Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Final Chapter: Tibet

Hello again (and for probably the last time)!  I apologize for how long it's take for me to get around to writing this last post, but I've been fairly busy for the last week.  As a fair warning, this post will be pretty lengthy!

We started off pretty excited about this trip.  We were paying a lot of money to head out there, and we were really excited to see all the really cool things that resides on the Tibetan plateau.  We were planning on heading to the train station on Tuesday (5/3) right after our ME 375 exam to begin our 48 hour trip.  Unfortunately the Chinese government decided to not issue permits that day, and we weren't allowed to board the train.  Why our travel agency decided to wait until the day of to get our permits is beyond us.  It was not the last time we butted heads with our travel agency though.

We had to wait a day to find out if our agency was able to get our permit, and then wait another day for the train.  Apparently the train only ran to Lhasa every other day.  We used this time to enjoy a couple of free days around campus and the city in General.  We got the chance to go to the  Yuyuan market one last time to pick out some souvenirs.  While we were there we got the call saying that we had to permits to travel to Tibet the next day.  Hearing this put everyone's mind at ease.  We had been brainstorming trying to come up with another trip to salvage the extra week and a half we still had in China and hadn't been too successful yet.

The train ride itself was pretty uneventful.  Imagine yourself on a train for two days, that's what it was like.  The hard sleepers that we had beds in consisted of pods of six beds.  We were fortunate enough (sarcasm) to all have top bunks.  This meant that besides the two seats out in the hallway, we were pretty much stuck in our bed.    Fortunately, these beds were kinda comfortable as long as you were just laying there.  I personally didn't mind laying up there and reading for a majority of the time.  The only disappointing part was that I couldn't look out a window from where I was situated.  Tori also made a friend named Apple who helped her scrapbook a little.  A few of us were able to talk to a monk for a little while.  Tori interpreted for the most part, but we all got to sit there and listen too!  He gave us his email address his name and told us that he really wanted to visit America some day.  I was also able to make a friend who's father had recently gone to Europe and as a result, had a lot of really good chocolate.  I was told that eating chocolate was supposed to help with altitude sickness and of course I listened, who wouldn't?  Unfortunately, I was also the one who got the sicked from the change in altitude.  On our last day I climbed out of my bed after a nap with a splitting headache and almost threw up and passed out at the same time.  I got over the stomach sickness, and the feeling that I would pass out.  But the headache stuck with me for the rest of the day.  We eventually made it to Lhasa where we were met by our guide (Dorjee), our driver (Mr. Lee) and our bus for the week.  Dorjee turned out to be the coolest person ever, our driver didn't speak any English so we didn't get to know him very well.  And our bus turned out to have a case of the break downs, but that will be discussed later.  They took us to our first hotel and then showed us a nearby restaurant that served Tibetan food.  Needless to say, this place was amazing and we went there several more times.  After we ate we went back to the hotel to crash for the night, we were planning on getting up fairly early the next day to get started traveling.

The first day we went Namsto lake.  I can't remember if this lake was special for a certain reason, or if it just looked really cool (which it did).  Regardless, it was about a four hour drive just to get there.  Getting there was pretty uneventful.  We got to see the countryside which consisted of a lot of villages, farms, and yaks.  Yaks turned out to be a pretty common animal, I was still pretty excited when I got to see them though.  We also got to go through a really high pass on the way there that gave us a pretty good view of the lake.  At the lake there was a little village that had some gift shops and a  restaurant that we went to.  Before we checked that stuff out we went down to the lake to get some pictures.  The lake was frozen over, but it was still really cool to see such a beautiful lake with the mountains in the background.  There were also locals with white yaks near the lake that you could ride.  It turned out to be pretty inexpensive, and we were all pretty excited to sit on a yak.  After we took some pictures at the lake we ate lunch, and headed back to Lhasa.  This was where the fun with the bus began.  To make a long story short, our bus broke down somewhere around three times on the ride back.  This honestly didn't concern us too much since we were staying in Lhasa and the bus driver would have all day to fix it.  We couldn't have been more wrong.  When we finally got back to Lhasa, we checked our email at the internet cafe, ate some dinner, and went to bed.

The next day we got to see Potala Palace and Barkor Street.  The Potala Palace is where the Dalai Lama used to live and conduct state affairs until he was exiled from the country 60ish years ago.  This was by far the most lavish place I've ever been in.  Parts of it consist of a structure that was built 1300 years ago.  It also contains the tombs of several Dalai Lamas including the 5th Dalai Lama's tomb that consists of 3700 kg (8 tons) of gold and a huge assortment of precious stones .  There were also rooms lined with holy texts and all of these texts were written by hand in gold or silver.  We were all really disappointed they wouldn't let us take pictures of the inside.  Fortunately we have plenty of the outside!  We also got to visit Barkor Street that day where most of the guys bought knives.  We also saw a lot of military walking around the square with shotguns and soldiers on the roofs with rifles and video cameras.  Dorjee asked us to not take pictures of them becasue he would get in trouble if we did.  Tibet really isn't that free.

The next day we left really early to begin our trip out to Mt. Everest.  Not a lot happened this day besides our bus breaking down several times, our driver getting it fixed, and seeing it break down again.  We got to see a lot of the countryside, and hang out with each other.  We also learned about halfway through this day that we were actually going to be able to go to Everest.  We had been told by some European people a couple of days earlier that some tourists had taken a Tibetan flag to the base camp, so the Chinese government shut it down.  Again, Tibet isn't free.  This night we got to the hostel really late and stayed in a really run down hotel room with really bad bathrooms.  Fortunately, we were only there for five hours or so.

The next day we got up really early so we could see the sunrise at Everest!  Such a great experience.  We made it to the pass about 30 minutes too late, but it was still an amazing view, one that I will never regret seeing.  From this pass you could see the five highest peaks in the world with Everest right in the middle.  Dorjee told us that this was called the "crown of the world" by the locals, and it's pretty obvious why!  After staying at the pass for a little while we headed down on the several hour trip to the actual base camp.  Our bus managed to break down a couple more times and the driver tried to get it fixed again while we were in a small town.  We eventually made it to a camp 4 km from the actual base camp.  This was where we had to get off our own bus so we could take the "ecological bus."  This turned out to be a bigger version of our bus that we had to pay money for.  I think it was Paddy who said, "It's just an ecological way for them to make money."  Regardless, it took us to the base camp where they checked our passports again (the 5th time).  They also told us we couldn't climb the hill that would give us the view of the base camp.  We had to stay at the base of the hill where a stone pillar was.  Kinda lame.  After we did that and took pictures there, we went to a nearby stream and had a snowball/ice fight until we were winded and gave ourselves headaches.  A few of us used the bathroom there that was unanimously the worst bathroom any of us had ever seen.  There was literally poop all over the floor of what appeared to be a bathroom.  After this we headed back to our bus and started the trip back to Shigaste.  The second biggest city in Tibet.  We had been driving for several hours without incident until our bus blew a tire.  Dorjee had already been pretty upset at our driver before this for not getting the first problem fixed on his day off.  So when we all piled off the bus for the tire to be fixed, we were a little surprised to see Dorjee walking off by himself down the road.  We joked about him abandoning us, but I'm pretty sure he just needed to blow off some steam.  Eventually he came back and the spare got put on, and we stopped in the nearest town to get the tire fixed and we were back on the road.  This was the last time our bus broke down which brought the tally to 11.  After all that happened, we finally made it to Shigaste around 2 in the morning.

The next day we got up, went to the Tashilhunpo Monastery and proceeded to Lhasa where we spent the night.  Not much else happened this day besides seeing that monastery, driving and hanging out with each other.  At this point we were really excited to get back to Shanghai so we could leave for America the next day.  The monastery itself was probably the coolest one we've seen so far.  It was the Monastery built for the Panchen Lama, the second most high lama in this particular sect of Buddhism.  While were there, we got to see a five story bronze buddha, debating monks, and several tombs of deceased Panchen Lamas.  All of these tombs were made of either silver or gold and had some of the largest precious stones I've ever seen.  Naturally they charge outrageous prices to take photos in these rooms, so I don't have any to show you.

The next day we said goodbye to Dorjee and our driver and got on the train back to Shanghai.  Not much happened the next few days.  When we got back I took some pictures around campus, started getting packed and we all went into the city to get dinner and hang out one last time.  Most of us stayed up pretty late that night in an attempt to start the transition back to the U.S. time zone.  I can't speak for anyone else, but it was kinda helpful for me.  The next day we got up and moved out completely!  The bus to take us to the airport was supposed to be at the dorm at 8:30.  But China happened and the bus didn't show up until 9ish.  When we opened the compartments beneath the bus to load our stuff up, we realized it was full and realized that we were going to have to fit it on the bus with us.  We started filing up the back of the bus with our luggage and probably filled up the last 4-5 rows before we were able to begin putting ourselves on.  Fortunately we made it on the bus and to the airport safely.  Several of the Chinese students we've met throughout the semester came by to say goodbye and take some pictures with us.  Some of them we'll be seeing at Purdue in the fall too!  After we got to the airport it was pretty smooth sailing and the rest is history!

I know that's incredibly long, but I felt like it needed to be said.  Hopefully you enjoy it.  I'll probably post another short story in the next week or so as some sort of reflection.  Links to photos are posted below.  Thanks for reading!


Shared Photos
Photos from Tan Chen

Lake Video
Monks Arguing
Semi Having Problems

Favorite Photo