I don’t really like the smell of yak butter in the morning…

Tour groups are funny things. In a way, they guarantee that you see all that is “worth seeing” at a particular place, but a lot of the time the itinerary is so crammed that it feels like we are just going to the attractions to get that “tick in the box”.

Tibet is the first (and I hope the only) leg of the trip where we signed up with a tour group. Restrictions in Tibet are tough, so much so that non-Chinese citizens can only travel with a tour group with a fixed itinerary.

It is precisely because of this reason that we spent three days of our time in Tibet visiting monastery after monastery. Sometimes, we would drive for hours just to see the RUINS of a monastery.

Yet ANOTHER monastery

There would be many ignorant, uninformed and generally dumb people who would ask “don’t all monasteries look the same after a while?” and I would be one of them.

Sure, Tibetan monasteries are a big part of Tibetan life. Pilgrims from all over China make frequent trips to Tibet just to fill the urns in the temple with yak butter. This was not easy, considering that many of them would walk the whole distance, through desert roads and up snowy mountains. The pious ones would do a procedure that involves them prostrating and lying face down every third step. (the truly brave ones might even attempt to take the bus)

Many of the monasteries are quite simply put, architectural wonders. Imagine a complex the size of 100 football fields built into the side of a cliff! (the lamas are huge football fans)

But my point is that after a while they do look the same (to me)! It’s like an overdose of the best food in the world. Of course, once in a while we would be surprised by treats such as this scene that involved hundreds of lamas gathered in a courtyard, debating…

But it reached a point where we were telling the guide,”Stop showing us any more monasteries!!!” But of course he couldn’t do that. And there was a very good reason for that… it’s in the itinerary.

Who says the best sights can only be seen with a tour group?

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Can’t Get Enough of…. Namtso Lake

We’ve blogged enough of Namtso Lake. And here’s Jo’s video on our trip to Namtso. I swear the skies were bluer, the clouds were whiter and the water was more glittery. We can’t accurately capture the colors with our camera phones.

Set to the tune of “Mr Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra.

Of dogs and kids

One of the things we noticed during our excursion to Namtso Lake was the number of dogs that roam freely within the National Park. The locals will kick the dogs when they wander too close to the dining table, but in general, they leave the dogs be.

Jo and I love dogs. So when the dogs came to our table, we were sorely tempted to coddle and feed them. The only thing stopping us from doing that was the fear of ringworms (we’ve heard stories), and of being attacked by the other dogs in the pack who couldn’t get any food.

All in all, the dogs in Namtso were generally well fed, because we’ve seen instances when the locals would throw out leftovers for the dogs.

Dogs in Namtso... generally well fed

This was kinda strange to me, because judging by the number of times we’ve been approached by beggars, the locals appear to live in relative poverty.

The feeding of the dogs led to Bob the Bulgarian (who is actually called Lee) questioning the source of the meat we were having for lunch.(eeeek…)

Back to the beggars. They operate in family syndicates with the cutest kids acting as the forward vanguard in the racket. I consider myself resistant to most forms of begging, especially from young kids. It’s a personal belief that giving in would result in long-term harm – that the kids would rely on begging and consider it a legitimate way to put food on the table. Some people would think that this is just cheapskate self justification and I cannot fully deny that.

The beggars at Namtso Lake were some of the most persistent I’ve ever met… there was a time when there were four kids clinging on to my legs in such a way that I just could not move.

They were at it for quite some time and it started to bother me.

That’s when I had a not-so-proud moment when I felt like kicking one of them just so I would be able to move again.

It was a thought that flashed across my mind. I know… I sound like a terrible human being, but I was stuck there for so very long. At that point, I felt so guilty that a thought like that would even cross my mind.

Thinking back, I feel more anger than guilt.

Some anger at myself for treating dogs better than actual human kids.

But a lot of anger at the parents who would willingly coerce their kids to beg. I know they probably had no choice, given their situation in life. Maybe my upbringing means I could never understand what they are going through, but I just cannot reconcile parents who would allow their kids to be treated worse than dogs.

Pushing Through

Our first excursion in Tibet was to Namtso Lake, one of the three sacred lakes in Tibet.

You’d think that a visit to Namtso LAKE is a visit to a body of water. Haha. These wacky Tibetans, they decided that the lake is best viewed from… You guessed it… A steep hill covered with ice and snow.

Highest Point enroute to Namtso Lake... 5190m above sea level, or if you convert to miles... a HELL of a lot of them

This allowed me to miserably keep up my average of climbing one hill every two days.

I have a theory about hill/mountain top views

This was what happened at Namtso Lake.

We went waaaaaaay past the sweet spot.

Namtso is one of the highest lakes IN THE WORLD. For me, being at the water edge is pretty sweet. I mean, the view is nice and we had a lakeside view of the sunset that was coming up. Being at one of the highest lakes in the world means we shouldn’t need to climb those ridiculous (yet so gorgeous) mountain ranges around us, right?

Like so many of our previous excursions, I blame Jo… and a sweet Slovakian ski instructor called Zuzanna.

Of COURSE they had to go and climb the forbidding slope in front of them. Of COURSE they were not deterred by the snow and slippery ice. And of COURSE they didn’t care that we were literally breathless just from being more than 4000m above sea level.

And of course, I had to follow.

Why did I have to follow?

One very simple reason…  I am a Lemming… but maybe sometimes that is what you need on a long trip.

Someone to push you beyond your perceived limits.

Without them, I would not have seen…

Did I mention that the sunset was gorgeous from the top as well?

I might need to revise my theory.

This can’t be Lhasa!

Tibet is one of those places that have an inherent mythical appeal. Its isolated location at the “roof of the world” adds a lot to its mystery.

I mean it took us almost two full days of travel to reach Lhasa. Looking at the beautiful scenery from the train, I suppose our expectations built to a point where it would be hard to fulfil. This brings us to now….

We’ve been in Tibet for three days already and I have not been able to write much about it.

Our first impression of Lhasa can be simplified to this: “this can’t be Lhasa!!” I don’t really know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the modern city with busy motorways and franchised shops that first greeted us. This was not helped by the busy construction that seemed to be going on everywhere. Oxygen was scarce for us even without the smoky cars and the construction dust.

It was kinda underwhelming after the 44 hour train ride.

Of course, it is not all bad.

We were checked into a hostel that has… How do I put it? A lot of character.

Check In!

One of the first things you’ll notice about Lhasa Hostel is how almost every accessible (and some not so accessible) surface is filled with graffiti. Great caricatures are mixed with foul profanities bemoaning the lack of central heating in the hostel.

In Room Graffiti... What more can we ask for?

Publicity Posters and Graffiti

True… The facilities and bedding in the hostel are old and leave a lot to be desired, but who wants to just stay in a perfect hotel right? Right?

There is a strong sense of community within the hostel. There are lots of common areas, including a rooftop pub/restaurant that provides free pool, futsal and music.

Dada - One of five gorgeous dogs at Lhasa Hostel

Another saving grace of Lhasa is definitely the food. After our culinary adventures in Chengdu, the non spicy food of Lhasa was a welcome change (for Jo). I’m talking about yak sizzlers and CHEESE SOUP. Clear soup with blocks of cheese in them.

Good Food after Chengdu.... and if you look closely... Jo is obviously a better food photographer than me (hint: check the plates)

Plus the most cutely-named meal we’ve ever had…

…consisting of Bobi, Momo and Chang.

Bobi, Momo and Chang