Friday, August 5, 2011

Lhasa: Day Three



Are hiccups a symptom of altitude sickness?

Or maybe they're just a symptom of being crabby. Tibet itself was charming my socks off while being simultaneously heartbreaking with the hardcore military presence, but I was still feeling crabby, given that the enforced tour didn't include hotels or admissions or taxis within Lhasa.

But yesterday, I'd learned that my guide was actually paying attention when I'd complained about the price of the taxi and he'd effortlessly switched us to the public bus for the return trip. Maybe being on a leash in Tibet would work out all right in spite of it being annoying.


I'd wanted to switch hotels. The Yak was in a good location but it wasn't that cheap for what it was and the sewer smell in my room's bathroom was toxic. I had an ongoing battle with housekeeping about the towel I lay down over the vent every morning. I'd asked my guide where else I could stay—he hadn't been helpful on this front, but he had been right.

"You'll have a hard time finding anywhere right now." He'd shrugged. "It's high season, when all the Chinese tourists come to Tibet. You should have come in October."

I probably should have. I could have had my choice of hotels and transportation. Though I now wondered if I should have taken the sleeper bus in from Golmud. After all, the sleeper bus hadn't been the big deal I'd thought it would be.

And then I could have planned better, rather than rushing a plan after my Intrepid trip had been canceled due to the permits not being issued.

But there were a lot of things I'd done wrong. And I'd already realized why.

I had the old guidebook. The new guidebook had come out in April, when I was in Nigeria or something, and I hadn't checked to update since then. I'd have known not to come in the summer, which hotels to book, which agencies in Tibet could get me in easiest and best without going through that chaotic hostel in Chengdu...or I could have found this blog sooner.

But I hadn't so I downloaded the new guidebook now so I was hoping things would be okay. At least we knew my guide was good, and in a few days we'd find out about the car and driver.

I read that the guidebook I downloaded was sometimes confiscated in paper form by the border guards when people came in via the Nepal border. Because there was an introduction by the Dalai Lama telling us to go to Tibet, to not boycott it? That couldn't be why. Or maybe it could. Anyway, mine was on my Kindle and I carried it without fear, though I was technically being a scofflaw.

I had the morning to myself to sip tea and fight my hiccups, and then met my guide to walk to Potala Palace, which is so popular that all sightseeing trips are pre-booked and tightly scheduled. We went in the group entrance, because of course I am technically a group, and approached a really long line of individual tourists (remember the Chinese tourists can move about freely).

My guide did something really ballsy then. He marched us to the front of the line.

I didn't understand if maybe we had a special reason to do this as a "group," or if he was just brazen.

To pass the time during our brief wait, I'd asked Rinchin if Buddhists in Tibet liked zebras like they do in Thailand. He'd checked to make sure he understood me, then heartily laughed at me--perhaps that's why he rushed after that. He couldn't stand to listen to me spout nonsense anymore.

Once we got inside, we had to walk up up up—no wonder all those monks are in such good shape. As we walked, we went inside courtyards, temples, living quarters, and large rooms full of Tibetan books wrapped in cloth, each identified by a cloth label that looked like a tag.

We were only allowed an hour and any time over would be penalized. That's fine with me...the Potala Palace is a congested, overcrowded zoo utterly packed full of tourists. It's a tight squeeze and a bit of an ordeal.

Still beautiful, though.

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