China with Lhasa

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China with Lhasa

  1. 1. China with Lhasa. By Jayant Doshi (from 6th June till 25th June 2013.) (It took almost a year to plan and decide on an itinerary for a trip to China & Lhasa. Rama, my wife, with her experience and expertise negotiated the best possible itinerary. But it was not to be for her. While on the way to the airport we got an urgent call that there had been an accident at home from next door where demolition was taking place. We had minutes to take a decision. As I was the main organiser it was decided that we could not let down twenty two other participants. On the spur of the moment it was decided that I will continue with the trip and Rama will go back in the same taxi. ) We left Heathrow for our short flight to Amsterdam, and from there to Shanghai where we reached on time at 2.00 p.m. on the afternoon of 7th June. It was raining and for safety and security reasons the passengers were not allowed to disembark. We spent two and half hours in the plane in sweltering heat before we got permission to disembark. In all the years of my travel I experienced such delay for such reasons for the first time. Rain was not heavy though winds were strong and we could not understand the reason for not being allowed to come out. After landing and clearing our bags, we met the tour manager and the local guide. While our bags were loaded onto the coach we walked to the nearby station to take one of the fastest trains to the city – going at 300 kilo metres per hour. We reached the hotel by 7.00, checked into our rooms and had our dinner. After dinner there were introductions done and everyone retired to their rooms at the end of a long and tiring day.
  2. 2. We had a young man for our tour manager and a cook who had been brought from India. We had a lavish meal on the first day and our group members felt it was too much and asked the cook to simplify the meals. Our food was mostly cooked in the hotel we stayed in. For breakfast, besides what the hotel offered, we had one hot item made by our cook. Lunch was also made in the hotel and we would come back from sightseeing to get our hot delicious lunch. We started at 8.30 on our first day with a visit to a museum which gave us a glimpse of greatness of China’s past. The museum represented China’s ancient art with 120000 artefacts exhibited consisting of bronze, ceramics, calligraphy, furniture, jades, ancient coins, paintings, seals, sculptures and various art pieces. To do justice to all these would need a few days. We walked around the huge museum complex stopping at interesting artefacts and glancing at others. Shanghai is the largest and one of the ancient cities in China. We passed through vehicle free shopping area. We visited the Jade Buddha temple where a large statute of Buddha made from jade is revered by its followers. While we witnessed scores of devotees doing the prayers, the temple gave the impression of a commercial enterprise rather than just a place of worship. After lunch at our hotel we continued our sightseeing by visiting Yu Yuan Garden first conceived in 1559. A rich family had made the garden for their daughters to enjoy nature. Unlike European gardens which are meticulously planned in a geometrical style, Chinese gardens follow the terrain and make the garden accordingly. The exquisitely beautiful building of the original owners still stood in the gardens. Later we spent some time in the local market and observed the life of the people. In the evening we went to see the acrobatic show. The show, the settings, costumes and the whole setup was amazing. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the show. On 9th June, second day of our sightseeing started also at 8.30 and our first visit was to a water village which was built in the 10th century along a canal and river. Now it has become a booming tourist attraction. The village has some lovely houses. While one would expect to see a reflexion of local life it was apparent that the village was more for tourists. Later we visited a silk factory where we got a demonstration of how silk is made from cocoons. Our group bought some quilts and pillows made from raw silk. We visited flea market where anything and everything, but one has to be extremely brave and good at
  3. 3. bargaining. Later we visited the tall 265 metres high TV tower and walked on glass platform though the weather did not allow us to see much. A huge circular elevated path for pedestrians, first one in the world, has been shown on the internet and we were able to see the same from this tower. In the evening we had booked a river cruise. Some of our members were tired and felt like cancelling the trip, but the trip was worth it with a good view of the skyline on both sides of the river and Shanghai lights at night. However it was raining and misty during the boat ride. We had a 5.00 a.m. early wake up as we were flying to Guilin. After reaching the hotel in Guilin everyone caught up with their sleep as we had a late lunch. Our first sight seeing was Elephant Trunk Hill. There is a huge rock formation of an elephant shape by the confluence of the Yang and Li rivers, and looks as if its trunk is dipping into the water. Later we visited River Flute Caves with lights and waterfall at a height. This was followed by a four lake cruise when we passed gold pagoda. There was music and dancing along the lakes but we had no time to stop. Near the hotel was building where water was flowing from top to the bottom covering the full fascia of the building. This was like a fountain but with a new idea water came down from top of the building and with the lights the scene was spectacular. Amount of water that was being wasted is beyond imagination. After a long day members were tired but the cruise was worth it and enjoyed by all. Morning was free time and we all opted to take a ride on the ski lift in the mountains of Guilin. The ski lifts carried us over the valleys and mountains with lush greenery and wonderful views all around. There was tabbogoning in the valleys. Some of us decided to be adventurous and enjoyed it. We walked around the hills and visited a tea factory demonstrating various types of teas. After lunch we had a cruise on River Li. It took us three hours of driving to reach the river cruise. Guilin has huge population (32 million as per the guide) and the town was like a concrete jungle with huge blocks of flats. But during our 3 hour drive we could hardly see any people even in the town. One of our members very aptly commented “where are all the 1.3 billion hiding!” The two hour cruise along the river took us through the valley with mountains on each side, and hills looking like dumplings. The water show at night was cancelled because of bad weather. It was 10.00 by the time we reached the hotel. It was an early start on the next day when we took the flight to Chongqing. We had an early lunch followed by a visit to a museum
  4. 4. with impressive hand paintings. Later we visited the zoo with almost 2000 animals and in particular the world famous Chinese pandas. After dinner we boarded the cruise ship. Compared to river cruise boats this was large ship with lots of facilities. But unlike other cruise ships every facility had a charge. Swimming pool, which was not much larger then a big bath tub had a charge and when we wanted to play cards there was a charge also. We spent time on the top deck viewing the scenery, or playing cards as there was not much else to do. One day we went out to visit a Pagoda. It was a steep walk but refreshing after spending all the time on board. Overall the three nights on the cruise ship were invigorating and restful after the hectic tour schedule so far and more to follow. On board we had welcome program, acupuncture class and a Chinese class on something that was similar to mudras and ayurveda. One day we saw intricate painting on glass bottles. It was fascinating and wonderful. We also attended majong (board game popular in China) lesson. We took a boat ride through canals of the river and passed many gorges. At dinner time Rama’s birthday was celebrated in her absence. It was nice of everyone to think of her on her important birthday. After dinner there was a program by the passengers and our group took part and presented a dance. With no time for preparation and lack of right music the group did the best they could. After drinks in my cabin we went to see the locks which allowed the cruise ship to go to a lower level. We were told that a lift system is being constructed whereby the ships will be picked up and dropped at whatever level they need to go without the need to go through the time consuming lock system. On 15th June we left the cruise and had a panoramic view of the Yangtse River Dam which is world recognised a remarkable engineering feat. After a lunch of Chinese vegetarian food we had a long drive to the airport to fly to Xian. We reached Xian at 8.30 at night. Xian was established more than 4000 years back and was the capital of China till 14th century. Xian was the largest city and became the capital of China after it was united by what became the first Emperor of China. Later the capital was moved to Beijing. We had a chef with us and most of our lunches and dinners were cooked by him though at times he had limitations and restrictions that curtailed his work. He also cooked one hot item at breakfast but by the time his dish came on the table most of the group already had what was on offer in the hotel breakfast buffet. Being all vegetarians we
  5. 5. had the luxury of delicious food at all times though on the negative side we missed the opportunity to taste local cuisine and savour the local atmosphere. On a group holiday it is not easy to please everyone. While some felt the tour was too hectic, others wanted to make the most of their time while here. It was in 1974 that a farmer made the first discovery of Terra Cotta soldier. The first Emperor of China was buried with the whole Terra Cotta army, numbering as much as 10000, to protect him in afterlife. These have been the most important excavations of 20th century. The farmer at first was paid a small amount but later recognised for his work and rewarded accordingly. Now he signs books and makes a fair living. More excavations have shown existence of thousands of Terra Cotta soldiers. We were taken to a factory and a demonstration given of how these Terra Cotta statutes are made. The Terra Cotta museums are housed in huge buildings. The excavations are still in progress and the site has been declared as World Heritage Site. As we had no guide inside these buildings we just had a whirl wind walk around three huge warehouse type buildings with excavations and digging of Terra Cotta bodies still under progress. It is estimated that restoration of these excavations, and more excavations, will still take a few more decades. After lunch rest of the group opted for rest, I took the opportunity to walk around the shops and get a feel of the local life. Later we visited the Xian city wall which is a huge structure and still in good state. It has a width of 18 metres at base tapering to 12 metres at the top. The guide was not helpful at all and we just walked around the wall to see the ancient enclosed city within the walls. Xian city wall is the most ancient defensive wall that has survived in a good state to this day. In the evening we were to visit a 1300 years old Pagoda but the guide did not mention this. Some of us, after long unnecessary walk, did manage to go and see the Pagoda, rest of the group missed the opportunity. Later we went to see the most fabulous Tang Dynasty Show with excellent colourful costumes and wonderful acrobatics. Next morning we flew to Beijing and after lunch went to see the Summer Palace and the lake which was built for the Queen Mother. We had a pleasant walk in the gardens and saw the palace from the outside. On our way back, we had a photo stop for the Bird’s Nest - the Olympic stadium. Later we visited the Fake Market where, as the name indicates, one can buy all sorts of items knowing they are fakes. While most of the group members went bargain hunting, I went for a wonderful foot massage. Once at the hotel one of the group members was taken to hospital because of some rash on
  6. 6. the body. After consulting the doctors it was decided that the member with rash should return to London instead of coming with the group to Lhasa. We went to see China Wall, the longest wall and one of the wonders of the world. From the satellite this is the only man made structure which can be seen and identified. We walked on the wall for almost one and half hours. We took a small roller coaster type of ride to the valley where we saw black bears caged in a well. From top of the wall one can see the valleys and hills surrounding the area. After a Chinese lunch for a change we went to see Ming Tomb. It has a sandalwood palace and no metal is used in construction of the palace. The tombs were made for queens and other royal figures and the area has many smaller tombs. It also had a huge statute of a former Emperor. Later in the evening we went to see a stage show called “Golden Queen Dynasty” with its wonderful colourful costumes and dancing. But the most amazing part was at the end when the story line was flooding and the whole stage was actually flooded with water and water came right up to where the audience were sitting. Water also spills out from side galleries. This was the most amazing finale to the show. From the actual 24 original members 6 were leaving us at the end of China trip and 18 were to go to Lhasa. But one dropped out from London, and one was flying back due to health reasons so only 16 members were left for Lhasa trip. I had some problems sorting out room sharing. Ultimately everything was sorted out. We said our goodbyes to those who were flying to London next day. On 19th June morning Lhasa group flew to Xinning to catch the train. The flight was delayed and we were all tense because if we missed our train than the only choice would be to cancel Tibet train journey – and our trip to Lhasa. Once we were off the plane we all rushed to catch our train to Lhasa. We just made it. There was no one to help out and our tickets were all printed in Chinese with only numbers written in English. Luckily we found a young Chinese man who helped us out. We were all scattered in various cabins though in same compartment. Each cabin had 6 berths and just about enough space to sit on the lower berth. The top berth hardly allowed for the passenger to lift the head. The corridor outside the cabins was narrow and it had folding seats which were all occupied. We struggled to move our bags in that limited space. Luckily we managed to get some passengers to change their berths and we got two cabins to
  7. 7. ourselves. Rest were scattered. In my cabin three old Tibetans were sitting who would not listen or move and we had to just accept the upper berths. Train had a restaurant where we would go to get some freedom of movement and ease but there also after a while we were asked to move. Some of our group had good sleep while others struggled. We had simple dried food for our meals. Two of the members complained of breathing problems. I had lingering headache which did not budge even after taking pain killers. I was warned that the toilets are very dirty on the train but fortunately we did not experience any such issue. All along the route the scenery was fabulous with mountains, some covered with snow, rivers, blue or cloudy skies and greenery or rocky hills. Hardly any people could be seen on the way but presence of Chinese soldiers was very visible. Visiting Tibet was dream come true for many but it is not easy to visit this place. As I had been to Kailas Mansarovar, this was my second visit though to different part of the country. Firstly one has to obtain China visa without mentioning Tibet at all, and then the tour agents apply for Tibet visas. One has to specify exact program day by day and the hotels one is going to stay in. To visit Tibet one has to be in a group of at least eight people. No diversions or free travelling is permitted. So during our stay in China we saw only what was planned – no opportunity to see local life, or witness poverty or slums, and no possibility of talking as hardly anyone can speak or understand English. Even the guides refrained from answering any political or controversial point. We arrived in Lhasa and by the time we reached the hotel it was late afternoon. It was sunny and warm contrary to what we had been warned to be prepared for extreme cold. We were strongly advised not to take a bath, nor to do any hectic activity. I was worried about the effect altitude will have on passengers but all seemed fine except one passenger. I had lingering headache since I boarded the train and I decided to take one altitude sickness tablet to be on the safe side. Our rooms were very hot and I could not sleep. Few of us went for a walk along the main road and round the corner we found the city square. There were police and soldiers everywhere. Soldiers with rifles were on roof tops. Police were fully prepared for stopping monks from self-immolation with a few fire extinguishers, blankets and metal rods to hold a burning person. On one side of the square was a pagoda and there were followers doing ritual prayers outside the pagoda. On our way back I saw a place where blind people were giving
  8. 8. massage. I took advantage of the same and found it relaxing. We walked around the area after dinner. The traditional Tibetan houses have colourful fascia and designs. But Lhasa being developed by the Chinese with modern concrete buildings will erase the beautiful heritage of Tibet. Within short distance from our hotel, and within the city of Lhasa is the fabulous and gigantic Potala Palace built on the slopes of the hills. It was originally built in the 7th century and rebuilt in 17th century. It has over 1000 rooms and from the grounds the huge structure looks awesome and huge. Walking up the steps to reach the top was daunting and difficult. The Palace used to be the residence of Dalai Lamas and house their tombs also. Tons of gold has been used in these tombs, pagodas and elsewhere. Since the present Dalai Lama left the country the palace is used by monks.
  9. 9. After lunch we went to see the Pagoda in the square. This was the same square where we had walked previous evening and seen the Pagoda from the outside. The temple was totally controlled and security checked by Chinese police. The temple was huge with lots of statutes and tombs also. Lot of gold has been used in the place. After going back to hotel I tried to sleep but the room was too hot to sleep even though it was cloudy and cooler than day before. After early dinner some of us went for a Tibetan show. It was a wonderful show with colourful costumes and gave an inkling of Tibetan culture and life. On return to the hotel we were told that one of our group members had some health problems and needed urgent treatment. Next morning we visited Sera Monastery which is one of the three university monasteries of Tibet. This was followed by visits to some Dalai Lama palaces surrounded by beautiful park. In one monastery a debate was going on amongst young monk students and we sat there fascinated by the way the debate was conducted. Under the shade of a huge tree sat about 50 or so monks, each in groups of three. Two would be sitting on the ground while the third would be standing and giving answers. When a point was raised the standing monk would take a big step, slamming his foot on the ground and clap very loudly with two hands to make his point. While we understood nothing, just watching this action was fascinating. We flew to Beijing next day and by the time we reached hotel it was late. Next morning we packed our bags and checked out from the hotel. It was going to be a long day. In the morning we visited Tiananmen Square made famous by the riots in 1989. Even to this day the security is very tight and while we could see hundreds of tourists hardly any local people could be seen in the square. This square is the largest in the world and can hold as much as 500,000 people. After the riots of 1989 there is that constant fear that there could be repetition of the same as such the government is being over cautious. Right near the square are the Palaces of Ming and Qing dynasties called the Forbidden City. As lot of walking was involved some of our members opted to hire wheel chairs. After lunch we were taken to the Olympic Park as some members wanted to take photos from near the stadium. Later we went to the fake market where everyone got busy shopping while I had a wonderful massage. While in Beijing I witnessed censorship at first hand. There was BBC program with David Cameron answering questions. I kept the
  10. 10. television on for an hour but as soon as Mr Cameron started talking the sound was cut off and half picture was blocked. China follows a different political system so we have no right to criticise it. But reading the news, and seeing the country one wonders how long this gagging of the masses can be feasible. On one of the internal flights we had a Chinese guy speaking good English and settled in USA. The conversation sums up the issue perfectly. To the question what did you think of China, one passenger replied “very nice” and another one said “What we saw of it.” And that American laughed in agreement. We saw the impressive skyscrapers, and modern roads and flyovers, we saw clean and neat modern China, we saw malls and crowds, we saw highly developed cities and modern facilities – but what we did not see was the real China, its country side, its masses and any poverty or slums. On such a tour it is difficult to please everyone. Some feel the itinerary is hectic and tiring and would prefer more free time to relax and rest. While others feel that after spending all that money on the trip they would prefer to make the most of it and see as much as possible. Overall everyone in the group intermingled and mixed with each other. Punctuality and time keeping was excellent. While we never got an opportunity to sit and talk after dinner, we had plenty of opportunities to talk in the coaches. The trip overall was wonderful and memorable. (Email : jayubhai@btinternet.com Website : www.jayantdoshi.yolasite.com ) Camera Uploads (file://JUDPC1/Users/J%20U%20Doshi/SkyDrive/China/Camera%20Uploads

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