| Even before wir reached Lahtse, we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape: single trees standing alone in gardens, and then whole alleys of trees decked out in the multi-coloured hues of Autumn. How we’d missed this flora!!
Because this highland plateau lies „only“ at a altitude of 4000m, it’s possible to plant the fertile land in terraces of barley and due to the abundance of work and trade created by this harvest, the people of the area appear to be genuinly satisfied with their lives here.. Now we know where our Power-breakfast comes from…in the mornings we cooked „Tsampa“, (barley flour) with soyamilk powder, adding raisins and sugar because Muesli is only available in the larger cities, and our supply would never last for 20 days. The food in Tibet is more varied than we imagined, for example, if we’d had enough of typical Tibetan cuisine such as rice, potatoes, yakmeat and Momos ( steamed pastries filled with meat and onions served with yakbutter tea), we could always find a Chinese restaurant in nearly every village, and the food would be somewhat more diverse there.
In Shigatse, we visited the Panchen Lama Monastery, (Monastery of the Great Scholar), also known as the Tashi Lunpo Monastery, founded in 1447, and is one of the few monasteries which was not destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. It is a huge construction, consisting of many white buildings where the Monks live and study and built into a cliff, one can see ocher-coloured Temples where the graves of former Pancha Lamas can be found. Here also is the world’s largest golden statue of the „Jampa“, the future Buddha, which stands 26meters high.Totally awesome!! Here in Shigatse, we attempted to extend our visas at the local police office, but the official in charge there sent us to another police station, where we were told to go to yet another different office.and so on and so on. After 3 hours, we at last took a taxi back to the first office where the Policewoman in charge apologised half-heartedly for our troubles, then pointed us 200 meters in the opposite direction to the supposedly correct office, but here the man behind the glass window said only „No!“,while we contested with „Yes!“. Despite all our efforts to convince the official, he remained adamant, and told us to go to the office in Lhasa.for our visas. Finally we had to accept the fact that we would have to pedal to Lhasa before the 25th of October and try our luck there.
The asphalt road to Lhasa ran alongside the Brahmaputra river, and because we didn’t have to cross any mountain passes, we were able to make the 260 km easily in 21/2 days. It was a very special moment as we finally arrived in Lhasa, our ultimate destination. We first went to the Potala palace which is built on the top of a hill and is the dominant landmark in the city This magnificent edifice, a wonder of eastern architechture was greatly impressive and we could hardly believe that we’d really made it all the way here on our bicycles!! As proof of our success, we took photos of the occasion before the guards ordered us to leave the place.
After that, we had to busy ourselves with the visa extensions but the officials explained that we must leave Tibet within the next seven days and all our arguments to the contrary were useless. Of course we had no intention of staying seven years in Tibet, but a month would have been enough to check out the sights in this area and to cross East Tibet on our bikes. We left the office sadly frustrated, thinking now we’d have to begin organising the onwards trip
There are no public busses for foreign tourists travelling to Kunming, and the new train to Peking runs North to Goldmund which did not fit in with our itinery. So we decided to fly the 2000km which would leave us a few days to explore Lhasa, a city that is on the one hand very modern, and on the other strongly traditional. To begin with we visited the Potala, the vacant realm of the Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in Daramsala, India since the Cultural Revolution. The 130 meter high „Red Hill“ holds many temples, many different Buddah statues and the graves of former Dalai Lamas. After the visit to the Temple, we followed the numerous Tibetan visitors and pilgered clockwise around the Potala.
Especially interesting in the holy city of Lhasa is the Oldtown, known as the Barkhor Precinct. The great Barkhor Plaza was cleared out in 1985 by the Chinese and then renovated in 2000. Installed on the roofs of the houses surrounding the Plaza are plainly visible surveillance cameras, so that the inhabitants can be supervised in all that they do.
In the middle of the old city, is the most sacred building of Tibet, the Jokhang, which was constructed in the 7th century and always crowded with an immense throng of people both inside and outside the temple.
The many golden statues, the typical decorations on the old wooden beams, the meditative sound of the pilgrims, faces to the floor, murmuring in prayer, and the odour of yak-butter, all combined to etch an unforgettable impression in our minds
We were sitting in a Tibetan restaurant, just enjoying watching life pass before us on the streets, taking care to be discreet as we observed the traditionally clothed locals, when a Tibetan family of six came and sat down at our table. They just stared at us almost without blinking, obviously finding it very interesting to see how we blew our noses into paper handkerchiefs.
Because of Lhasa’s enormous commercial growth, the amount of road traffic has greatly increased and of course due to this, air pollution has now become a problem. The smog reduced the range of sight quite noticably as we made our way to the airport. However, we didn’t reckon on it being so bad that our plane wasn’t able to land and had to be diverted back to Kunming. Late that afternoon we were informed that our flight would be postponed until the next morning, so we retired to the Airport Hotel to enjoy a stay in a relatively luxurious room all paid for by China Air
We’d already left Tibet when, we received a warning from a fellow biker, who had been nabbed at a newly setup checkpoint in East Tibet His bike and passport were confiscated and he had to go back to Lhasa. Rumour has it that tourists in Tibet are being checked out more strict than ever before and all because George Bush gave the Dalai Lama a decoration of honour for his work.
The flight over East Tibet was wonderful and once again we were astounded at the beauty of the mountains, this time viewed from a different perspective. Gradually the scenery below us began to change: the valleys widened out, and we recognised many rice, vegetable and corn terraces along with some ploughed fields. The province of Yunnan is one of the most varied agriculture regions of China; mountainous in the north and subtropical in the south..
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