Tag Archives: Tibet

Foto Friday: Tibetan Grandfather and Grandson

Somewhere in Tibet
June 2010

Tibetan grandfather and grandson

We had taken a stop at a tsampa (barley flour) mill when we met this Tibetan grandfather and grandson waiting by the side of the road for someone to stop and bring them to their destination. A few vehicles passed by and none ever stopped to give them a ride. I can’t recall where they were going to exactly but they were headed in the same direction as we were. My friend asked our guide (it’s mandatory for foreigners to hire a guide and a bus/van when travelling in Tibet) whether they could join us on the bus, but our guide said no, explaining that tourist vehicles were not allowed to pick up locals. When we left, the Tibetan grandfather and grandson were still standing there waiting for a kind soul to pick them up. I wonder whether they ever managed to hitch a ride.

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Every photograph we take contains a story, but we often do not spend enough time sharing that story with others. Hence, Foto Friday was born to give some recognition to these forgotten photographs and the memories they hold. Taken over many trips (2004-present) using my crappy cameras and whatever minimal photography skills I have, these photographs serve to give you a little insight into my travels. And if you haven’t realised by now, they’ll be out on Fridays.

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Foto Friday: The Hairy Animals of Tibet

Shigatse, Tibet
June 2010

Hairy Cat

A phenomenon I was intrigued while travelling through Tibet was the amount of fur/hair that their animals possessed. Besides the yaks that have naturally long hair, the other animals just looked a little too hairy. The cats and dogs all looked like the types of breed we’re used to in Singapore, (but then again, I’m not really familiar with the difference between breeds of animals), just hairier.

I almost feel silly posting up this photo and talking about hair/fur. Most of the areas on the Tibetan Plateau sit above 4,000m, so how surprising is it that their animals are just a little extra hairy? After all they do need the extra fur to keep warm.

But say, doesn’t the cat’s butt look like Wolverine?

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Every photograph we take contains a story, but we often do not spend enough time sharing that story with others. Hence, Foto Friday was born to give some recognition to these forgotten photographs and the memories they hold. Taken over many trips (2004-present) using my crappy cameras and whatever minimal photography skills I have, these photographs serve to give you a little insight into my travels. And if you haven’t realised by now, they’ll be out on Fridays.

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Of life, beer, and the people we meet.

It’s amazing how much can happen in a single train ride. For starters, I’m not even in Xining (Qinghai province) now, but in Xi’an (Shaanxi province) right now. And in case you were wondering, no, we did not board the wrong train thinking that Xi’an was in fact Xining given the similarities of their names. And no, we also did not miss our stop and ended up somewhere an additional 12-hour train ride away from my original destination.

 

When we first boarded our train, HX and I discovered we weren’t even seated next to each other; we were separated by an aisle. She was sitting next to these two Swiss girls who were also in the same tour group as we were in in Tibet, while I was seated next to an old man heading to Lanzhou. ‘Fate’ had it when the two Swiss girls, deciding that a 48-hour train ride to Beijing was too long to endure while seated, managed to obtain an upgrade to “hard sleeper” class, and so, HX and I shifted in and took over their seats. Seated opposite us were two Tibetian students who were also about our age and another Han Chinese guy. 

Because of that now one empty seat and our ‘prime’ location at the start of the carriage near the train attendants’ office, there were always two train attendants who always took the opportunity to skive and chatted with all of us seated there. Our conversations somehow always revolved around HX’s and my trip to Xining as well as life in Singapore. Everyone kept asking us why we were heading to Xining when there’s not much to do there. The two Tibetian guys, who studied in Xi’an for four years and were heading back for graduation, as well as the Han Chinese guy, who lived near Xi’an, told us that Xi’an was more fun and even the two train attendants agreed. 

Crazy as it seemed at that point, within the first eight hours of our ride, we knew that we had to go to Xi’an. We figured that since our friend, Seng, was only going to meet us in Xining on the 10th, meaning that we would be staying in Xining for at least a good six days, it was more wise for us to head elsewhere first. And, of course, the decision was made easier now that we knew two people who were practically local to Xi’an, and with whom we got along with very well – The Tibetian guys. 

Though they initially spoke to each other in Tibetian and we spoke to each other in English, we hit it off quite quickly in our only common language – Mandarin. 

We discovered over the course of our trip how generous Tibetians are. Perhaps it is due to their Buddhist nature or their good upbringing, but they never hesistated to share with us everything, sometimes even forcing us to accept the food and drinks they seemed to have plenty of. Air-dried yak meat straight from the bone, gua zi, chicken feet snacks, milk tea, chang wine, Budweiser beer, more Budweiser beer, HuangHe Beer (okay you get it – a hell a lot of beer). Oh and cigarettes too, which we kindly declined.’ 

Eating air-dried Yak meat straight from the bone

Eating air-dried Yak meat straight from the bone

Chang, Yak and Chicken Feet

Chang, Yak and Chicken Feet

These people really knew how to enjoy a good train ride. All they had with them were a luggage full of food and drinks, and perhaps just about one extra set of clothes.  

We spent most of our time hanging out with them at the lunch carriage where we drank and drank a lot. Did I mention we drank a lot? You really don’t want to know that we finished 31 bottles x 330ml of Budweisers during the 36-hour ride. Whoops, I didn’t just reveal that. And that does not even include the box of Huanghe beer they bought at a stop, and their stash of Tibetian chang wine. Interestingly, most of the other beer-drinking people in the lunch carriage were Tibetian, and boy did they drink a lot. 

First day of Budweisers

First day of Budweisers

HuangHe Beer

HuangHe Beer

Second day of Budweisers

Second day of Budweisers

Tiger 'Crystal' Beer. All 24 bottles. At some bar in Xi'an.

Tiger 'Crystal' Beer. All 24 bottles. At some bar in Xi'an.

Pretending to be Yaks

Pretending to be Yaks

  

My alcoholic friends would indeed be very proud. 

I guess when beer only costs 10yuan (about S$2) a bottle, it really isn’t that inaccessible. And, to my defense, the beer here is a lot lighter than what we’re used to back home. 

 Bonding over alcohol and some gua zi like old men playing chess at a HDB void deck, four of us quickly realised how ‘fated’ we were. Had the Swiss girls not have upgraded, we probably would have spent most of our time just speaking to them and not much to the Tibetian guys, especially since they were initially not sitting directly opposite us, and we will probably not be here in Xi’an right now. Also, almost the whole carriage was full of people who were much older than we were, yet we were seated so close to each other. How well we connected with each other, and what fun times we had. 

 Before this starts sounding like some epic love story, it really isn’t, but one about how fast life changes and the people we meet along the way who make life more enjoyable. And I’m really glad I got to meet these two people. 

I was just telling HX today that there were a few times in Tibet when I wished we had stayed in Nepal a couple more days since we had a few days to spare anyways. But I’m glad that we left as planned and travelled through Tibet, and got onto the right train from Lhasa at the right time and met our two new friends – Ciren Qujia and Tudan Yixi (direct translations of their Tibetian names).  

  

Ciren Qujia & Tudan Yixi

Ciren Qujia & Tudan Yixi. Cant seem to flip the image.

Photo of a photo taken at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda fountain show. Pardon its blurness

Photo of a photo taken at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda fountain show. Pardon its blurness

Last photo before we had to say goodbye for good.

Last photo before we had to say goodbye for good.

Back to travelling to Xi’an. So, we smsed the owner of our hostel in Xining to inform him of our delay, extended our ticket to Xi’an, and hoped hard that we would be able to find accomodation in Xi’an. So here I am writing this in my journal from my Xi’an hostel dorm room while HX is already snoring (literally. At least she’s not sleep-talking/laughing. Yet, that is.) 

We’ve been here a day (at the point of writing in my journal. And I digress: HX really did just sleep talk, asking if I heard some echo.) and I’m pretty sure we’ll be at least a little sad to leave Xi’an come Wed. 

But I’m learning to accept that’s how life really is: New destinations. New life stories. New amazing people to meet.

 

More random photos: 

View of the endless plains from the Tibet-Qinghai railway

View of the endless plains from the Tibet-Qinghai railway

  

The tracks

The tracks

Some of the people from the Tibet tour. The only ones remaining just before we alighted.

Some of the people from the Tibet tour. The only ones remaining just before we alighted.

PS: We survived the 36-hour ride pretty well. Our bums are still intact, thankfully! I’m not so sure about our livers though. 

 

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Behold the beauty of Tibet

Here are some photos to make you jealous:

Just a teaser. No captions or descriptions. Will take more about the trip later. There’s Nepal to talk about too of course. (Okay, fine. I’m just lazy now. It’s a lot of  effort.)

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24-Hour Train Ride to Xining?

Train ticket to Xining

Yep that’s right. On “hard seat” class no less.

God save our souls.

After a five day road trip through the highlands of Tibet, and another two days spent in Lhasa, we’ll be leaving Tibet tomorrow morning to catch a 24-hour train ride to Xining, in the Qinghai province of China.

I’m  really fearing the ride to be honest. I initially thought that the ride would be a long 30 hours, but even if it’s actually “only” 24 hours, I can imagine that it is going to be a painful ride: Sitting-down-for-24-hours-and-not-being-able-to-lie-down-to-sleep painful. 

The only time I’ve taken such a long train ride was two years ago when my dad, sis and I took a 17-hour train ride into Kiruna (North of Sweden, somewhere in the artic circle). I remember it being rather torturous, and back then, we had a sleeper berth, and tomorrow, it’s going to a seat, a “hard seat” (whatever hard means really.)

Earlier today, while shopping for food for the ride since we figured that the food sold on the train is probably going to be really expensive, it almost felt as if we were stocking up for war:

Cup noodles for 2 meals? Check
Bread for breafkast? Check
Drinks (water and other drinks) to last the ride? Check
Other snacks in case we’re bored/hungry/itchy mouth? Check

Of course the main consolation is that I’m saving 50USD by taking the seat, which will probably cover my accomodation in Xining. Also, the scenery from the oxygen-pumped train (yep that’s right) as it goes through the Tibetian plateau is supposed to be AMAZING. Besides, being in a railway that has been deemed as an astronomical engineering feat would probably be an experience in itself. And at the risk of schadenfreude, our two friends, ZB and Lek, who travelled in Nepal and Tibet with us, are taking a 42-hour train ride to Chengdu on a “hard seat” the following day. Good luck to them man. Good luck to us, especially our bums.

Will let you know if I survive the ride.

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In Shigatse, Tibet

After spending close to three weeks in Nepal (Kathmandu, Pokhara, Annapurna Region, Nagarkot), I’m now in Shigatse, Tibet.

We just spent almost two whole days on the road (13 hours yesterday, and 10 hours today) across barren lands, passing through hills and mountains, through 5000m high passes, and here we are in the second largest biggest city of Tibet.

The bus trip has been more pleasant that I had previously expected. With views of Mt Everest (or Qomolangma as they call it here), Mt Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, there’s really nothing to complain about. Except perhaps the toilets (that stink, literally and figuratively), when they are actually available that is.

Besides being wowed by the awesome views of nature, I’ve been very highly impressed with the level of infrastructure here in Tibet. Imagine electrical poles set up here at above 3800m, well-paved tarred roads, proper petrol kiosks, mobile reception at 5000m, proper drains next to the roads, solar panels, and great Internet facilities (we’re now sitting in a huge lan shop). Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in Nepal, where even traffic lights, clean water, and tarred roads are a rarity, at least in Kathmandu. But I would think it’s quite a feat to set up such infrastructure at such high altitudes.

Alright, gotta run. It’s 11 pm here (same time as SG, though the sun only set about an hour ago. ha!) and we gotta walk about 20 mins back to our hotel (our first luxurious stay in 3 weeks. Not that we had a choice, it’s part of the mandatory package we need to take to travel in Tibet.) Off to visit the Tashilumpo Monastry and the Potala Palace tomorrow (if they decide to open) tomorrow.

And sorry for the lack of updates. Been away from the online world quite a bit.

Will blog about Nepal soon hopefully. I miss it already.

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