EMAIL: Greetings from Chengdu
Chengdu Travel Blog› entry 9 of 16 › view all entries
Greetings from Chengdu. We're back from Tibet. In Chengdu for a couple of nights before heading off down south to Yunnan province.
Tibet is truly heavenly ... the mix of its religious history / architecture, and its landscape. We were awestruck by the majesty of the Potala Palace from our hotel room window! That was only one of the many monasteries and buildings that we visited ... the most amazing on the inside was the assembly hall of the Drepung monastery which houses about 800 monks now but about 10,000 before the Chinese Cultural Revolution ... so colourful with its tapestries and gold statues with lots and lots of maroon cushions for the monks to sit on and recite their scriptures.
According to our Tibetan guide, we've been extremely lucky to witness a monk debating examination, see a sand mandala and walk around an assembly of monks during their scripture reading. He has never had any guests do all three in one trip, let alone one day ... and he's been guiding for 8 years.
We may have mentioned that our group consists of us two plus one more. We knew she was widely travelled, but later also learnt of 5-star safaris through some very impoverished African states. She's a little shocked by the standard of many things in Tibet, but we are totally prepared with real life experience from places like India. Why aren't there 5-star facilities in Tibet?
She paid two-and-a-half times what we paid for the trip. Partly because she's travelling by her self (ie. not twin-sharing), and using better accommodation. But there's still a huge difference that she can't work out once she found out how little we paid. We suspect she booked the "private tour" and we booked the group tour ... the the Company separated us out from the mainly Chinese group and put us with her, so that they would save on an English-speaking guide for our original group!
Now, for the sickening part about Tibet. Literally! The altitude causes headaches and heart palpitations from the moment the aircraft landed. Then muscular pains, tingling, more headaches and in some cases (including mine) vomitting. Sleepless nights are also a feature ... we typically wake up every 2-3 hours each night, every night!
The Tibetans are extremely devoted to their form of Buddhism. We've never seen such devotion to a faith anywhere else, and it takes up a disproportionate chunk of their lives. Some people do seven pilgrimages from the wild west to Lhasa each year, each trip taking one week in each direction! And the guide described it as "not very often".
Most Tibetans (esp women) wear their traditional dress, and the nomadic people do not bathe. Our guide sighed as he saw some Tibetans in "Chinese clothing" (what we call western clothing), and was proud to proclaim that monks at the Tashulinpo Monastery wear Tibetan shoes rather than "Chinese shoes" (ie normal western shoes) unlike their counterparts elsewhere. Seems to be some resistance to modernisation, and vilifying such trends as "Chinese".
To be fair, he doesn't vilify everything Chinese. He was quite quick to admit that many temples were destroyed in China during the Cultural Revolution, and this wasn't targetted at Tibet. In fact, many more temples were probably destroyed in China compared to Tibet.
The scenery is just gorgeous. We drove from Lhasa to Shigatse (the 2nd largest city) over 2 mountain passes, with our highest point during the journey peaking over 5200m. Shortly after that point, we took a comfort stop at the world's 2nd highest loo ...a 'natural' toilet with waist high stack of stones as a wall. And Tibetan children waiting to collect money for the privilege of using it. It is 2nd highest only to Everest Base Camp.
The blue sky, olive-coral-brown-grey patchwork mountains, white snow, turquoise lakes and gold leaves of autumn are an unforgettable combination. The sun is scorching and temperatures are cool when in the shade. The sub-zero nights are irrelevant to us as we're in bed by 7 or 8 pm! We never got a chance to use our cold-weather gear!
Many things in Tibet are very backward and it is nice to be back in Chengdu. For a start food, especially Chinese food in Tibet is very bad. We've just stuffed ourselves with the most beautiful pizza tonight which includes the free internet from which we're writing this email. I think it is sacrilege that we're eating pizza when we're in the home of Hot & Sour Soup, Mapo Tofu and Gong Bao Chicken! But then we ate Chinese in Italy because the pizzas were so bad (or bad value for money).
We've also treated ourselves to a massage / reflexology. I had a massage (mainly stepping) followed by vacuum cups on my back ... the vacuum sucked my back muscles into the cups, in mounds as big as half-peaches! Kim had reflexology but we'll swap roles tomorrow.
Bye for now. Early night before going to feed the pandas tomorrow morning.