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  • Writer's pictureRoger Yates


2nd - 8th August 2005 Escaped Thailand by flying to Kunming, south-west China and were astounded to find the noise levels decrease - all motorbikes (except police ones) were electric and silent! Then headed uphill to the picturesque towns of Dali, Lijiang and Zhongdian. In Lijiang we attended a traditional Naxi music show performed mainly by octogenarians (they lose a couple of members a year to old age). Leaving Lijiang, we encountered the Chinese marketing machine in full swing, pulling in to "Shangri-La" bus station at Zhongdian. After a look around town, a visit to an impressive local monastery and resisting the temptation to buy some new trekking gear for a fraction of the cost in the UK, we arranged our compulsory (group) entry permit to Tibet. 9th - 11th August Took a flight to Lhasa (3595m), arriving at Gongkar airport some distance away. During the 90 minute bus ride to Lhasa, we admired the Tibetan plateau and got talking to two American young ladies, Laura and Marci, and started to plot a trip to Everest Base Camp. In Lhasa, we weaved in and out of the prayer-wheel-wielding Tibetan pilgrims whilst exploring the Barkhor area and the Jokhang temple. Trapped behind a metal grid we queued for (limited availability) tickets for the Potala palace, discovering that the grid was a (futile) attempt to stop queue-jumpers. Still, the following day we got to see the Potala - the Dalai Lama's former winter palace. The few open rooms were brightly coloured and included the Dalai Lama's audience chamber. 12th - 18th August Our foursome plus Tibetan driver set off in our smart Landcruiser on a round trip to southern Tibet over high passes (e.g. 5220m) via several important monasteries and towns (Gyantse, Shigatse, Shegar, Sakya) with the furthest point being Everest (Qomolangma) base camp (5200m) as used by Sir Edmund Hillary et al. Even at base camp, there were people trying to sell us turquoise necklaces and fossils. We passed glaciers, snow-capped mountains, some stunning turquoise and deep blue lakes (Yamdrok-Tso & Nam-Tso), valleys full of barley (Tibetan staple) and rather a lot of Chinese road-works. Soon the Friendship Highway to Nepal really will be a highway. Oh, and we also saw a lot of yaks (the ones we didn't eat) & mountain sheep. 19th - 23rd August Safely back in Lhasa, we went to see a few more of its sights: the Norbulingka - the Dalai Lama's former summer palace; Drepung Monastery, Nechung Oracle, Sera Monastery. On reading our Chinese guidebook to Tibet, we were interested to read that the 1.2 million Tibetans that died, did so in the "peaceful liberation of Tibet". Liberated of their freedom, that is. Coming soon (1st September) is the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Tibet Autonomous Region. In view of this, the state won't issue any permits for travel anywhere around Tibet; all houses must display a Chinese flag (or else...) and no-one is allowed to enter Tibet from Nepal at the moment. It seems that China is a little paranoid that people might want to sabotage the 'celebrations'. Perhaps not all Tibetans wanted to be invaded... Hopefully we can still get out! 24th - 28th August We made one final day trip, no permit required, to the more remote Ganden monastery (In '96 a demonstration here was severely crushed and the monastery temporarily closed - now there is a police station on-site.), where we were invited into the kitchen by some monks for some butter tea. Then, we headed for the Nepalese border - 4 days away by landcruiser - with some new company: Wolf (professor) and Male (lecturer), two entertaining Germans we teamed up with to share a vehicle. Once beyond Shegar, we passed Tingri for final views of Everest (Qomolangma) and other snowy mountains and saw some spectacular scenery from vast dry plains needing irrigation to grow crops through to steep, deep, lush gorges with plenty of gushing waterfalls as we passed through the Himalayas on into Nepal and then to Kathmandu.

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