Friday, May 31, 2013

Tibet, Drepung Monastery


Our day begins as usual but this time I skip breakfast and spend the extra time sleeping in. Around 10am we set off to tour two of the more important monasteries in Tibet. About a twenty minute drive out of town and we pay another admission fee then clear another security checkpoint which is a little different.

Our destination is located on a hillside and the checkpoint is at the bottom of the hill. Loaded up back in our mini-van we continue our drive up a steep road that is littered with trash on both sides.

Arriving at Dreprung Monastery which is the biggest Tibetan Buddhism College there is another military official who gives us a watchful eye then nods an approval. Navigating some construction area we start our now traditional “Monastery Stairmaster Workout”.


Tibet CAN D1 001 We are greeted by smoke and money changers as we begin our climb then we are drawn to the voice of a small child singing.

What is disappointing is to see a pool where monks once took baths almost covered in trash.



Along the path to the monastery are prayer wheels, a few of them unique because they are kept spinning with running water from the surrounding mountains. Looking skyward it is a gorgeous day as we take in the hillsides covered with prayer flags and important monuments.




Tibet CAN D1 004 Hillside At Dreprung Monastery



Inside Dreprung we are allowed to take pictures but for a reasonable fee of RMB$15, about US$3. I find the yak butter candles interesting as I watch people feed them with offerings.


Tibet CAN D1 016 It is also cool to see the stacks of ancient Tibetan scriptures that line part of the monastery walls.

Near the scriptures there are also brass bowls of water that are used as a part of a Buddhist ceremony.



Along another wall a set of stern and discerning eyes are watching us but what I find interesting is another set of eyes that I am familiar with. From behind a glass case old George Washington is looking back at me. I guess here any currency is acceptable for an offering.



Tibet CAN D1 018 Watchful Eyes


Leaving Dreprung, the former winter residence of the Dali Lama, I get a glimpse of some real old fashioned manual labor. I stand and watch as men carry huge rocks on their backs to a construction site down the hill. I sure hope they have some Aleve or at least get a good back massage at the end of the day.


Tibet CAN D1 026 I don't know if you have to be Buddhist for it to work but I come across a stupa and circle it, I think in the right direction.

Now I will just have to wait for my good luck, health and fortune to kick in.





Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tibet, The Streets Of Lhasa


CH Tibet Pictures D1 054 On our way to Jokhang Temple we see a bit of the city that looks interesting to explore on our own after we are done with lunch and temple touring.




I am not particularly a shopper or souvenir collector but I find watching people going about their normal daily routine interesting.

There is a lot of construction going on around the city and it seems no street is safe from it. There is still a lot of manual labor involved in the process as I watch groups of men unspool large cables and women manually mix batches of concrete.

Shops with all kinds of merchandise line the streets some with a mix of pool tables that I understand are used for gambling. I do not know if I am just still photo timid from being touring earlier in the day but as much as I want to I feel awkward about breaking out my camera. Most locals on the streets seem so reserve that I think it would be inappropriate to be seen clicking away.


CH Tibet Pictures D1 063 I do come across one guy that does not seem too shy to have his picture taken. However, its a face many are familiar with but I am surprise to see him here.

It's Shaquille O'Neal hawking NBA Beer.



My adventure gets me somewhat lost but gives me the opportunity to try sometime new in the city. A little bargaining and I am taking a local taxi back to my hotel for about a US$1. This is another fun way to see the city, bells and all.



Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tibet, Jokhang Temple


Another pass through security and we pay an entrance fee to enter Jokhang Temple. Jokhang is Tibet's first Buddhist Temple and is a little less challenging to visit than Polata Palace although it does have its share of steep stairs.


CH Tibet Pictures D1 046 Jokhang is a simple temple that I find more enjoyable to visit than Polata Palace as it does not seem as touristy.








CH Tibet Pictures D1 061


For a few moments I can sit and enjoy it along with an upper level garden that is decorated with brightly colored flowers.



CH Tibet Pictures D1 047 Like at Polata Palace there are restrictions to taking pictures of the things I find interesting to look at and would like to share.

A shame.






CH Tibet Pictures D1 059 For me, it is disappointing to see the Chinese flag prominently flying over this temple that is the ultimate destination for Tibetan pilgrims.





As I leave Jokhang I do witness some Tibetans offering prayers and it is a bit of comfort that at least they still have the freedom to practice their faith.




Tibet, Lunch In Lhasa



CH Tibet Pictures D1 017 From Polata Palace we are driven around the streets of Lhasa and then exit our mini van to walk a dusty path for lunch.





Our first group lunch in Lhasa is at New Mandala Restaurant and although we have the option to dine on the roof top we decide to eat inside instead.

Interestingly, from our table we can see a group of police or military personnel stationed on a roof top across from us. They are probably keeping tabs on the streets and square below us or maybe just seeing what we will be ordering.

After breathing the dry and sometimes dusty air I cannot wait to coat my throat with a refreshing Coca Cola. Not surprising the Coke is served not quite cold and although I can tell a slight difference in taste from the ones back home, this one still does the trick.  



CH TTrain D2 Pictures 062 Yak Curry Set


Wanting to try some local flavor I order a yak curry set and naan bread always a favorite for me. Although we are just a few steps from the kitchen my meal is served lukewarm. However, the portions are huge and in all honesty a “set” should and can be shared between two people.

On the train to Lhasa we passed a lot of grazing yaks and my first impression combined with seeing the harsh environment was that this was one tough animal. Sampling my curry dish my first impression was right. However, it did turn out to be a good exercise for my jaw without having to worry about running out of breath.


CH TTrain D2 Pictures 061 Another interesting thing about dining at New Mandala was the wait staff seemed indifferent to us being there.

This did not really bother me and I pass it off as just them being uncomfortable to communicate with us because of our language and cultural differences.


Overall my lunch experience was okay but nothing to get too excited about. Nonetheless, I am recharged for some more touring around Lhasa.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tibet, Polata Palace


After a night of sleep interrupted by jack hammers and beeping horns, I am up at 8 am for breakfast and my first shower in over three days.

Refreshed, I am still exhausted after climbing a set of stairs to the roof top restaurant. The lack of adjustment to the higher altitude in Lhasa becomes pronounced for me when I do any hint of activity that can be perceived as extraneous. Even a brisk walk can make you oxygen deprived at these altitudes.



CH Tibet Pictures D1 014 Polata Palace



With breakfast complete we meet in the hotel lobby for our first tour of a monastery in Tibet. It is an important one as Polata Palace is the former winter home of the Dali Lama who now lives in exile in India.

After clearing an airport type security check, we approach Polata Palace from the right front side and find ourselves going against the grain of traffic. In a clock wise direction the faithful as a part of their daily ritual are circling this holy shrine.


CH Tibet Pictures D1 010 Prayer wheels are spun and prayers are muttered as this spiritual tradition is carried out.

I watch up close something I had seen along the highway from the train a few days ago.




A ritual is performed by a young man along the sidewalk and he is given money, I guess for prayers and blessings.

Entrance to Polata Palace is not free and visitors are given an allotted entrance time. Entering the palace we are scanned through another security check point and reminded that photography is limited in certain areas.


CH Tibet Pictures D1 018 The weather could not have been any nicer for our visit.

The massive structure with its distinctive red and white colors seem to glow in the morning sun.





Our tour will be a bit of a challenge as we will have to climb about thirteen stories of stairs. I am sure that not many of the locals here do this on a regular basis.

Knowing that this maybe a challenge for visitors there are rest benches along the steep set of stairs we must climb. We are encouraged to take our time and to make small baby steps as we begin our ascent. With a few stops to take in great views of Lhasa below us the walk uphill becomes manageable.



CH Tibet Pictures D1 028 Dali Lama Winter Residence



Unfortunately, we reach the area of the palace where pictures are not allowed but it is still cool to walk through and see all of the neat exhibits and Buddhist artwork. We do get to visit the area where the Dali Lama lived and see various tombs of the past Dali Lamas but not without climbing a lot more set of steep stairs and navigating narrow passages.

As with many Buddhist monuments the amount of gold used to build them is phenomenal. What is also surprising to me is the amount of money that is donated as offerings inside the monastery. While all of this is amazing to look at it gives me a different perspective of the life of monks and the operation of monasteries.


CH Tibet Pictures D1 024 It is a real disappointment to me that I cannot take pictures.

However, we are encouraged to buy books that have pictures of everything we are looking at.




After about two hours of touring we begin our descent down thirteen stories which is certainly less painful than going up. Again the views of Lhasa below us is stunning with clear blue skies and towering snow capped mountains surrounding us.



CH Tibet Pictures D1 037 A Money Growing Tree


For me, we pass an interesting item on the way downhill, a tree with money attached to it. Now I know that despite what my parents told me, money does grow on trees, at least in Lhasa. It is time for lunch then more touring around Lhasa.



Friday, May 17, 2013

Tibet, A Police Welcome


We arrive at the Lhasa train station and as a group face a little bit of confusion. We all expected that we would be met by our tour guide once we got off the train. Earlier as we pulled into the station at one end of the platform there was a large group of singing school kids that for a fleeting moment I thought was our welcoming committee.


CH TTrain D2 Pictures 023 As we are pondering our dilemma, we are approached by a smiling and friendly police officer or member of the Chinese military. I guess he has seen this situation many times before and beckons us to follow him. I quickly gather that all visitors are met at the outer boundary of the train station.


Scanning the crowd we are a bit disappointed that no one seems to be there to meet us and we are right. A phone call by our police escort and we learn that our driver is late to pick us up. I guess 44 hours was not enough notice that we were coming.

Before too much longer we are given a lame “Tibetan Welcome” and loaded into a mini-van that we will spend a lot of time in for the next few days. Traveling solo, I am a bit lucky because I will have the whole back seat to myself along with just a few small pieces of luggage.



2013-04-26 03.54.45 Modern Lhasa Train Station


My first impression of Lhasa is “wow”. This is a lot different than expected especially when I see an amusement park with a large Ferris wheel being built not too far from the train station. I am told that last year only about 30,000 non Chinese nationals visited Tibet, so no doubt this is a popular destination for locals to support a "Mini-Disneyland".

The weather is near perfect as we cross a modern bridge and head into town. The main street where our hotel is located is lined with high end shops and is bustling with activity. I wonder if I can get a bargain on an iPhone-10 at The Apple Store?



2013-04-26 21.51.18 Our stay for the next three nights is at The Yak Hotel a 4-5 Star tourist class hotel.

It is about 5pm when we arrive there and I am definitely feeling the need for a hot shower and a comfortable bed without beanie bag pillows.



However, we have been advised to not take a shower until the next day. Not quite sure of the reason but it is suppose to help with the altitude adjustment and prevent us from getting sick with a cold.

This will make about three days that I have not taken a shower. The last time I did that I started to grow a long black and white tail and lost a few friends. At least this time hopefully it will be a group effort and whether they like it or not Bill, Kathy, Craig and Marciso are stuck with me for the next eight days.


2013-04-26 21.51.44 I get my first dose of not being use to high altitude living as I climb a set of stairs to my fourth floor room and probably should have bought a can of portable oxygen from the convenience store next door.




By the time I hit my bed there is not much motivation to do much of anything else than to catch my breathe. Taking the "no shower" advice comes easy. Now if I can only drown out the street construction noise beneath my window I just might get a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

China, Train To Lhasa Day Two


I wake up after my second night on the train and the scenery has changed a bit from the previous morning. There now areas of white on the ground and in the distance as the signs of winter linger around even into late April.



CH Tibet Pictures D1 001Second Morning Landscape


Somewhere earlier this morning we were at the highest point on our journey about 15,000 feet above sea level (5072m). Surprisingly, I have felt no noticeable affect from the change in altitude and have taken no medication for altitude sickness.

My plan is to stay hydrated, eat well and avoid doing jumping jacks or my regular 1,000 push-ups a day. So far, it seems to be working.


CH TTrain D1 CAN 008 Life on the train has not been too difficult and with just about five hours to go I cannot believe I have had a one track mind for over 30 hours.





The only disappointment on the train has been going to the bathroom after fellow passengers that seem to lack some common public decency.

The train staff has done a good job keeping the train clean and the environment comfortable. I was surprised to discover that regular toilet paper was not available after the first day but I came prepared thanks to Wal-Mart in Beijing.


CH TTrain D2 Pictures 012 About three hours from Lhasa we make a stop and a good majority of passengers leave the train. Our stop is long enough to give us an opportunity to get off the train for a few minutes. It is nice to step outside and breathe the crisp cool air at about 12,000 feet.



One more non-verbal all aboard call and we begin the final leg of our 44 hour journey. The scenery is still amazing as we pass fields with grazing yaks and a few small towns become more common with snow capped mountains in the background.



CH TTrain D2 Pictures 030 At about 3pm in the afternoon we arrive in Lhasa pretty much on schedule.

For me, the trip has not been a bad one and the time has passed well enough.




I am sure my travel companions had a lot to do with it. Thanks, Bill, Kathy, Craig and Marciso.



Monday, May 13, 2013

China, Train To Lhasa Day One


For a regular train traveler there is probably not too much to get excited about when your future holds 44 hours of swaying back and forth in the same direction. However, for a non-regular train traveler headed to one of the more restrictive and unique places to visit on the planet, for now, it is 44 hours of rocking and rolling fun.


CH TT D1 001 Our departure from Beijing is in the evening so after settling in and exploring a few cars of the train it is pretty much “Bedtime for Bonzo”.






SAM_0056 My upper berth bed which is a called a soft sleeper is somewhat firm and my pillows which are like large beanie bags are less than comfortable. Fortunate for me, I have the gift of a horse to be able to sleep standing up.



About twelve hours into the journey we make a stop and I wake up to views of China that I have never seen before, a mostly barren landscape under clear morning blue skies.




CH TTrain D1 007Landscape From The Train  



Occasionally some green and other blues are added to the scenery as we past what appears to be grazing land along with some high altitude lakes and river streams. The views remind me of crossing some parts outside of Chandler, Arizona minus the cactus.

Posted on the walls in different cars is our itinerary to Lhasa showing points of interest along with the time and altitude at various spot along our almost two day journey.



CH TTrain D1 CAN 009 At about 8 in the morning, we will be at the highest point of our trip 5072m, well over 15,000 feet.

There are oxygen outlets in our room should we need it.





Although we have provisions for the trip, Kathy, Bill and I decide to venture to the dining car for an early evening supper. We order up thin sliced green peppers that can be easily mistaken for green beans, pieces of pork with lots of grilled onions and rice along with a beer that surprises us when it is served.




CH TTrain D1 009



On a Chinese train bound for Tibet we are drinking “GI Beer” made by PBR in memory of the US Army. I never would have imagined I would be drinking a beer in honor of a branch of the US military in of all places, China.

I hope the Chinese always feel this way about us because in my opinion it is difficult to be angry with someone that you are willing to share a cold brew with.



CH TTrain D1 CAN 014 Night falls with us still rocking and rolling a long about 60 miles an hour.

As I look out at a rising full moon, I think this is still fun and I am one lucky traveler.






Saturday, May 11, 2013

China, Fresh Pineapple And The Summer Palace



2013-04-23 20.22.56 After enjoying a delicious free noodle soup for breakfast with black tea at Chinese Box Hostel, I set out on my second day in Beijing with a minor agenda.





The first business of the day is to pick up my train ticket for the start of my trip this evening to Tibet. Next, a visit to the Summer Palace and then a stop at Wal-Mart for train provisions.

Compared to late last night the streets are bustling with activity and I am glad to see a fresh fruit market that is open.

For about US$1, I am chomping down on a fresh pineapple that is as sweet and full of flavor as can be. Like mangoes, this is one fruit I can eat any time of the day, morning, noon or night.


2013-04-23 05.44.57 At a train ticket outlet I pay less than a dollar (RMB$5) and I have a hard copy of my “44 Hour Ticket To Ride” in hand.





A few minutes later and I am on Subway Line 4 headed for Beigongmen Station and The Summer Palace.




CH PEK D2 CAN 042Summer Palace



Built in 1750, The Summer Palace was an imperial garden and temporary home of the royal family during the Qing Dynasty. For about five dollars (RMB$30) you can enjoy a part of China's history that in the past only royalty and special guests had the privilege of doing.



CH PEK D2 008 The grounds of The Summer Palace are almost overwhelming and there is just too much to see in such a short time. Many of the cool artifacts are in areas that have additional entrance fees.




I mostly opt for the free stuff except for a ten dollar (RMB$60) boat tour across Kunming Lake that takes us under The Seventeen Arch Bridge and drops us off on South Lake Island.

Today, the weather here is beautiful and it is enjoyable just to stroll the grounds of the palace and take in the scenery. Across The Seventeen Arch Bridge a few of us are entertained by a group of dancers I call “The Summer Palace Girls”.



CH PEK D2 CAN 046 The Seventeen Arch Bridge


The Bronze Ox from the mid 1700's and The Blue Iris Stone, the largest stone decoration in any Chinese garden are just a few of the impressive items on display as I make my way to exit out of The East Gate.


CH PEK D2 046 An interesting display I am not expecting as I exit, “The Summer Palace Tourist Volume Forecast” which shows a total of 26,000 visitors yesterday and a forecast of 36,001 for today.




I wonder how they knew that I was the extra one that was coming. Very interesting, Kato.



Sunday, May 5, 2013

China, Back In The Land Of The Ming Dynasty


In less than 13 hours of flying from the United States, I am back in Beijing. This is my second visit in less than a year and one I have looked forward to for a long time. In a day and a half I begin a journey that few on the planet have taken. I am headed to Tibet then to the base camp of Mt. Everest (EBC) and to Nepal.

Temperature wise this is a nice time of the year to visit Beijing and the weather is just as forecast as we make our arrival into one of the most populated cities in the world.



2013-04-23 04.38.28 Surprisingly or maybe not, what we called something else in the 80's when I lived in Los Angeles is today here called fog.





To have the opportunity to again be in the land that gave us fireworks, poker playing cards and “Kung Fu Panda”, I can forgive this and the burning sensation in my nose as I walk its city streets.



2013-04-23 04.58.08 My accommodations in Beijing for the next day and a half is like a homecoming.

Today, I return to welcoming comfort of the Chinese Box. The Chinese Box is a hostel located in an old Chinese neighborhood that I think is pretty cool. .



The Airport Express Train for about US$4 to the subway system then it is a about US$0.30 fare and a short walk before I crash from jet lag into a cozy bunk bed.

I wake up feeling refresh around 10pm with Patsy Cline in my head. Getting more comfortable for the cooling evening temperatures, I set out to do a little “Walking After Midnight”.



CH PEK D1 005 Stepping out of my room and looking straight up, the sky is clear as an almost full moon beams down on the city.

Perfect conditions for a night walk.





A stop at a 24Hr convenience store and my first meal in Beijing is a dumpling filled with spinach for US$0.30. I could have had some KFC but not a chance for a traveler like me.


CH PEK D1 013 It is nice that at this hour of the night in this city I practically have the streets to myself.

At Tiananmen Square there are only a few others like myself enjoying the serenity of the city that I am sure only comes from being out at this time.






CH PEK D1 017 Tiananmen Square



Down a side street I do get a little scare as something jumps near my feet. Turns out to be a scraggly city cat looking for a late night snack. Further down the road I think about returning to give him a warning as a rat bigger than him crosses my path.



CH PEK D1 024 Fortunately, no more scares during my walk just mystical views of “The Forbidden City” and Jingshan Park under foggy moonlit skies. At Beihai Park, I watch a group of men doing some cool night fishing with neon lights from a street bridge. I wish I could join them.



It is well past midnight as I return to Chinese Box snacking on a giant ear of corn like I would at the County Fair back home. It has been about a three hour walk with dinner for less than two dollars and although my nose is still adjusting to the Beijing air, thanks Patsy for the inspiration.