Tibet, part 2: Incredible mountains, hot guides and weird fireworks.

In my last post, I mentioned my endless visits of monasteries that made Tibet a little boring for me. Now, let me tell you about all the fun things I did in Tibet.

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First, the landing at Lhasa Gonggar Airport was quite exciting. Apart from being one of the highest airports in the world, at an elevation of 3,570 m (11,710′), LXA is in a narrow valley, which requires a rather unconventional approach. At about 1 o’clock from the centre of the photo, you can see the strip. I have seen much steeper, last minute turns on small planes in the Caribbean, but not so much on an Airbus 319! But, this is Tibet, and things are different here.

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Like the telecommunications equipment. Next time you wonder why I am not updating my blog, please think of this picture.

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Or this one for that matter. The beautiful town of Tigri, near the border with Nepal. It reminded me a lot of Monaco.

(…)

Just making sure you’re paying attention.

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In order to properly acclimatize to high elevation, you must take care not to put any additional stresses on your body. For example, your beer intake should remain constant throughout the process. Oh, and this is the summit of Mount Everest, by the way.

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In focus this time. Tibet offers the most incredible mountain scenery, and the great things is that they have roads, so unlike in Nepal, you don’t have to walk for 2 weeks to see the mountains. In fact, you can even drive to the Everest Base Camp. Unfortunately, we could not because of a storm a few days before that stranded several tourists for days and killed a German hiker and his 3 sherpas.

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After not seeing snow for more than a year, I was a little disgusted by the unavoidable consequences of high altitude.

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Another consequence is that they don’t pick-up the garbage up there.

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But they do have a “toilet”. On my list of life accomplishments, I can now write that I peed at 5,248 m altitude. And yes, I do sign autographs.

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The stores in Tigri all sell oxygen. In fact, they offer different brands!

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Gangbala Pass, above Yamdrok Lake.

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The lake, from the shore.

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If you think you live in a small, isolated place, think again (unless you live on Tristan da Cunha).

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Nearby glacier.

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And a lake made by a dam, but unfortunately, I forgot the name.

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The locals plaster the high passes with these prayer flags.

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In fact, they go completely nuts with them!

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Speaking of going nuts, I have rarely seen something as strange as a philosophical debate between monks. It’s like a combination of small town talk radio and air Kung Fu.

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That day, the question was: “What kind of shoes would Buddha wear?” Just watch, it’s tense.

Imagine; before the Communists started reforming Tibet, young boys of only 7 years old became monks. Imagine being 7 and landing in this nut house, knowing you’re never getting out!

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Anyway, after the mountains, the best part of the Tibet tour was our incredible guide. All the other guides we saw were boring looking guys, but we got some eccentric, beautiful Tibetan woman. Sadly, she was picture shy, but trust me, with a lot of help from an excellent orthodontist, I think she could have modelled in the West. She was knowledgeable and candid, had no lost love for Beijing, and spoke excellent English, which she had learned in Nepal.

The most entertaining part of the monastery visits had nothing to do with the buildings, the history or anything like that, it was watching the Tibetan pilgrims from the countryside staring at her. On the photo she is dressed very casually because we were at high altitude, but in Lhasa she was dressed like any woman would dress on a cool Fall day in Paris or Milan. Nice wool jacket, sweater with a wide collar, big earrings, trendy boots, etc. The villagers would walk in with their offering of yak butter and they would literally stop in their way, open jawed, staring at her, as she stood about a foot taller than all of them, talking to us in perfect English. A few times I saw them bump into each other! Total movie star effect.

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Although she seemed very knowledgeable on all the political and religious history, she sometimes came up with the most ridiculous statements. As we were looking at this view of Lhasa from some monastery, she said the smoke was not smog, but people burning incense. Well, if it is, they sure burn a lot of it!

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And the best, she told us these walls around a monastery were built to keep the animals out. Now, these are not fences, these are MASSIVE fortifications, complete with watchtowers and gun emplacements. Must have been real scary animals, like werewolves or yetis!

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And finally, the strangest thing I saw in Tibet: fireworks, in the middle of the day! Hard to see, but it lasted several minutes. I have no explanation for it.

#China

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