and the north+eastern regions of the country which is less visited by tourists. Generally Tibetans are very friendly and hospitable, just unfortunate that big brother is slowly eroding their soul with capitalism and modernisation.

(Tibetan pilgrim praying hard in front of Jokhang temple)

More pics can be found at https://picasaweb.google.com/110597918434817703469/TibetMay2011#

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About Wye Yim

Wye Yim is just any ordinary Malaysian gal, who have been bitten by the travelling bug and searches for the next adventure thrill. Having done 6 years in a corporate world, she has abandoned her suits and heels to embark on a journey to work in the outdoor industry and fulfill her passion to travel the world.
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