Everest and a big Buddha
Xigaze Travel Blog› entry 15 of 33 › view all entries
With a 2 hour time difference between Nepal and Tibet, we set off to Xigatse in the dark and continued with nothing to see for the 1st 3 hours. However we could feel that we were climbing and by the time sunrise hit at 9, we could make out the silhouette of the high Himalaya and the plains of the Tibetan plateau. Foreground a baron wasteland with brown hills and brown valley with no vegetation and no sign of life. The road a tarmac track that most western countries would be jealous of. With a brilliant clear blue sky, the whole panorama reminding me of driving through the Arizona desert - although the reason for the lack of vegetation here is its absolutely freezing. The Chinese know how to make a road, but just unsure what was flattened to make it.
Drive did provide 1st glimpses of Tibetan life with small clusters of white washed stone houses with little windows and colourful prayer flags draped. Absolutely no idea what anyone does to survive for food or income. Went for a wander at our breakfast stop and even in down jacket it was shiveringly cold and nose and ears quickly prickly with exposure. The cold quickly forgot though after a 5 minutes drive out of town as we stopped for our 1st clear view of Everest rising over the other surrounding mountains. Everest had its usual wisp of cloud around the summit but view magnificent - another personal aim of trip ticked off.
The road continued climbing in altitude, making it to 5240m with the high point of pass smothered in the now customary prayer flags.
Having been pre-warned that the tour package only included dormitary rooms, we were offered to upgrade for $5 per person each. With the temperature clearly below 0, warmth was our priority and unanimously agreed to upgrade. It meant an extra 2 hour drive that did provide some more stunning views of Everest and an impromptu stop to walk amongst a load of yaks wandering around the valley.
Arrived in Xigatse after a long 12 hours of driving, but that provided some of the best scenery I've seen. Our upgraded hotel clearly a new hotel and looking much better than any other building in the vicinity, but still contained no heating and shivering in room even with down jacket on. Outside was actually warmer so went out for a wander. The locals of Tibet's 2nd city really friendly and never come across anywhere where they are asking to have photos taken. The kids so happy and loving the novelty of white people. We became the tourist attraction with only the regular military personnel missing a smile.
Back in the hotel found 1 channel in English.
Having driven the extra distance to Xigatse yesterday, it meant we were free of the jeeps for the day for our 1st taste of Tibetan history. However quickly a change of plan as the monastery had been unexpectantly closed until 3 giving the group free time to investigate the city. I joined the Kiwi, Polish and US couple to try and climb up to the Djong to get a view over the city. Walked through the market which started as a seemingly endless street of meat.
Climbed up to the djong and took in the view of the city and relaxed by one of the many stupas on the hill with thousands of lines of prayer flags draped all over the hills. Prayer flags always great to add a bit of colour to any photo.
The Tashilhumpu monastery is the seat of the Panchen Lama - 2nd only to Dalai in importance. However currently nicknamed the Chinese monastery due to poitical sensitivities as the Chinese government pay the monks a wage for allegience and rumours that monks act as spies for the Chinese. 4 tour guides have been imprisoned this year for 10 years each for talking to groups whilst in the monastery about Chinese rule. The current (11th) Panchen Lama is missing after the Chinese kidnapped him 13 years ago (aged 6) when the Chinese didn't approve of the choice for Panchen Lama. The Chinese have installed their own Panchen Lama whilst the Tibetans still await for the return of their choice.
The 1st temple visited was a plain looking building, but did not expect the view when walking through the inner curtain.
The 2nd stop was the stupa tomb of the 10th Panchen Lama. The most revered of all the Panchen Lama's because he was chosen by the Chinese but having taken up his duties, denounced the policies of the Chinese and went in to exile. Famously predicted his own death on his return to Tibet and was promptly poisened by the Chinese. His tomb stupa now a major worship temple by Tibetans. The stupa itself an impressive 30 foot gold tower within the main chapel.
The 3rd stop houses the tomb stupa of the 4th Panchen Lama - the oldest of the Lama's in the monastery - very similar to the 10th but visibly older.
Understandle why the monastery is such a pilgrimage journey for so many Tibetans. Some travel 1000km to get here prostrating themselves in prayer every step of the journey that lasts up to 6 months !! A few of us finished the day with a 45 minute circuit up the hill and around the whole monastery complex that is a pilgrimage walk in itself with prayer wheels lining the whole route. Our group dwarfed by the numbers of Tibetans who make the pilgrimage walk every day.
Xigatse an interesting place of friendly locals, but there is absolutely no doubt that China pays very close attention to everything that is going on.