September 26, 2013, Day 24, Lhasa, Tibet

Luggage in our room (a mess to be sorted) - Lhasa, Tibet

Luggage in our room (a mess to be sorted) – Lhasa, Tibet

Breakfast - Lhasa, Tibet

Breakfast –                 Lhasa, Tibet

Five star breakfast! - Lhasa, Tibet

Five star breakfast! – Lhasa, Tibet

Big change from where we have been over the last three weeks - Lhasa, Tibet

Big change from where we have been the last 3 weeks

St Regis Hotel lobby - Lhasa, Tibet

St Regis Hotel lobby – Lhasa, Tibet

Range Rovers parked at St Regis hotel - Lhasa, Tibet

Range Rovers parked at St Regis hotel – Lhasa, Tibet

Our five star hotel - Lhasa, Tibet

Our five star hotel – Lhasa, Tibet

Modern buses and buildings - Lhasa, Tibet

Modern buses and buildings – Lhasa, Tibet

Modern, clean department store - Lhasa, Tibet

Modern, clean department store – Lhasa, Tibet

Noodle maker - Lhasa, Tibet

Noodle maker – Lhasa, Tibet

Noodles drying - Lhasa, Tibet

Noodles drying – Lhasa, Tibet

Ornate archway; street access to central square - Lhasa, Tibet

Ornate archway

Men playing popular board game on sidewalk - Lhasa, Tibet

Men playing popular board game on sidewalk

They don't throw anything away - Lhasa, Tibet

They don’t throw anything away – Lhasa, Tibet

“Golden Worms” - Lhasa, Tibet

“Golden Worms”    - Lhasa, Tibet

“Golden Worms” - Lhasa, Tibet

“Golden Worms” – Lhasa, Tibet

“Golden Worms” - Lhasa, Tibet

“Golden Worms” – Lhasa, Tibet

Lots of small shops - Lhasa, Tibet

Lots of small shops – Lhasa, Tibet

St Regis hotel; powder room - Lhasa, Tibet

St Regis hotel; powder room – Lhasa, Tibet

Mitch and Kirsten ready for dinner; happy to be in Lhasa, Tibet

Mitch and Kirsten ready for dinner; happy to be here

Tyler, Sherry and Ellen ready for dinner; enjoying Lhasa, Tibet

Tyler, Sherry and Ellen ready for dinner

Prayer wheels are everywhere - Lhasa, Tibet

Prayer wheels are everywhere – Lhasa, Tibet

Dinner; nice purple chairs (across street from the St Regis) - Lhasa, Tibet

Dinner; nice purple chairs (across street from hotel)

Russ congratulates Mitch on winning crib tournament - Lhasa, Tibet

Russ congratulates Mitch on winning crib tournament

Apres dinner - Lhasa, Tibet

Apres dinner – Lhasa, Tibet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today was a much-needed free day. Russ and I decided to take it easy on this day by hanging around the hotel. Because Lhasa was still fairly high at 12, 000 feet above sea level we still found the altitude to be exhausting especially when walking or climbing up and down stairs. The St. Regis hotel had a large supply of oxygen for their guests available. A rest was just what we needed.

After a lazy morning, catching up on our emails and reorganizing our stuff, Russ and I took a walk through the center of the city. At first glance the city of Lhasa appeared to be quite modern with concrete high-rises of offices, apartments etc. But as soon as we walked down the side streets the stores were back to the hodge-podge of tiny shops selling anything with everything all mixed up. A restaurant beside a telephone store and beside that a clothing store then a household item shop then a meat store. This made it very interesting and exciting to walk through. At one shop they sold live chickens, ducks and fish in tanks. You picked out what you wanted and got it really fresh. Russ ducked by this shop as fast as possible. Odd considering he used to be a butcher. We Canadians do not like to face up to real life, we prefer everything to be sanitized and unrecognizable. A rib-eye steak doesn’t look like a cow to us.

At one store we saw “Golden Worms” being sold. These were half insect and half plant. A weird looking thing, it looked like a dried up caterpillar with a stem coming out of its head. Apparently they were sought after aphrodisiacs and very expensive. We bought three of them and it cost us $25.00!! And this was after bartering. We bought them for Kelly as she is a TCM doctor. The shop owner had brought the golden worms to us from his safe and after weighing his bag of worms he told us they were worth $80,000 US dollars. Considering the average person here made $100 per month, this was a fortune!

After much discussion about this worm we discovered that it was in fact a caterpillar with a fungus or mold that had attached itself to the worm before it had the opportunity to make a cocoon to turn into a moth or butterfly. This fungus grew on the caterpillar and eventually took over turning the caterpillar into a plant or fungus. The Tibetan villagers went out to the forests to find this caterpillar before the fungus overtook it. The value of the worm was when it was half worm and half plant. They found them in the forest during one month each year and brought them into the city to sell them to the pharmacies and spice vendors that then sold them to the city folk wanting better sex! I guess Viagra hadn’t been marketed there yet.

Another store sold flour and it had a mill displaying how the flour was made. This was really interesting to see again. We had visited a flourmill last year which was built overtop of a stream, which turned the wheel. This shop only displayed how the flour was made and did not actually make it. Good marketing though.

The next site we visited was a two-story grocery store that was very nicely organized with food on the bottom floor and household items on the second. Terry Johnston would approve the layout of this store.

There were 600,000 people living in Lhasa and 2.6 million people living in the whole region of Tibet. Also 2.8 million people live outside of Tibet. Interesting that more Tibetans live outside of Tibet than inside. The Tibetan language sounded close to Sanskrit and their written words were much closer to the Indian language than the Chinese language.

For dinner we went to another hotel’s restaurant called “Holy Angel Coffee”. It was lovely with carved wood walls separating the eating areas making your dinners semi-private. Crystal chandeliers hung above us, this restaurant was very fancy for Tibet and appeared to be very popular with the locals.

During dinner our guide explained the polyandry marriages common in Tibetan villages. Polyandry was when women married more than one husband. Because the farmland and herding areas were very important for survival in Tibet it was common that one woman would marry the eldest boy in a family and would be a wife to him and all of his brothers. Many women had three husbands. The children from these relationships would all be deemed to be the children of the eldest brother and the other brothers would be their uncles. The reason was the land. The families could not afford to split up the land between their sons and their families. So the sons shared one wife and they were one large happy family sharing the land.

September 25, 2013, Day 23, Shigatse to Lhasa, Tibet

We depart Shigatse, Tibet

We depart         – Shigatse, Tibet

Sherry navigates; Ellen at the wheel - Shigatse, Tibet

Sherry navigates; Ellen at the wheel – Shigatse, Tibet

Kirsten looks forward to a good hotel - departing Shigatse, Tibet

Kirsten looks forward to a good hotel – departing Shigatse

Ladies sweeping roads - Tibet

Ladies sweeping roads

Check point - rural Tibet

Check point – rural Tibet

Ornamental highway gate  - towards Lhasa, Tibet

Ornamental highway gate

Extension of high speed railway from Lhasa to Shigatse, Tibet

Extension of high speed railway from Lhasa to Shigatse, Tibet

Concrete ties with rail attached for extension of high speed railway from Lhasa to Shigatse, Tibet

Concrete ties with rail attached for extension of railway

Extension of high speed railway from Lhasa to Shigatse, Tibet

Extension of high speed railway from Lhasa to Shigatse, Tibet

Extension of high speed railway from Lhasa to Shigatse, Tibet (note prayer flags on foot bridge)

Extension of railway  (note prayer flags on foot)

Ploughing - rural Tibet

Ploughing                - rural Tibet

Fodder for family animals - rural Tibet

Fodder for family animals – rural Tibet

Harvest - rural Tibet

Harvest                   – rural Tibet

Crowd around ladies' car for giveaways - rural Tibet

Crowd around ladies’ car for giveaways – rural Tibet

Fuel; Chinese national petroleum company - Tibet

Fuel; Chinese national petroleum company – Tibet

Tyler and Ellen (brother and sister) at gas station (note  Chinese company slogan) - Tibet

Tyler and Ellen at gas station (note company slogan)

Higway gets better and better as we near Lhasa - Tibet

Higway gets better and better as we near Lhasa – Tibet

Nearing Lhasa, Tibet

Nearing                     Lhasa, Tibet

Lots of new modern buildings (not what we expected) - Lhasa, Tibet

Lots of new modern buildings (not what we expected)

Lots of new modern buildings (not what we expected) - Lhasa, Tibet

Lots of new modern buildings (not what we expected)

Lots of new modern buildings (not what we expected) - Lhasa, Tibet

Lots of new modern buildings (not what we expected)

Our first five star hotel this year - Lhasa, Tibet

Our first five star hotel this year – Lhasa, Tibet

Dinner at five star hotel; heaven - Lhasa, Tibet

Dinner at five star hotel; heaven – Lhasa, Tibet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was another beautiful day and we all got up looking forward to our drive to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. By 10 a.m. we were finally ready to take off to “The Sun City” (nickname for Lhasa). It was 11 degrees Celcius and had rained during the night so we were all looking forward to Lhasa’s warmer weather later in our day.

Leaving Shigatse we followed a river beside the highway, which was surrounded by barren sandy mountains littered with sagebrush (garbage as well but by now we were starting to get used to this distraction). The scenery did not look like how I envisioned China or Tibet would be. When I thought of China I thought of organized vegetable fields or rice paddies from the roadside going right up to the top of their mountains. Here nothing could grow except for the odd little dry bush.

Tibetan people were very poor and to add to their poor conditions their climate was colder than their surrounding countries because Tibet’s altitude was much higher. Herders had a hard time feeding their animals and had to move around constantly to find enough food for them to eat. It appeared to me to be a very difficult country to scratch out a living. Never mind the hygiene and garbage issues, these village people were struggling to survive in harsh surroundings.

We noticed that the villages got tidier the closer they were to the cities. Maybe that was because of the reported education on hygiene taught to these people, we didn’t know. But we did notice signs with jokes about people urinating in the streets right beside the dogs. The dogs happily looked well cared for, as did their herding animals maybe because of their reincarnation belief? And as we drove further along the river, trees had been planted and were now in their full fall foliage, which was spectacular viewing.

By noon we were driving alongside the river in a deep rocky canyon. There were also goats on these mountains forging for food. Further along cows had replaced the yaks and the villagers had pierced their cow’s ears to put red wool earrings on them for decorations.

Next we toured a small village with approximately 30 families consisting of about 140 people, most of who were related. To get to the host family’s house we had to hop (back and forth) across a stream of water along a muddy pathway, avoiding the cow dung as best as possible. Finally we arrived at a house with a courtyard housing a chained up Tibetan dog and other animals such as ducks, chickens and pigs. The dog barked constantly and did not look like he was happy to see us at all. Luckily, the grandmother and grandfather welcomed us into their home. They were looking after their granddaughter who was very shy. We handed out gifts for the family, which they really appreciated.

The cooking room of the house had a dirt floor and was very dark with no light just one small window high up near the ceiling. The room looked like the inside of a cave and wasn’t far off from one. Twigs and cow dung fueled a stove in the corner and along one wall were sacks of barley or flour. The next room was where the family ate their meals. It had an uneven hard packed mud floor with benches and one table. This room was filled with flies waiting for their next meal. Their third and last room was a bedroom was for the whole family with mattresses along 3 walls. The inside wall had cabinetry to house their clothes and supplies. On top of the cabinets was a TV plus a shrine section with incense and a Tanka with some type of God I didn’t recognize at this point. This wall also had a picture of the current Chinese rulers and their TV license.

According to our guide, every family in Tibet was sent a picture of the government rulers of China and this picture has to be displayed on a wall in their home along with their TV license. No license displayed allowed a policeman or government official to just walk in the house and take their TV away. No picture of the current Chinese leaders and the family would be fined.

Between these 3 rooms was an outside patio with chairs along the outside of their house to sit on and railings on the opposite side of the house to hang their laundry up. It appeared that most of their time was spent outside on this patio. At least 6 people lived in these 3 rooms, maybe more? This family was very generous to share their home with us. And we felt very honoured to be allowed to visit them. They may be poor but they were happy and appeared to be very content, with a daily routine.

At our next stop, a gas station, the police held us up because we started to put the fuel into our car before we got permission from them. This was a big surprise to us as we had always filled up our cars and then went inside the station to pay or someone came out to collect the money. But it appeared that in Tibet at every gas station there was a policeman who wrote down who was purchasing gas. Once the policeman had this information he would give you permission to purchase gas (or not)! Well now we were in trouble because we filled up before getting permission. They had taken our driver’s licenses and car licenses away and we were in limbo until the police chief arrived at the station to decide our fate. Talk about control, no wonder the Tibetans were unhappy with the Chinese Government! We had to sit there for about ¾’s of an hour until they decided we were okay to move on.

Since March 2011, more than 100 people were known to have set themselves on fire inside Tibet in protest against the repressive Chinese occupation of Tibet. Self-immolation is a growing concern in Tibet at the moment because they were such a passive population that they would rather hurt themselves in protest than hurt others.
At 6:30 p.m. we finally arrived at the St. Regis Hotel in Lhasa! It was a fabulous five star hotel and we really, really appreciated the comfort and service it supplied. The rooms and the whole hotel for that matter were absolutely beautiful. For dinner we had steak and Caesar salad and it was delicious!!

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