We’re Staying In Lhatse Again
Our driver had supposedly fixed the tire or replaced it, we’re not sure. We were now on the return trip from Everest and starting to head back towards Lhasa. We had hoped to make it all the way to the larger town of Shigatse today so that we didn’t have to stay in small and dingy Lhastse again. We left too late though, we reached Lhatse at about 7pm, it was too far to carry on to Shigatse. We decided to fork out some extra bucks and stay at a larger hotel that the town had. Finally some water to wash in, hurray!
Our Truck Has Broken Down Again, You’ve Got To Be Kidding!
We had to be up early again and on the road by 6:30am due to construction. We only got about half an hour out of Lhatse when the truck had a major break down. This time it was really bad. Probably due to driving for so long on the messed up tire. The entire bearings in the front driver wheel had broken apart. The wheel was actually wiggling back and forth. Our driver struggled for an hour and a half with primitive tools and some spare parts to try and fix it. He just kept taking more and more pieces off, we were afraid it would never be able go back together. He finally realized he was not going to be able to fix it. He tried his cell phone but there was no reception where we were. There was little traffic traveling on the road because parts of it were closed for construction. We were stranded in the middle of no where!
A Ride To Shigatse With Chinese Military Police
We were lucky that an SUV finally came by. Our driver was way up on a hill trying to get a signal for his cell phone. He yelled at us to flag the truck down. It turned out to be a Chinese military police vehicle. The driver ran down the hill to speak to them. Next thing we knew we were told to pile into the military land cruiser. We grabbed our important bags and left the rest in the broken down truck. We wondered if we would ever see our driver or our stuff again!
They were going to drop us off in Shigatse about 3 hours away. We had no idea if our driver was going to come and get us later and how and where he would find us. We couldn’t communicate anything with him or the officers other than the fact they were taking us to Shigatse. We felt pretty important and a bit nervous at the same time about having the military police take us to our next destination. They were quite stern and official looking with their green military suits. The driver was quite young, the passenger a middle aged man had extra stripes on his jacket shoulders.
It was a much nicer and smoother ride in the brand new truck, although all four of us were shoved in the back seat like sardines. At one time Jack’s entire right leg went numb from being so squished. We were dropped off at the monastery in Shigatse. We thanked the men, the younger one gave us a smile, but the older man took no notice of us.
We made our way over to a restaurant to get something to eat, we were all very hungry. I phoned the owner of the agency to let him know what had happened, he wasn’t very concerned and didn’t seem to understand. “Oh yeah, we will get the driver to get the tire fixed” he said. He seemed to think we were still complaining about the previous tire problem from the day before. I had to tell him again, the whole wheel bearings are gone and the driver is in the middle of no where with no cell phone. He finally seemed to get the picture. He told us to go enjoy the monastery and phone again when we were done.
This is the Tashilhunpo Monastery. It is one of the great Gelugpa institutions founded in 1447. The first Dalai Lama was named here and is enshrined within the monastery. It is one of the few monasteries within Tibet that remained relatively undamaged during the cultural revolution.
The monastery has many impressive chapels. One of them houses the worlds largest gilded statue. It is a 26 meter image of Jampa, the Future Buddha. It took 900 artists 4 years to complete, which occurred in 1914. Each finger is over 1 meter long. Over 300kg of gold went into the coating. It is also studded with many precious stones. You can barely crank your head back far enough when you get in the building to see the Buddha’s head.
We have seen so many impressive Buddhas already in Southeast Asia and China, but nothing was like this, it literally takes your breath away. The size of it and the way the Buddha looms over you and looks down at you is very eery. We walked through many other chapels. There was also a small kora with pilgrims walking around it.
We happened to come across a set of large closed doors to an assembly hall. There were about a dozen monks standing outside of it. They suddenly broke into a chant that got more intense and loud. The door opened up and they went inside. We didn’t think we were allowed in, but one of the monks motioned for us to follow. We were in for a real treat.
As we walked inside we were overwhelmed by what we saw. There were hundreds of monks seated on benches. Each of them had their normal burgundy robes on. On top of this they had a thick ocher coloured cape and their matching tall curved hats. All the monks were chanting. The sound was so intense it felt like it was going right through our bodies. This was exactly the type of thing we had come to Tibet to see. The prayer session ended and the monks got up and exited the hall. Outside were hundreds of monk boots. It looked quite funny to see them laying all over the place. We wondered how they each find their own pair again.
The chapels were all getting locked up for the day so we decided to head back to the restaurant for a cold drink. We called the travel agency again. They said the driver was now in Shigatse. I said to come meet us at the restaurant, he couldn’t have been very far away, he was there within minutes. We thought the truck had been all fixed up. The driver seemed to be going quite slow though and would keep looking out his window at the tire. One time he stopped and got out to look at it. We all got out in concern. We looked at him and he looked at the tire and put a thumbs up. It had not been repaired properly though. We ended up driving only 50km’s an hour. We finally got fed up at the turtle pace, at this rate we would never get to Lhasa. We were also concerned about the safety of the vehicle. We called the agency again. The owner told us the driver would go faster and that we were only 70km’s from Lhasa, which turned out to be a lie.
Finally Back In Lhasa, But With No Place To Stay
We finally made it back to Lhasa, it was the most exhausting day. It had taken sixteen hours, minus the stop at the monastery to make what should have been a 7 hour journey. It was now after 10pm and getting a hotel room in Lhasa would be very difficult. The other couple got the last room at the Snowlands, the travel agency promised to help us find a room. There were three of them working on getting one. Two of them on the phones and one guy running up and down the street seeing if anything was available. I guess they now felt bad about everything we had been through and wanted to redeem themselves a bit.
The only place that had something was the dumpy Pentoc Hotel in a dorm room. At least they gave us one to ourselves. It used to be a really good hotel run by a Swiss couple. They were not granted a renewal on their lease when it ran out, after 10 years of building up a good name for themselves they had to leave. The new owner has run the place down and is using the Pentoc name and logo illegally. The old owners have tried to have it stopped, but it seems the Chinese laws offer them little help.
In the morning we had to get up early and play what we call the “hotel game” None of the hotels in Lhasa will take reservations, unless it is for a large tour group. They really have no concern for the individual traveler. You have to just show up and hope you get a room. The fact that it is the busy summer time now and the new train is bringing in thousands more a day is making it very difficult. You have to wait until 10am or noon at check out time and they will let you know if they have any space. Even though we had a hotel before we left on the six day trip to Everest they said we just have to check and see if they have something when we get back. They will not reserve a room for us.
We needed to have a hotel for six more days until we left Tibet, most places just laughed at us when we asked if they had something for us for six days. Some places had one or two nights for us, then they said we would have to check with them after that. We finally managed to find all six nights back at the Snowlands Hotel. The rates had gone up a ridiculous amount since we arrived in Lhasa 2 weeks ago, but we had no choice. Even though we had planned to go on another small trip, we would keep the room for the entire time, it was too hard to try and find something again when we would come back.