A detailed account on my journey to China and Tibet during the period Sep - Nov 2002. Part 5 continues covering Tibet.Other parts: Yunnan province (China):   Tibet:     East coast China: .
Published: Nov 2002
This travelogue was kindly typed from Stas' original notes in the notebook and slightly edited by Ada Ho.
travel, Chinese, Mandarin, hotel, hostel, hike, drive, bus, Lhasa, jeep, kora, Buddhist, stupa, tibetan, Tibet, nomad, Samye Monastery, Yarlung Tsangpo Lake, dune, sand, Shigatse, Shegar, Lhatse, Tingri, Everest Base camp.
That was the best day of the trek. The road was descending all the time, my backpack was much lighter as there was less food, and I also stopped stocking on the water since I was walking along the stream all the time and I was using water purification tablets, which seemed to either work just fine or the water wasn't contaminated. To the eye it was crystal clear.
After passing several nomad (Tibetan gypsies) tents, where kids were asking for pens and women for cough medicine, I've arrived to the conjunction of two big streams with a green hill between them. I spent about half an hour sitting and watching beavers and birds in my binoculars. It was great.
I was walking slowly and enjoying the views as I decided to split last day into two, as I had to walk for more than 40 km, 1200m descent. Though eventually I did it all in one day.
First I had to ford a big stream. I didn't notice that Lonely Planet was mentioning the bridge 200m up the stream, so I forded it barefoot. The water was quite cold, but ok to cross.
After the stream the trail was very beautiful, going through a low forest of willows and many other trees. The surroundings were stunning as it was the beginning of October and the hills were dressed in the rainbow of red, green and yellow colors. There was no wind and there was quite a lot of shade. As I was thinking that it was great that it didn't rain in the last several days it started to drop a bit, but the rain didn't really start.
At about 16:00 I started to look for a camping place but then I read in the LP that the final destination, the Samye Monastery is about 4.5 hours away (of non-stop walking). As I was descending I was feeling much better, like my capabilities were coming back to me, so I decided to give it a try.
Other than walking through several villages which I did fast as I was in hurry the scenery around was all the same and the road was wide and straight so I concentrated on trying to reach Samye not too late after the darkness. Last several hours I was very exhausted finishing 40 km trek of this day, and my back was aching, but I stopped very little. The last several kms I walked in darkness, with gushing wind blowing in to my back, the road was all sand like I was approaching the desert.
Just before the Samye Monastery I've noticed a fireplace, where to my and their surprise, I met the Tibetan folks that walked with me on the second day.
I came to the monastery completely dead-tired, checked into the monastery guesthouse, in the dorm room with several other young pilgrims and fell asleep, after having a dinner at the monastery restaurant.
The trek was completed! Hooray!
An advice for those who try to do this trek, take the yaks to carry your backpack. I was stubborn to do it on my own, but unless you are used to trek at 5000m, take the yak.
This day I was planning to explore the monastery and its surroundings and hopefully to return to Lhasa at the second half of the day.
First I climbed the hill next to the monastery from which I had great views of the monastery and surroundings. It's a must thing if you go there. Surprisingly the village around the monastery was fully Tibetan, except the school, which was Chinese.
From the hill I saw sand dunes which seemed to be not too far away so as I've never been to the real sand dunes I decided to walk there. As I was walking towards the dunes they were getting bigger and bigger, and I was still a long way from reaching them. It took me one hour to get there (I though it'd take me 10 minutes). On the way I saw dozens of very big hares (wild rabbits) which were jumping off my feet and running away. I also saw lots of sand lizards. I was delighted to reach the sand dunes. It was a real desert. I even took photos of myself :). I had little water but enough to get back. Unfortunately the effect of "visiting" the desert wasn't so good, that night back in Lhasa I had my nose bleeding. After the desert I visited the monastery and then took a direct bus to Lhasa for 40Y, bypassing the risk of being fined at the ferry crossing, which is an alternative way to get to Lhasa, since Samye Monastery requires a police permit for tourists to visit. It took about 5 hours to get to Lhasa as we had to circle a huge Yarlung Tsangpo Lake. As it was still a Chinese national holiday and it was almost 22:00 on Sat. eve all hotels were full and I was lucky to find a dorm bed in 10 beds room at the Kinley Hotel, where I was staying before living for the trek.
This day I was recovering from the trek, shopped for a new backpack as mine was getting torn down. It served me well for 6 years. I also shopped for food supplies as I was getting ready to leave to Shigatse on my way to the next trek to the Everest Base camp.
At the lunch time I had an expensive oil massage (80Y), but very unusual, called Palace style. The concentration was on shaking each muscle of my body. I was very tired after the 80min session. That day I moved to 3 beds dorms and finally after 6 days had a shower, which I won't have again for many days to come.
Took an 8am minibus to Shigatse. The journey took about 6 hours. The bus was stopping to load and unload passengers and their huge luggage. About an hour before Shigatse the minibus picked some 15 Tibetan kids with huge number of big sacks making the inner space totally squeezed, as the space between seats was totally occupied. Not talking about the fact that kids had to sit on each other at the few remaining spaces (not seats!).
After 2pm we arrived at Shigatse. I went to look for the monastery hotel, which was quite far away with a heavy backpack but after searching for a while I was told that that building doesn't exist anymore. I felt bad and I took the cab for 10Y to go to the Fenzin Hotel which is the most popular budget hotel, just to find out that it's fully under reconstruction and they still had one dorm room in which I can get a bed for 25Y. I've negotiated down to 20Y. Of course others who arrived immediately left but I was too tired to look for another hotel.
I went to eat and randomly hit a restaurant which I learned was very expensive. So I got myself a pizza which was quite bad.
The next important thing was to go to the PSB Office and buy the permits for the Everest Region, which supposedly should cost 50Y, but the officer refused to do the permit saying that from Sept. 1, only FITS office can do that. Needless to say that without a help from a friendly German I won't find any of the offices since none had a sign on the door and both were on the construction sites, even though on the same street. So I paid 150Y to the FITS Office and got my permit in no time. That was really lucky. I also met 3 folks from AU and US who will help me a lot the next day. As I was totally out, I didn't have the strength to visit the Tashilumpho Monastery. So I just entered its yard to take the overall photo. It looked kinda similar to the Ganden Monastery, also located on the hill. Maybe a little bit bigger than Ganden.
Eventually I bought some bread, similar to pita bread, as a part of my provision and spent the evening in the bed, reading.
At the lunch time I met two girls who told me that there is a public bus to Shegar at the public bus station the next day at 8am. That would be a great help since I was planning to go to Lhatse, which is supposedly the last town before Everest Region where the public buses reach. And Shegar is the next village to Lhatse.
I was planning to start trekking from Tingri so I had to go through Lhatse, Shegar and only then Tingri, totally about 300 km away from Shigatse.
Also I was told later that Shigatse now also requires a permit (from Sept. 1) but I didn't know that and nobody seemed to bother checking it, other than the validity of the visa.
I've arrived at 8am to the main bus station where I was told that there is no bus to Shegar. The minibus to Lhastse was leaving from the Monastery main gates at 8am too, and I couldn't make to this minibus in time. Luckily there was a bus from the main station to Lhatse at 9am, which left at 9:30am and arrived at Lhatse (a single street town) after 2pm. From here I had to hitch for 150 km to Tingri. Making things harder, one had first to walk through the check point 7km away from Lhatse, since truck drivers won't stop unless you hitch after the check point, because there aren't allowed to take passengers.
So I had a quick soup lunch and started walking. Trying my luck to hitch on the way, but only getting signs to walk around the check point. As I was approaching the check point I've tried to hitch a passing minibus which didn't stop in first place but suddenly did stop later. When I entered the bus there were 3 Chinese there, and those 3 AU/US folks I've met yesterday. They were lucky to pick that minibus right in Lhatse and contrary to the trucks, buses are obviously allowed to carry passengers. So I was really lucky that these folks picked me up. (The Chinese didn't want to stop for me, but they were told that I'm their friend.)
The Chinese headed to Shegar bringing me 90 km closer to Tingri. When about 3 hours later we arrived at Shegar turn-point (Shegar itself was 6 km to the north. 2 folks have disembarked and Jaimy and I tried our luck and asked the driver if he will take us to Tingri. To our surprise he did and for 40Y more per person at about 8:30pm we were at Tingri. What a luck. In two days I did 550 km and most of it on the normal bus. Though since Lhasa this wasn't a public bus.
It was very cold in Tingri and it was lightly snowing, but we found in the darkness a guesthouse Everest Snow Leopard at the far end of the main stream, which had a very cosy Tibetan restaurant, crowded with foreigners, heading in or out of Nepal.
Jaimy decided to sleep in sleeping bag but I decided to give a try to the normal blanket as I wouldn't have it for many days to come. In the middle of the night I woke up from uncontrollable shivering, the blanket was too thin and it was very cold in the room, probably close to zero Celsius, so I ended up sleeping in the sleeping bag too.
The first view in the morning as I have opened the door from the room was several huge birds taking off the court's yard. They were huge black ravens, which I have never seen before. They looked more like eagles.
Luckily Jaimy, was heading also to the Everest Base Camp and had the description of the trek from Tingri to the Base Camp. I had only LP description which was the other way around, and hardly useful. So at about 11:30am we set off. Most of the trek was on the cart (jeep) road with nice views around us. But our backpacks were enormously heavy so it was very hard to walk even though we walked about 16 km with slow ascent of 150 m. Every time we would pass a village we were met by the kids who quite aggressively demanded money. Even when we tried to bypass the village on its side they would still notice us and come toward us. So we couldn't avoid them. That's the reason we walked for 1.5h past the Lujan village, where in theory we could stay overnight, so they wouldn't bother us in our camp.
We found a camping place next to the stream and went off to rest.
I was suffering all the day from pain in the upper back which I've developed on the Ganden-Samye track, so the day was discomforting even though the views of the bare mountains were quite nice.