Tibet 2000: Lhasa

Gallery 1: Potala Palace

(This is the second instalment of this tale. Part One is Tibet 2000: introduction).

We arrived in Tibet full of optimism. There were six of us: myself and John, C, a young Italian/American woman and the F family from Austria: mother, father and 17-year old son. The programme was that we flew up to Lhasa (at an altitude of 3650 m, about 12,000 ft), spent a couple of days sightseeing and then returned overland to the border with Nepal. This would be a 5-day drive, with the possibility of a 5-mile walk at the very end where the road into Nepal was often impassable. It would be downhill and there would be porters to carry our bags so it didn’t sound too bad. The best laid plans…..

Gallery 2: Barkhor Square and the Jokhang

We were met at the airport by W, our Chinese guide, and driven into Lhasa (one and a half hours away) in a very rickety bus which we were dismayed to learn was our transport for the week – we were expecting the roads in Tibet to be a bit rough and it didn’t seem up to it. Still, the Hotel Lhasa was very plush and we were to have three nights there, so things didn’t look too bad especially as our first evening was a success. C, John and I went out to find a restaurant and, as we had followed our guide’s directions wrongly, we missed the tourist ones and ended up on a street where all the restaurants were aimed at Chinese locals. However, we found one that had its name in English as well as Chinese and we took the fact that it was busy as a good sign. When we went in, we caused total consternation amongst both staff and customers. Such an invasion of foreigners had obviously never happened before. Eventually, a diner with some rudimentary English was found, we were ushered into a separate room and he helped us to order some food. It was excellent, and cost less than a fiver for all three of us. As we ate, we congratulated ourselves on how well we were feeling – slightly headachey perhaps, but no real symptoms of altitude sickness. Little did we know.

Gallery 4: Drepung Monastery

The year before, John and I visited Quito* (9,000 ft) and felt a little dizzy the first night, but otherwise were fine. The extra 3,000 ft made a huge difference. At two o’clock that morning, we both woke up with the most incredible headaches. I have never felt anything like it. John said it resembled a very bad hangover, but either he has experienced hangovers of a spectacular quality I have never attained, or he was not suffering anything like as much as I was. I thought my head would explode. I thought it would fall off. When I got up the next morning, I could only move in slow motion. All week, this headache stayed with me, usually at a fairly low level, but it could be aggravated by various things such as the sun or the motion of the vehicle and it was always more painful at night so I slept quite badly. To make matters worse, another symptom of altitude sickness is loss of appetite and I suffered from this too. Most people will find that hard to believe of me, but it’s true. Typically, I acclimatised on the day before we left Tibet when I began to feel quite human again.

Gallery 4: Sera Monastery

We were joined for our two days’ sightseeing by V, a large Russian, who entertained us all at top volume to his views on the Russian military and the shortcomings of Tibetan food (it wasn’t Western enough) in perfect, if pedantic, English. We could tell W didn’t like him, especially when he called him Comrade. We were supposed to meet up again a couple of days down the road, but this never happened. Our last, incongruous, sight of him was when he was despatched in a tiny rickshaw back to his hotel on the second day. We did ask about him later in the week, but apparently he had disappeared and we never heard what happened to him. We saw the Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama, and three monasteries. All contained gloomy rooms, glorious golden Buddhas and many red-robed monks. However, my strongest memory is of the smell of yak butter candles which permeated everywhere and didn’t help with my queasiness.

Find out what happens when we set out on the road in Thursday’s instalment.

*See Q is for Quito from 2014’s A to Z Challenge.

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66 thoughts on “Tibet 2000: Lhasa

  1. Traveling Rockhopper July 25, 2016 / 10:59

    Great story, however it would be much better without this horrible headache…
    It’s a pity your guide was Chinese, not Tibetan, but we don’t always have a choice here…
    Observing debating monks was probably the most unique experience from Lhasa. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anabel Marsh July 25, 2016 / 11:12

      Thanks!

      Yes, no choice – this was not even the company we booked with, we’d been passed down a chain. The debating monks were amazing, I agree.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Su Leslie July 25, 2016 / 11:34

    Oh lord, this is so shaping up to be the best kind of dinner party story. The kind that are totally riveting, but you know it’s taken time for the sharp edges to be worn off the memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anabel Marsh July 25, 2016 / 11:42

      I think we did dine out on it for years! Everyone we know has heard it, so it’s great to have a new audience.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. claudiabookwright July 25, 2016 / 12:42

    The trip sounds awful, but the photos are stunning. Sounds like you had your share (and that of three other people) of altitude sickness. I can empathize. I really do try to properly hydrate before and during trips into the high country, but have gotten the headache and nausea typical of altitude sickness anyway. I’ve always done well driving through Rocky Mountain National Park which tops out at 12,183 feet above sea level. Trips to Breckenridge and up Pike’s Peak have been more problematic. Maybe I just hadn’t drunk enough water. I am getting better though.

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 25, 2016 / 12:58

      We followed all the advice and still got the headache! It can be quite random – a few years later we went up Kinabalu and John felt worse than I did, yet here it was the other way round. We’ll see how we fare in Colorado!

      Like

  4. TanGental July 25, 2016 / 13:10

    oh altitude sickness; it crippled me in Peru for a while the worst thing not so much the headache as the teeth ache… I could barely open my mouth for 3 days

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 25, 2016 / 13:34

      Ooh, not had that variation – sounds nasty. I want to go to Machu Picchu but my previous experiences with altitude are holding me back.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental July 26, 2016 / 00:43

        Manchu apiculture isn’t so high and we’d acclimatised by then but day two and the Colca canyon to see the Condor nearly did for me.

        Like

  5. anotherday2paradise July 25, 2016 / 13:52

    I experienced altitude sickness the night we arrived in La Paz, but fortunately, it was gone the next day. Not pleasant at all. 😦 Tibet must be a fascinating place to visit.

    Like

  6. restlessjo July 25, 2016 / 14:37

    I liked this most reluctantly 🙂 Does the headache respond to medication, Anabel? I can’t imagine a more ruinous thing on holiday (though I suspect you have another trick or two up your sleeve 🙂 )

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 25, 2016 / 14:53

      It seemed to be beyond medication….just time to acclimatise. Flying straight in is not the best way to do it. Our original itinerary would have had us going in by road and flying out, but that would probably never have happened for reasons which will become clear. Oh yes, things get MUCH worse!

      Like

  7. Liesbet July 25, 2016 / 14:49

    I have – luckily – never experienced altitude sickness, I think. It sounds awful. I once climbed a pretty high volcano in Indonesia and felt very light-headed and a bit nauseous. I think that is as close as I have gotten to this sickness. I am familiar with strong headaches and they are very debilitating. I hope you did get some enjoyment out of this adventure! I will have to wait and see…

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 25, 2016 / 14:55

      That sounds like the same thing but milder. It’s not nice at all! We did enjoy some things but……. You’ll just have to read on!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Suzanne et Pierre July 25, 2016 / 15:13

    Great story. I have a friend who has been to Tibet a few times and this reminds me of her stories though she was there with a Tibetan Monk to help build a school which is slightly different than your visit…but it was still very similar experiences. (Suzanne)

    Like

  9. ms6282 July 25, 2016 / 15:30

    Certainly a bad start. But some good experiences too? Definitely wise to avoid altitude if it affects you so badly. Never been higher than Snowdon myself so lucky not to have experienced it. Wouldn’t be surprised if I reacted the same way as you. though.

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 25, 2016 / 15:36

      Oh, things go downhill rapidly….. (except, technically we’re still going uphill!)

      Liked by 1 person

      • ms6282 July 25, 2016 / 16:01

        Hope there are some positives to relate, too. Certainly a learning experience

        Liked by 1 person

  10. susan@onesmallwalk July 25, 2016 / 16:05

    Sounds like this may be one of those times that it’s more fun to tell the story after-the-fact! Eager for more…

    Like

  11. Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor July 25, 2016 / 16:26

    This is fascinating – can’t wait for the next installments. While I haven’t been at super high altitudes, I definitely can feel it when I’m at a higher altitude then I’m used to. I like the idea of having your appetite suppressed, but not along with all of the other symptoms 🙂

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 25, 2016 / 17:14

      No – and when your appetite comes back, it comes with a vengeance!

      Like

  12. Retirementallychallenged.com July 25, 2016 / 16:42

    Oh this sounds awful… and I guess it just gets worse! I have never experienced altitude sickness, thank god. I don’t know if I’ve not been high enough (altitude-wise, not drugs 🙂 ), or if I am, thankfully, not susceptible. Sorry about your experience, but I’m looking forward to your next installment!

    Like

  13. Birgit July 25, 2016 / 17:31

    It’s a shame when something you loved to see is also with the memories of how ill you were. I have never experienced altitude sickness but it sounds horrible. Is there anything one can chew on to help this out. I saw something one can chew on when one is in South America but can’t remember the name of it. I wonder what happened to that Russian but thankfully he did disappear. No matter what, this is a once in a lifetime trip to see and experience this.

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 25, 2016 / 18:21

      Thanks Birgit – definitely once in a lifetime, never, never to be repeated!

      Like

  14. Jemima Pett July 25, 2016 / 22:32

    Machu Picchu is way lower than Cuzco which is a bit lower than Lhasa. La Paz is higher (as is Lake Titicaca), and my problem there was nose bleeds. Cuzco needs taking steadily, but you’ll be fine doing the bus/train to MP from there. Drink coca tea 😉

    You sound like you had the worst of all companions joining you on this trip… looking forward to the next instalment. 🙂

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 25, 2016 / 22:38

      Ugh, nosebleeds! I’m prone to them so that doesn’t augur well 😦 The Russian guy was a pain but the others were lovely.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Lemonpath July 26, 2016 / 05:35

    Beautiful Monasteries, shame you had some altitude sickness, looking forward to the next post.

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 26, 2016 / 07:39

      Thanks, I’m enjoying reliving this. But glad I don’t have to go through it again…..

      Like

  16. Becky B July 26, 2016 / 07:42

    Horrid horrid – you were lucky to acclimatise even if it was on last day as usually the only solution is to return to sea level.
    Have you read ‘Hotel on the Roof of the World’ brilliant memoirs on running a hotel in Lhasa which captures perfectly the Chinese/Russian/Tibetan relationships!

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 26, 2016 / 07:46

      Yes, I have! Someone lent me that before we went, and in fact that was the hotel we stayed in, though it was under different management by then. The hotel was fine to stay in – the least of our worries.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Becky B July 26, 2016 / 07:50

        Phew, hate to think of those ‘Tibetan Hamsters’ visiting you!!!

        Like

        • Anabel Marsh July 26, 2016 / 07:57

          It’s the person falling into a cesspit that I remember! We didn’t see that. It was like staying in any branch of a western chain hotel.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Becky B July 26, 2016 / 08:02

            Well I guess that is good although a little part of me wishes they had kept some of the character but not the cesspit!

            Liked by 1 person

  17. Sarah Ferguson and Choppy July 26, 2016 / 18:22

    I am imagining this bus as very similar to some of the ones I had the ‘pleasure’ of taking while I studied abroad in China around this time.

    I’m already a bit apprehensive to hear about the mountain roads and that thing.

    Like

  18. Ann Coleman July 26, 2016 / 19:09

    So sorry about the altitude sickness! And I wonder whatever happened to the man from Russia. I have to say, you’ve sparked my curiosity, and I’m eager to read the next installment!

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 26, 2016 / 20:00

      Perhaps he is still wandering Tibet! It was all very mysterious.

      Like

  19. Alex Hurst July 27, 2016 / 05:49

    You know, no one I’ve ever come across has mentioned the altitude sickness before. That must have been awful…. but at least you found a restaurant even without your guide! In Korea, we were practically ushered into places without the staff bothering to ask our consent, haha.

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 27, 2016 / 07:06

      It was absolutely dreadful! We became much more dependent on the guide after Lhasa.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Blue Sky Scotland July 28, 2016 / 16:34

    I’ve had similar effects climbing in the Alps above 12’000 feet. It certainly put me off anything higher than Mont Blanc. Surprised you stuck it out as I couldn’t wait to get down and amazed you felt like taking the quality photos you have here. Must be male hangover training kicking in:o) Off to part three…

    Like

  21. Marcia Strykowski July 29, 2016 / 00:55

    Yuck, altitude sickness sounds horrible. Good you can laugh about your memories now!

    Like

    • Anabel Marsh July 29, 2016 / 07:43

      Tried to keep laughing at the time too – you know the saying: if you didn’t laugh you’d cry!

      Like

  22. rosemaylily2014 July 31, 2016 / 08:35

    So sorry you suffered from altitude sickness Anabel – would have certainly taken the edge of your enjoyment of the holiday 😦 We’ve been up to 3000 metres in Switzerland and I felt fine though Monsieur LC didn’t – he doesn’t do well on heights at all. I’m very much enjoying your Tibetan series and just off to read the next instalment! 🙂

    Like

  23. darwinontherocks August 1, 2016 / 15:16

    What a story ! Altitude sicknss is never fun.. it’s awful when it’s happening and there is nothing you can do about it 😦

    Like

  24. jazzfeathers August 12, 2016 / 20:21

    Well, if this is the beginning of the holiday, I nearly fear the rest.
    The story of that Russian guy is quite strange…

    But the pics are just incredible. I hope your remember them fondly in spite of the queasiness.

    Like

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