Monday, August 27, 2012

My Tibet Adventure 6 - Turquoise Lake, Glaciers, more food adventures and a show.

Note:  If you didn't read the firstsecond, third, fourth and fifth posts about Tibet, you might want to read those and then come back to this one.
Turquoise Lake, Tibet
Hawkers are just trying to make a living 

The next day we’re off to Turquoise Lake.  The lake color is, as described, a beautiful, deep turquoise green. The hawkers at the photo stops around the lake are like Velcro.  One woman zeroes in on me and will NOT give up.  I circle the van; I tell her "no". I ignore her.  I go join another group of people.  All to no avail.  She is determined to sell me a necklace.  I can only shed her by returning to the inside of the van and taking a seat.

This lake is huge.  We drive for miles and stop again at another photo shot location.  You can see the glaciers in the background from here.  It's a largely unspoiled view of such grandeur that words and photographs utterly fail in describing or capturing it.  Suffice it to say the combination of colors, scale and elements makes for a memory one is unlikely to ever forget. At lunch we encounter a whole new round of aggressive hawkers.   They come into the restaurants and work on us around the table. These are even aggressive enough to come into the bus.  CT proves an easy mark for them.  The restaurants obviously get very frustrated with this behavior, but apparently there is little they can do about it unless they're native Tibetans.  If a Chinese, or other nationality, owner tries to stop them, their establishment apparently becomes a target of protests and are all but shut down.   But it does make for one of the less pleasant aspects of touring in Tibet. 

A 23K ft glacier with nomads at the base
Thats a LOT of ice.

We stop in front of a glacier to shoot photos.  Water flows off the glacier into streams, down numerous pathways and towards the mountain base.  It makes for incredible photos.  On the other hand, it is a sign of global warming, as the guide tells us.  This glacier used to extend to the base of the mountain, now it only covers about 50% of it.  Were talking about a glacier that is 23,303 ft tall.  As we return to the van and head out, we're faced with what must be thousands of acres of open land, ringed by mountains, many with glaciers on them.  The only place back home I've seen anything close to this is in Montana.

Maybe "Club" sandwiches are named for the instrument needed to obtain one? 

We spend the night at the Tashi Choe Ta Hotel in Shigetse.  We check in and upon arrival to our rooms, find them very well decorated.  In fact this one even has a mattress that depresses a little.  Wow.  However, we're lacking safes or refrigerators (given my experience with the refrigerators so far, not a big loss, except that when one is carrying insulin, one is supposed to keep it cold).  Of course, as usual I find the bathroom toilet roll to be nearly empty so I make a mental note that when we meet for dinner in the lobby, I'll need to ask them to deliver a spare roll.  Upon meeting in the lobby, it is apparent our hosts, have taken note of our desire for some Western food and have decided to find a restaurant with that offering.  Our hotel restaurant claims to offer such, so we head over there.  We're quickly disappointed to find it consists solely of lamb shops and steaks.  So we get up and head out for another restaurant nearby.   When we sit down here we're greeted with English menus that offer something approximating Western fare (i.e. localized western fare).  We find burgers made of Yak (given their size we dub them Yak sliders), but we also find pizza and a club sandwich; which is what I order.  I'm thinking; something light, two or three slices of toasted bread, lettuce, tomato (which are very good here) and some meat, it'll be quick.  Right?  Well, as we learned the night before with the Hawaiian pizza, it's best not to jump to any conclusions.   The food starts arriving and our hopes quickly rise, as the soups are quite good.   The Yak burger arrives and is as near perfect as one could expect, a bun, burger, lettuce, tomato and even fries with a bottle of ketchup.  It looks quite good and Dibble assures us it is.    Other dishes arrive; all hot dishes and all get thumbs up.   However, the simple club sandwich is nowhere to be seen.  I mean nowhere.  We inquire and they assure us they've not forgotten it.   Bob begins theorizing that perhaps I have the same effect on restaurants that I have on airlines .  Everyone finishes eating and the club sandwich still has not appeared. 

Me and the infamous "Club Sandwich"
When it finally does, we're definitely NOT talking a traditional club sandwich. In fact I'm wondering if Bob (a native Texan) has played a role in what arrives, as it is definitely a Texas style club sandwich with bread slices each an inch and a half thick, the three layers of bread stuffed with a wide assortment of goodies.  It brings laughs from the entire group as they enjoy the thought of watching me trying to fit this into my mouth, much less finish it.  Neither will happen easily.  Massive compression to the sandwich is needed to make it fit a human mouth and I try to eat a good portion of it, but am simply unable to do so.                   


Monasteries on my left, on my right, everywhere I turn..

The next morning we're off to visit the Tashi Lhumpo Monastery, founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama.  This monastery contains some of the largest Buddhas I've ever seen (I'm guessing 5, maybe 8 stories tall), covered in gold and precious stones.  It is a large, beautiful complex.  We get many excellent photo opportunities. Of course a steak house will have steak.  Right? Last night we went to the Tibet Steak House here in Llhasa.  Again, this location offered Western food, and we could order individually.  Which by this time in this story you might be tired of hearing about, but in the land of the parched and thirsty, we greet this sight like a water wagon.  I order my first Yak burger with fries and a Llhasa beer, wondering with trepidation if last night's club sandwich experience will haunt me again.  Dibble orders a Yak steak, Bob a Yak burger and Rene and Debbie some Thai and noodle dishes.  All of which arrive over the next ten-fifteen minutes - except Dibble's Yak steak.  We start quizzing him: Did you order a Club sandwich?  As we start finishing off our meals, which are quite good, Dibble questions our waitress about where his order might be?  Her English is clearly not good, but it is way better than our Chinese or Tibetan, but she seems to get the question and scurries off to find out.  She comes back and tells Dibble they've run out of steak.   Which leaves us so dumbfounded. She leaves our table as we all set there in dumbfounded silence with our mouths agape.  Really?  Why didn't she come back and tell us that before we asked?  Better yet, as Bob puzzles aloud; how do you run out of YAK steaks in a Tibetan STEAK house!?!?  Yaks surround us. Weve seen hundreds today alone. 

It turns out to be a communication issue based on her limited understanding of English and the way we asked the question.  So, Debbie and Rene gather up remainders from the food ordered and assemble a leftover, but decent meal for Dibble.  Meanwhile, I must admit to basking a bit in the light of the fact that these kinds of things don't happen to me alone.  It's a little bit like welcoming someone to a leper's island to take delight in seeing someone else share in the mishaps I regularly endure, but as many of my friends have pointed out, I seem to have uniquely bad luck when traveling.  Its nice to have some company for a change.                         

Happiness is on the way.  A show?  A statement?  A policy?

 We race from the restaurant to the site of the theatre show we're attending for the evening, called; Happiness is on the Way.  It's a lovely dance performance, in a fabulously decorated theatre, with numerous twists, reminding one at times of some of the mountain roads we've been navigating. Sometimes performers emerge from the floor mid-theatre or even in the back, sometimes in openings high up on the wall, but mostly of course, on stage.  It's a colorful, musical performance and thankfully, act summaries are posted in English throughout the performance so we can keep track of what the story is about, which is basically that of life in Tibet and the role that Earth, wind, water and fire play in the life of Tibetans.   At one point, between acts, they bring a silk sheet down from the stage and raise it above our heads as they move to the back of this large theatre.  One is apparently part of this piece by raising your arm and extending a single finger for the sheet to glide across.  In any event, it makes for an unusual way to distract and entertain the audience while the stage crews prepare the stage for the next act.    It's a long performance, on top of a long day, and closes with a not too subtle display of a Chinese flag as the stage curtain and the message: "Happiness is on the Way".  The irony here is remarkable as we've just celebrated Tibetan culture for over two hours, but we're going to be reminded at the end, who is in charge and what we, as the audience, should be thinking when we leave.  One can only wonder if the Tibetans would agree with this? 

Tomorrow, the final chapter in this adventure covering summer palaces, even more food adventures, a foot massage and our departure.

If you want to see more pictures from the trip, you'll find them on my FLICKR site