Friday, September 30, 2011

Leaving on an Overland Journey

Today was the first day of our driving trip from Lhasa to Nepal.  We left with four of our friends from the kayak trip.  We drove for approximately 6 hours, and arrived in the village of Gyanse.  The trip was notable for hilarious company, the crossing of three high passes, and trinket shopping.  

We left early in the morning in a bus decorated with prayer flags and khatas.  Mom, Dad and I decorated the bus to obtain good luck for the journey.  All of the prayer flags were strung along the ceiling in the middle of the bus, and the khatas were wrapped on the luggage racks.  Traveling with us were Melissa (a Canadian), Blair (a Kiwi) and his girl friend, Elise (an Australian), our Tibetan guide, Tsewang, and a our driver, Mingmar.   Melissa, Blair, and Elise are funny.  We spent almost the whole ride joking and laughing.   

Along the way, we stopped at three extremely high passes, the highest of which was 5,100 meters (over 15,000 feet).  I only noticed the altitude when I stood up too quickly.  All the passes had prayer flags and barren landscapes.  From one of the passes we could see a beautiful, intensely blue lake from the road.  We chose to pay 10 RMB (2 dollars) to have a picture taken of each of us on top of a yak.  When I was on top of the yak I felt like a full-on tourist, and I felt sad for the yak.  Also, on every pass there were tables full of trinkets.

We are normally not the type to buy trinkets, but Tibetan trinkets are special.  The stands had mixed items, some were beautiful and unique, and some were plain junk.  There were swords with handles made of yak bone, and claimed yak bone items that were made out of plastic.  I bought a necklace with a piece of turquoise for the pendent.  Dad bought me some stones that we saw again at the next pass to indicate they were fake.  I still like the stones even though they probably came from Beijing. 

We arrived at our hotel in Gyanse satisfied with the long day of travel.  I was excited to have gone up to an altitude level where most people would never had dreamed of going.  I am happy with my necklace and hope we will have just as good of a day tomorrow.

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!               

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Boating with the Yaks

I have just made it home from an eight day journey with some amazing adventures and extreme thrills.  We travelled with a group of Canadian boaters and Kiwi and Australian guides as we explored the remote Tibetan frontier.  We had white water excitement and amazing cultural experiences.  Through out this trip, I have met amazing local Tibetans, viewed beautiful scenery, and had exotic paddling experiences.

My first paddling experience of the trip was in a large paddle raft.  Pat, the Australian raft guide, would shout forward paddle, back paddle, as well as singing all range of popular songs from the seventies to the present.  “Put your back into it, forward harder.” On the second day, we ran a huge drop that threw the whole crew.  While I rafted, my parents and the rest of the guided group all kayaked.  The raft ran rapids first to rescue any kayakers that did not do as well as the others.  Towards the end of the trip, I kayaked in an inflatable kayak (IK).  When I was in Slovenia, I boated in a hard shell kayak.  The difference between the two is that the IK is inflatable and much bigger.  The hard shell is smaller, is not inflatable, is more maneuverable but is a wetter boating experience.  As I did not have a dry suit, I needed to stay in the warmer and drier IK.  I loved riding through the thrilling rapids in the small boat on the water.

My second highlight of the expedition was the friendly Tibetan locals.  Every day when we put in, a group of locals greeted us with laughter and kindness.  Each one was eager to help and I think that every Tibetan girl had a big crush on me.  They would smile and giggle and sit next to me.  One night, a group of Tibetans came to our camp who were a little different.  They were super wild and one was a little creepy.  He constantly made rude hand signs to me which I should not explain.  Except for the one evening, we all left with great feelings towards their exotic culture.  
Blair, our Kiwi Guide, and the Local Kids

The boating and travel experience was made even more special by the spectacular scenery.  Every day we boated through mazes of mountains with snow covering the peaks.  Beside the river, grazing through the green grass, were herds of Yaks.  For those who do not know, Yaks are big shaggy mammals with horns and hoofed feet.  Crossing the river from cliff to cliff were beautiful prayer flags and bridges.  I have never been in a more peaceful place in my entire life. 

At 4,900 meters

I loved my Tibetan experiences and hope to visit again one day.  I am sorry, I have not written for so long.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to write reliably over the next few weeks.  Tomorrow morning, we begin a four day drive from Lhasa to Nepal.  We may not have internet connection along the way.  Once in Nepal, we will be leaving on an eleven day trek and will return to Katmandu around the sixteenth of October.  I will try to write when possible.  I love all of you reading.

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!          

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Potala Palace

Today we had one more palace to tour with the group and guide.  This was, however, no ordinary palace.  Some of you may have heard of the Potala     Palace.  My parents woke me up early and I was extremely tired but I did not mind.  Today I would step where many Dali Llamas have stepped before me.  The Potala Palace was the winter home for  the fourteen Dali Llamas.  The current Dali Llama (the fourteenth) has not been allowed to live in his palace since his exile to India in the 1950s.  

We entered the palace walls through a small security room where we walked through a metal detector and had our bags screened by X-ray.  We grabbed our camera and back packs and feasted our eyes on the stunning sight before us.  Up on a small hill was a massive, amazing, and beautiful building.  The walls were red and white and yak hair banners with auspicious symboling hung from the major door ways.  We walked up long white Tibetan stairways till we reached the beginning of the palace.  We followed our guide through mazes of rooms, all with detailed stories.  Happily the Chinese government allowed only one hour in the palace.  I enjoyed the magnificent golden art, and was thrilled by the stories I heard.  Cameras were not allowed in the heart of the palace.

The palace was over and I had math in my future.  On the way home from the palace, we took a quick stop to outfit our kayaks and gear.  I was glad to have a boat, but I was eager to get home to knock off some math problems. Tomorrow we leave on a week long river trip and this is my last assignment.   I spent the rest of the day confined to my math work.  In the evening,  we went out to dinner with the Kayak gang. We were going to one of the best pizza places in town.  After a dinner of pizza  and a mango milkshake I came home do write my blog.  Tomorrow we will hit the river.  I will be treking, boating, our driving for the next week, so you will probably not hear from me until the 29th.

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!   

Addendum from Tim and Cat: 

We will be off-line, on the river, until the 29th, at which point Rohan will post that we have arrived back in Lhasa safely.  Early the AM of the 30th, we're leaving Lhasa for an overland trip to Nepal (apprx 3 - 4 days.)  Supposedly, there will be internet along the way at guesthouses, but probably not wi-fi, which may make posting more difficult....  Once we enter Nepal, but before arriving in Katmandu, we will be trekking for 10 - 12 days, also without internet.  We will finally arrive in Katmandu, where internet should be more consistently available, on our about Oct. 14th.  Please don't worry, we'll post as soon as possible!!           


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Guided Tour

We have been traveling as a family for over three months.  During this time, we have not used a tour guide.  In Lhasa, we have decided to join a guided group for touring and later for kayaking.  Following a guide gives one valuable information and can be helpful.  Like every thing in life, though, it has its disadvantages.   In general, I would prefer to travel on my own.

This morning, we and the kayaking crew headed to the old town of Lhasa lead by a very interested and smart local Tibetan guide.  Dawa lead our group through the streets of Lhasa and provided frequent explanations of the market around us.  I found the discussions boring and found it hard to pay attention.  We finally arrived at Jokhang Temple.  This temple is a very special place for Tibetan Buddhists.  Buddhists from Nepal and Tibet come to Lhasa on pilgrimage to prey at this temple.  We spent a couple hours in this dark, smokey, and beautiful temple.  Though the golden Buddha statues were amazing and the wooden carvings were mesmerizing, I would have liked to have left after thirty minutes.  We finally emerged into the dazzling daylight and fresh air.  To me, the group seemed tired.  Sadly, we had to go to visit Dawa’s friend’s gift shop before lunch!  We had a nice lunch break on the top of a building overlooking the temple square. 

Yak Butter for Sale

Women Selling Aprons

Yummy Candy

Tibetans Praying in front of Jokhang Temple

The Roof of Jokhang Temple

Yak Butter Lamps in Jokhang Temple
Roof of Jokhang Temple
View from Roof of Jokhang Temple

After lunch, I thought we were done.  However, the tour continued and we headed off by bus to visit the summer palace of the Dali Llama.  We walked through a dizzying number of buildings in the palace compound.  There were libraries, gardens, pools, fountains and prayer rooms.  Again, the visit was fascinating but I would have left much sooner.  Exhausted, we were on the bus when I caught the word that we were going shopping, yet again.  We made a brief visit to a Tibetan handcraft shop then headed home.

Summer Palace of Dali Lama

Today’s experience with a guided tour was our first.  Following a guide can be great fun, but it left me tired, bored and wiped out.  I found myself hearing a thirty minute speech on a subject that I found less interesting.  Though I was interested by the things I have learned and seen today, I can not deny that guided tours are hard work!  I found myself in a great test of attitude and endurance.  Given the choice, I would prefer to explore with only my family!

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!