Mountains, Yaks and British invasions!
Today we left the city and headed for the hills. The five hour drive to our next hotel "the Yeti Hotel" in Gyantse. The twisty roads took us up to the top of the world, on a drive that was anything but boring. Switchbacks from the base all the way up and nothing but blue skies and views as far as the eye can see, It was great to be out of the city.
Outside of the city the countryside is swamped with prayer flags, hundreds, sometimes thousands of them, it is if you do a search of Tibet one of the symbols of this country, the prayer flag consists of a rectangle of cloth and comes in five colours, these colours symbolise the five elements of nature. Usually around or nearby these flags there will be painted ladders on rocks and small mounds of rocks built up by passing pilgrimages to these sites.
" Legend ascribes the origin of the prayer flag to the Shakyamuni Buddha, whose prayers were written on battle flags used by the devas against their adversaries, the asuras. The legend may have given the Indian bhikku a reason for carrying the heavenly banner as a way of signifying his commitment to ahimsa. This knowledge was carried into Tibet by 800 CE, and the actual flags were introduced no later than 1040 CE, where they were further modified" - Wikipedia
On this trip we passed and stopped at various sites each more impressive than the previous, the way they flutter in the wind, pass over roads, bridges, on top of mountains, it is yet another beautiful sight to see in this country.
Yamdrok Lake is one of the four holy lakes and everyone from the villagers to the Dalai Lama itself makes pilgrimages there and walk (clockwise of course) around it. It is the bluest of blues you will ever see anywhere and is (Fun Fact) at 4,441m alt. the highest lake in the world. Yamdrok Lake is a significant landmark to the Tibetans and sadly it's water level is declining and as with a lot of these stories it is because the Chinese Government have decided to use it. You can see where the water line was compared to where it lies now as you drive around it, it has been turned into a source for Hydro Electricity. Once again, we all feel incredibly fortunate to be here witnessing this while worried for its future, it begs the question if the bus loads of Chinese Tourists that stand in front of the lake posing for selfies are being told this……..
Once we arrive in Gyantse we head to the Baiju Temple, erected in 1418 and consists a giant stupa which you can walk up and view the surrounding country from (while paying attention to the 108 cells on the way up which include statues and holy images in). The monastery is still in use but again is on the decline. At the top of the stupa you can see a wall that guards the Dzong Fortress, the fortress is inaccessible (except for a small museum at the bottom) and surrounded by guards, it was the heart of a British invasion in 1903-1904 and led to the death of 200 Tibetans and plundering of nearby monasteries. In 1967 the Chinese dynamited it in the Cultural "revolution".
So far the hotels have not been great, we have, granted travelled in "off season" however, lights are not on, heating never switched on, no food provided in one, breakfasts have been awful with stale bread, terrible staff, oh it goes on. We have not until this point been able to stay in Tibetan owned hotels until now: "The Yeti Hotel", what a difference. Kind, hospitable and warm, almost everyone on trip advisor is regretful that they only stay one night! In the evening we had drinks in the bar and a meal (Yaks Steak for me!) and in the morning, expecting the usual buffet we were greeted with beautiful toast, bread and muesli, bacon, freshly scrambled eggs….. it had been by far the nicest hotel experience we had seen and really really needed. We aren't stupid, we are in a far flung country, hotel "standards" are not going to be what we are used to however what we had been experiencing was so far below acceptable it became almost laughable. But these are the perils of travel and really, as long as we had a bed and a roof it's not a massive deal, just if you go, don't ever expect "comfort" (haha).
The Following day we were due to visit the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse sadly this required a permit, of which it took all afternoon to get. The poor guide had to go stand in queue and wait for it to go through 8 different checks before it got stamped (no surprises by who) so we didn't get to do anything this day apart from wander Shigatse (second largest city in Tibet) and visit its incredible market while attracting a fair few looks of wonder, stares and hangers on as we purchased and bartered on items. Bit of a disappointing day, but to be fair we probably needed a rest to soak all we had seen in anyway.