On our 3rd day we drove from Lhatse to Xigatse. We drove all morning through fantastic landscape again. It's so unique, I have never seen anything like it. We passed the highest pass - Gyatchu La at 5520m and Mt. Kailash. Around lunch time we got to Xigatse which seemed like a quite big town with 60,000 habitants. It's far more developed than I thought and the Chinese influence is very distinctive which is a bit of a shame. The people are so friendly and seem to find great pleasure in saying "Hello" which most of the time is the only English word they know. You are being less hassled than in Kathmandu which is quite a pleasant change. At the Himalayan Bank which looked really civilised and modern I was hoping for nice toilet and got majorly disappointed again. What a disaster! So disgusting, just incredible what you see and smell in those toilets. I just don't get it. In a rural village fair enough. But here... the second biggest city in Tibet, people working in a nice bank, putting on a suit and than going to that shit hole (quite literally)??? Doesn't make sense. Anyway, we got promised a nice hotel with twin rooms, own bathroom and hot showers. I just couldn't believe my luck to find it was really true. A nice clean room and a proper Western toilet with toilet paper is all it takes these days to make me happy :-) I was in heavan. The toilet flush didn't work but who cares about these kind of technacalities?? I was happy anyway. Oh, maybe there was one downside. When we were asked to split into two, they boys went in one room and said it's probably easiest if I find myself another girl. I had that strange feeling though and somehow knew that there was no girl left and of course I was right and I was also right about the suspicion I had straight away, of me ending up with Pascal, the strange Belgium guy and unfortunately I was right. He is probably in his mid/late forties, looks like a proper German, wears a bright red rain jacket that he never takes off and is just weird. He looks like a proper geek, has the strangest accent ever (says the German....;-), needs about one minute to say 5 words, that is in any language by the way even in his native tongue and probably still lives with his Mum and to make him an even more of a perfect room mate he has diarrhea!!! Happy Days!!! What a room mate! The only good thing is that I think he is gay and fancies Kirby and Jon, so at least I don't need to worry that he crawls over in my bed at night.
Never mind. My good spirits about the hotel and shower couldn't be destroyed. The boys, me and of course Pascal went out for lunch. That is the other problem that I have that funny feeling that we won't ever get rid of him now, as I feel obliged to ask him along. Damn!!
Anyway, we went to a really nice Chinese restaurant and I had at last some proper food. The ordering was quite difficult, as none of the waitresses spoke a word English, but with pointing at pictures, sign language, drawings and the help of the LonelyPlanet we finally got there. The sign language consisted of Pascal imitating a chicken by the way, with noice and everything. I was surprised he didn't drop an egg out of his pants. :-) A few dishes were quite a surprise but delicious. Pascal, not being very adventurous with food at all, had some egg rice and kept talking about his diarrhea! Great!
After lunch we went to see the Panchen Lama's Tashilumpu Monastery, which was great. It is situated at the foot of a mountain and the whole peak is decorated with prayer flags which looked amazing. In the monastery were several different chapels. One had the biggest gilded Buddha statue of 26 meters hight in there. That looked incredible. Unfortunately we didn't really get a guided tour, so a lot of things are still not making sense to me. The current 11th Panchen Lama is a young boy who is kept almost like a prisoner by the Chinese. The 10th was originally very pro-Chinese and therefore not very popular but had a change of mind in a later stage. Rumours are that his apparent heart attack was actually poisining by the Chinese. The new 11th Panchen Lama was then kidnapped as for as I understand and now they have the boy that is basically just a puppet of the Chinese. All very interesting but also confusing.
You have to be careful of what you say here too. Eduardo said something to the tour guide about the Panchen Lama being the "Chinese Lama" and he was told if Chinese would hear that comment the would be straight away sent back to Kathmandu. Upsss...
At the end of our sightseeing we could take part in a prayer session of monks which was very interesting. They are all wearing their dark red robes, no shoes and are sitting on comfy benches in a really cosy room, constantly mumbling prayers while someone is walking through the rows handing out Yack-Butter-Tea, and spreading incense.. We were not allowed to sit down but could watch. Although I found it fascinating I also felt a little bit uncomfortable as there were some really rude Chinese tourists interrupting them and just demanding to walk through and I felt they don't really want us there.
But it was still brilliant. After that we had a wonder around town and the market which was great as everyone is so friendly. We went the the Israeli gang (managed to escape Pascal after the monastery) and a really nice Dutch guy, Tom, for dinner and then back to the hotel where we bumped into our bus drivers and some other guys of our group having beers. The drivers were having great pleasure in re-filling our glasses and asking us in Tibetean to down it which is called "sabta". Once you finished your drink it ended in great appreciation and laughter. The supply of beers seemed never ending and apparentcame out of the boot of the bus. Not sure why it was there, the only imagination I have, is maybe bribery for the Chinese police. We didn't even need to pay a penny, although we did offer it several times. They don't really speak English but with help of sign language and a guy that studies Buddism in Kathmandu we managed to communicate and teach each other words in Tibetean and English. Andy hey, how difficult is it to understand to down a drink? Sabta!!
The next day I felt surprisingly good and actually better than before. Either the beer helped my cold or I am coping better with the altitude. For once we had a late start at only 9.30am. This whole trip is maybe turning into a holiday after all???!!!
We only had a short drive which was good considering that we got our bus driver pissed the night before and they even continued by the time the 3 of us went to bed. Our short drive was extended to a few hours by our never ending breaks (pretty much every 20 mins someone needs the loo) and got to Gyantse by lunch time. The moment I was getting off the bus Pascal was already happily waving towards me with our room key in his hands. I knew it, once you have a room mate you get sort of stuck with them for the rest of the trip. Damn! Is is getting quite bad, as he really starts to annoy me,so I asked the boys not to let me near him once I have had a few drinks, as I know I won't be able to keep my mouth shut. The boys are feeling sorry for me but are also finding the whole thing of course highly amusing and won't miss a single opportunity to take the piss out of me. We had such a lauch. It is a bit mean but very funny. As it turns out, Eduardo's room mate seems to be a bit of a nightmare too and also gay (we think), so we are coming up with wild plans of how to swap rooms and match them up0 and arrange their first date. Very amusing. Straight away after getting to the thotel which is nice again we went to a Chinese Muslim place for lunch, which was just delicious and also quite an experience. It started that everyone got sunflower seeds and spat the peel on the floor. We then got Muslim Tea which looked like potpouri filled up with boiling water, but was very nice. We then ordered loads of dishes we shared again between us, obviously excluding Pascal as he is still suffering from diarrhea, and doesn't fail to give me an update on that several times a day. The absolute highlight was the sweet and sour mutton. So delicous! Once of the best dishes I had. Pascal actually ordered the same but didn't like it so much. He didn't like the preparation of it which was too Chinese for him. I of course couldn't help asking what preparation he prefers and his response was the mutton they serve on planes! Do I need to say more?? I don't think I have actually ever heard anyone saying they like the food on planes but to prefer that over a delicous Chinese dish seems rather odd to me.
The other thing that was highly entertainling in the restaurant was the slurping. Unbelievable! They are ordering soup with noodles and basically hanging with their face in the soup bowl and are slurping with such a disgusting noise it's just incredible and very difficult to remain serious. You can imagine the look on our faces when the table next to us with 4 Chinese got 4 soup bowls served. The symphony was remarkable! When Jon started joining in we were all lying under the table with laughter. But the funny bit was that apart from us no one took notice....
We then went to our next sightseeing tour. The town is a bit smaller than Xigatse but looks very similar, very Chinese! but the people are as lovely as before. We went to the Kumbum Stupa & Phalkor Monastery which again was at a spectacular scenary, surrounded by mountains. Pilgrims were walking around the mountain which is called kora - a pilgrimage circuit. We have seen people prostrating themselves which means they lie flat on the floor, touch the ground with their forehead, get up and start all over again, only moving forward by their body length. People do that in front of temples and monasteries but also walk all the way from their home town (or wherever) to the place where the pilger to. Amazing! I have never seen so religious people. We have also seen a lot of people doing the kora, loads of people are just sitting outside the chapels or by prayer wheels, chatting and drinking yack butter tea and turning their prayer wheels.
They are so photogenic and I find it fascination to watch them and would love to take pictures of every single person but quite often they don't like that.
The monastery was impressive again, but again I would have loved to have a good guide. Ours came with us for a bit but wasn't really good. One one of the main building you had 3 or 4 floors where you could walk up and around with loads of different Buddhas in small little rooms but it's impossible to understand the meaning and differences if no one explains it, as there were so many. At the end we were watching a ceremony of dancing from the monks which was good but a bit too long as it was quite repetitive, so I found it far more interesting to watch the locals.
I managed to escape from Pascal once more and had such a laugh with the boys. Jon's imitation of Pascal is just too good. I really should have taken a video. I spend some time on the Internet but unfortunately my flights aren't changed. I so hope that can do it. Although it would be great see the lake here and do the trip with the boys and maybe go to Chitwan National Park but I feel I really want to move on to not loose even more time for South East Asia but there is nothing than waiting and hoping I can do now.
We went for dinner to a restaurant that served Western food and I had a feast for Euro 7. A yak burger with cheese and fries, a banana lassi, a Lhasa beer, a fresh fruit salad and a chocolate cake. I was in heaven! Almost lost it all when I saw Pascal in underwear inviting me into the room to have a party..... The guys were loving it....