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More than 3 years since the Sichuan & Gansu trip in Western China, my husband and I headed to the west again during this National Holiday, and this time the destination was Tibet!
Joined by a Shanghai Outdoor Club, with a bunch of young guys, we stepped onto the train in Shanghai. The train stopped in Nanjing, Xi’an, Qinghai, Golmud and then finally Lhasa. As soon as we entered the Golmud area, with an average altitude of 5000 M, oxygen started to pump into each train car in order to help soothe the potential altitude sickness. The views were totally different from what I have seen in middle or eastern China. Low clouds, blue sky stretching out for ever, yaks and sheep spotted on the yellow plain. Two sceneries you cannot miss in this area: Yuzhu glacier and Natsuo lakes.
The train runs for almost 50 hours, and we finally arrived in Lhasa at 9pm. We were all excited but restrained ourselves a lot, because the real journey would begin the next day. We settled in at the hotel, but since we were not used to the low-oxygen air, we all had a hard night sleep ... continued after the jump!
After our first night, we got up quite late in the morning. Jokhang Temple (Dazhao Si) was the first "must-see" attraction. It was built during Tibet’s most prosperous period, and had influence other monasteries in terms of it's architectural style. There’s even a saying among the Tibetans that Jokhang Temple came first before the Lhasa city. The temple is vibrant with tourists and pilgrims, with thick butter incense spreading all over the place, and a few Tibetans singing and dancing on the roof. Around the temple is Barkor Square where tourists bargain for Tibetan jewels, daggers, prayer wheels etc. Our guide told us the 90% of them were not worth the price, that you can bargain for the 1/4 of its selling price and most of these products are actually from Yiwu in Zhejiang province.
After a quick Chinese lunch, we walked to the most famous Potala Palace, the home of Dalai Lama. It’s a giant white structure with many layers of stairs leading you to the inner and higher chapels. Compared to the bustling Jokang, Potala is just a quiet exhibition for tourists without any chanting or other Buddhist activities. Our guide introduced each Lama’s status and its history and the religious meaning of the wall paintings. But I’m not particularly interested in Tibetan Buddhism and the dense incense kept making me sneeze, so it wasn't my favorite part of the trip. Except you do have an amazing panoramic view of Lhasa from the top the palace.
When we got down from the Palace, the group split. My husband and I called a rickshaw to take us wandering around the city. Now Lhasa is just like any other two or three tier city that I had been to. On the street there’s only a small portion of Tibetans, while most others are recognizable Han faces. Most of the restaurants serve Sichuan Spicy food or Xi’an food and decent, genuine Tibetan restaurants can hardly be found. Various familiar shops and brands, cinema and massage made it very convenient to live here. It was almost 8 at night when the sun was just starting to sink. When we traveled just across a corner, the Potala Palace appeared suddenly in front of us, majestic and precipitous. With the white decoration light brightening its walls, it was surrounded by a mysterious and solemn ambience with the dark night backdrop. The scene was just so unreal to us!
The next day, we took a long bus trip towards Rikaze with astonishing scenery along the roadsides, but a word of caution: don’t get too excited in case of altitude sickness attacking you!
To be continued ...
EDITOR'S NOTE: Follow our journey in part two!