Friday, January 16, 2009

Lhasa - Tibet Part 1

Potala Palace
Originally uploaded by jimwink

Our next stop on our vacation was Lhasa, Tibet. Even though Tibet is part of mainland China the Chinese government keeps a careful watch of who enters or leaves Tibet. When we booked our trip we had to submit copies of our passports and work visas. The tour company then arranged to get us a permit to enter Lhasa. This is the reason why we went to Chengdu first. It is one of the entry points into Tibet.

Our first day in Lhasa was spent in the hotel, acclimating to the altitude. Lhasa elevation is about 3650m (11,975ft or 2.25mi). Everything we read about Lhasa told us that we will need a day to get adjusted to the altitude. We definitely needed it. I think we both experienced a little of every symptom from altitude sickness. But later that evening we started feeling better and even took a walk to the local convenience store.

The next morning we headed to our first historic site in Lhasa, The Potala Palace. Construction was started by the fifth Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso, in 1645. If you are wondering,(we did) the current Dalai Lama is the 14th. It is about 13 stories tall contains 1000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues. The Potala Palace was used as the central seat of government and as the winter palace by the Dalai Lama up until the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in 1959. Since then, China has turned the palace into a museum. But as we toured the palace you still got a strong sense of it as a religious shrine. Monks still roam the halls and pilgrims still make offerings every chance they can.

Jokhang Temple
Originally uploaded by jimwink

After all the hiking and climbing at the Potala Palace we were starving. We then headed to place called Lhasa Kitchen for lunch. It was really nice, with English menus and English speaking staff. And the hot chocolate was the perfect way to warm up.

Our next stop was the Jokhang Temple on Barkhor Square. It is the first Buddhist temple built in Tibet during the reign of King Songsten Gampo between 605 and 650. It was to celebrate his marriage with a Tang Dynasty, Chinese princess named Wencheng, who was Buddhist. The name Jokhang means the 'House of the Buddha'.

Barkhor Street
Originally uploaded by jimwink

Surrounding Jokhang Temple is a circular street named Barkhor Street. And it is the place to be if you want to do some shopping. It is said that after the temple was built, due to its magnificence, it quickly attracted thousands of Buddhist pilgrims. A path around the temple was created by the pilgrims which has become the path known as Barkhor Street. Even today, pilgrims follow the same path walking around the temple in a clockwise direction, many with the prayer wheels. There was an added benefit to everyone walking in the same direction, it made it easy to negotiate pedestrian traffic. What a concept.

As usual, just click on the photos to see the rest.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chengdu (where the Panda reserve is located)

Originally uploaded by jimwink

Here is the first of many posts for our recent Christmas/New Years' vacation. It was filled with great and unusual food, icy road conditions and crazy taxi drivers among other things. Overall we had a great time. Our first stop on this adventure was Chengdu, near the center of China. It was our gateway into Tibet because visitors have to obtain a special permit to visit the area. We used an agency this time so they arranged everything for us. The name might sound familiar to some, as this was the location of the major earthquake that hit China earlier this year. In fact, the panda reserve that we wanted to visit was partially destroyed so our tour included a different panda reserve. We were still able to see the pandas up close and was able to visit the baby panda area. Unfortunately we were not able to take any photos of the them but I assure you they are very cuddly and playful. All the pandas we did manage to take pictures of were over a year old.

We spent a day and half in Chengdu with very little planned on the agenda. One evening we decided to walk around and see what kind of restaurants we could find. We popped into a couple of them and after looking at the menu (which we couldn't read in Chinese) we decided to head back towards the hotel. Soon we came across something promising. I don't remember the exact name but Steak was part of it. At this point we were both starving and decided to give it a try. Another factor that contributed to us going there was that the place was packed, and if a place scores well with the locals, then it might be worth trying. The menu was in English, the waiter could speak a little and the prices were really cheap. Rachel and I joked about the prices and little did we know, it does make a difference. So with a mix of our broken Chinese and pointing, we ordered what looked like steak and eggs.

After a few minutes our dinners arrived still sizzling on the iron plate with a cover. The server waits for us to hold up our napkins so the oil doesn't splatter all over us, then he removes the cover. Steam rises and reveals a steak, a fried egg and potatoes. It looks great. So we start cutting into the steak and find out why this steak costs about $6 USD. About 80% of it was just fat. What little meat you could find was scattered throughout. We both agreed that it was the worst steak ever. No pictures were taken of this meal...

Well, we hope you enjoy the photos of my favorite animal, the panda. Click on the photo to see the rest.