AsiaRound The World TripTibet

Tibet: Shigatse to Gonggar

Kath arranged for us to spend most of today in Shigatse, and for us to leave this afternoon for the 5 hour drive to Gongkar – near the Lhasa Airport.  So Jon and I had breakfast and then went to the Shigatse Market to find some souvenirs and Christmas Gifts.

We wanted to get some Tibetan scarves that are made out of a strong, striped material which many Tibetans wear as aprons, shawls, scarves, etc.  But the vendor was quoting a ridiculous amount of money for the scarves and laughed at us when we gave him a lower price.  We were surprised at the low quality of the scarves, as the ends were frayed and they didn’t look like it would last for very long.  So we refused to pay what he was asking.  He must have been sincere in his price, though, because he didn’t come running after us to negotiate.

Om Mani Padme Om

I decided a few days ago that I wanted a traditional silver Tibetan bracelet with the Tibetan characters “Om Mani Padme Om” on it.  This means “Hail the Jewel of the Lotus Flower”, meaning Buddha.  I’ve seen the bracelets everywhere and they’re very pretty – intricately designed with either turquoise or coral in them.  So we went further into the market to look.  At the first jewelry booth we went to, the woman cheerfully hijacked me:  she grabbed by the arm and wouldn’t let go, and insisted on showing me absolutely everything on her table.  After a few laughing sales tactics, we finally negotiated a price for a lovely bracelet and she insisted that I take an elastic bracelet of plastic orange skulls.  Yes, it’s as ugly as it sounds, but she said that it was Tibetan-made and I figured I could give it away later on.  The “Om Bracelet” is really great, though.  It even has etchings on the inside of the bracelet!

We ran into Kath in the market, and she pulled a huge copper pot that she’d bought out of her bag.  We saw the monks at the monastery yesterday carrying these pots into the prayer session filled with tea and they were very lovely.  But as much as we’d like to buy absolutely everything in this market, we have to draw the line somewhere!

We went back to the room to pack up our stuff and to check out of the hotel.  Then we went to lunch at a Tibetan Restaurant and then to a final trip to the Internet Cafe.  The funny thing about this Internet Cafe is – because it’s one of the biggest and fastest connections in town – most of the 50 computers are filled with teenage boys playing various on-line video games.  So we had to wait a little while for a terminal to open up.

The Final Bus Ride

At 2:00, we boarded the bus for our final bus ride.  Tonight, we’ll arrive at Gongkar, which is right next to the airport.  Poor Lisa has caught the virus that Jon and I had in Lhasa, and cannot keep food down.  As we’ve done with everyone else, the “sick person” gets the seat in front closest to the door and the least bumpy of the bus.  It seems that – out of this trip – at least 1/2 of the group was sick at one time or another in the last two weeks.  Whether it was the virus, altitude sickness, food issues, or what John the Aussie refers to as “the collywobbles” which I think falls into the latter category.  But almost everyone has had stomach issues of some sort on this trip.

Scenic Break

The drive was lovely, and at one point we pulled over for a bathroom break at what Susan called, “The Best Pee Spot EVER”.  The view was beautiful, mountains everywhere, and there was a river running nearby.  The cool thing was that – in the river – local Tibetans had built some water wheels that were hard at work doing something.  Jon and some other people went down to investigate what the water wheels were doing.  It turns out that the water turned the wheels which were attached to a large log with a smaller cedar log on the end of it.  As the wheel turned, the cedar log was ground against the side of the wall and shavings were created.  The men used these shavings for incense which they sold to the monasteries.

The men had built walls and dams to re-route the water from the river around their water wheels and we all sat there and watched the scenery for a while.

There were two adorable little boys who followed us around everywhere but never said a word to us.  They never let go of each others’ hands and watched Mark very closely because he had a big camera.  I gave the older boy my newly-acquired orange plastic skull bracelet and he was so excited!

We reluctantly climbed back into the bus and went on our merry way.  We arrived in Gongkar at 7:30-ish and checked into a hotel appropriately named “Airport Hotel”.  This is appropriate because the airport terminal is literally a stone’s throw away from the hotel.  But this is hardly a busy airport so we needn’t worry about fly-overs during the night.

Group Dinner Issues

We met for dinner at 8:15 and walked about 10 minutes into “town” which really was a strip of stores/restaurants.  All the proprietors were trying to get us into their own restaurant, and we checked out a few places to see what they had.  However, most of the menus were in Chinese and those that had English menus were quoting exorbitant prices.  So what was going to be a quick dinner outing turned into a “Group Trauma”, with the entire group of us shuffling from one place to another saying, “I dunno, should we eat here?  What do you think?  I dunno…”.  Time was running on, people were getting hungry, and tempers were a bit shorter than usual.  We went through about 8 different restaurants until Kath found a proprietor that she liked and a menu should could translate for us (she speaks Mandarin pretty well).  So we had 10 dishes to choose from, and we sat down and had a “proper” Chinese meal where we all shared dishes.  Everyone was happy once the beers were served and the food started to come out.  Considering the traumatic start, dinner was very good and a lot of fun too.