Suitcase and World: August 2007

Friday, August 31, 2007

Itinerary. Gyantse, Tibet, China

According to the tour itinerary, we leave Lhasa after a 4 day stay and our trek into the remote wilderness of Tibet begins!!

Our first road stop is Gyantse. Along the way we will skirt Yamdrok Tso, a mountain lake a located about 100 km southwest of Lhasa. Yamdrok' in Tibetan means 'upper pasture' and 'Tso' refers to 'lake'. Yamdrok Tso has no perennial source of water and not outlet -it's essentially a "dead" lake. The lake is currently the subject of controversy as the Chinese government has plans to drop the level of the lake by nearly 900m - leveraging the gravitational drop of the water to harness hydroelectric power. Protesting this plan are the Tibetan Bhuddists who consider Yamdrok Tso to be sacred.

Gyantse is the third largest town in Tibet and was the scene in 1904 of a major battle between Tibetans and British troops under Colonel Francis Younghusband as the British invaded Tibet. Despite previous brushes with British firepower, the Tibetans didn't really seem to know what they were up against - they believed that a charm marked with the seal of the Dalai Lama would protect them from British bullets. Firing began with a false alarm and in what has been described by some as one of the most one-sided battles in history, 700 Tibetans were killed in just 4 minutes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No queue. No hassle. I like!

Compared to my experience of getting a tourist visa for India, getting the same for Nepal was ....well, a straightforward experience.

Hand over application, passport and $80 (for a multiple entry visa).

Return in a week and pick up the visa.

Where's the drama?
Where's the confusion?
Where's the hassle?
Where are the queues?
Why am I complaining?

I'll shut up now and just be grateful that I actually got my passport back with the visa attached. I can now enter Nepal!!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Stupas and Chörtens.

The stupa is the earliest form of Buddhist religious monument and was originally only a simple mound made up of mud or clay to cover supposed remains of Buddha. In Tibet, stupas are known as chörtens. Examples of stupas, that I will be visiting on my travels, include Swayambhunath and Boudhanath in Kathmandu and the Gyantse Kumbum in Gyantse, Tibet.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Itinerary. Lhasa, Tibet, China

Going to Tibet was my original inspiration behind this trip. I've always wanted to travel to this remote destination and more so now than ever as I think the cultural heart and soul of Tibet will quickly disappear as the Chinese government seems so determined to assimilate Tibet into the larger "mainland" Chinese society. I fear that when that happens, all that is unique about Tibet will be lost to the world.

Tibetan Prayer Wheel
By the time I reach Lhasa, I will be on the Intrepid tour so I can kick back a bit in terms of not having to plan out each of my travel days in advance. We'll a guide who can give suggestions on things to do and see. Of course, I've pored through my Lonely Planet guide several times and have read my share of fellow travelers' blogs to have put together my own "must see" places.

We'll be in Lhasa for four days to give us time to acclimate to the high altitude. At an elevation of 3658m (around 12,000 feet), Lhasa is the highest city in the world. Though I acclimated well to Cuzco, Peru, I'm still not taking any chances so I will take a slow pace for the first couple of days.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Going down.

Though it's the middle of August, we're enjoying a brief cool wave in temperatures - this after a period of what was for me, unbearably hot and humid weather. I woke up this morning to temps in the high 60's and thought I was in heaven. I can't wait until fall comes around and then winter. Some people absolutely dread cold weather but I don't mind it as long as I'm appropriately dressed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Queue? What queue?

Today, I went to the Indian consulate to pick up my passport and visa.

Flashback to two days ago.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Nepal. The Hindu Festival of Dashain.

Image of of the Hindu goddess, Durga, shown riding her tiger and attacking the demon Mahishasura

I'll start by saying that I don't know anything about Hinduism except that it embraces more gods and goddesses than I can remember the names of!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Itinerary. Agra, India.

No offense to people who live in Agra, but as far as I can tell, the only reason to go there is to visit the incomparable Taj Mahal. The Taj was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in loving memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to his 14th child. Construction on the Taj began in 1632 and was completed in approximately 1648 and I read somewhere that it took 20,000 laborers to complete the job. There's lots of facts that one can read up on about the Taj (the architecture, the precious jewels embedded in its walls, etc) but at some level, I don't really care about the facts. To me, the image and story behind it are enough - in my eyes it's the world's most beautiful mausoleum in the world and for my heart, it was built by a man in tribute of woman that he loved so deeply that he wanted her to be remembered for eternity. Could there be a more romantic tribute?

In planning my trip to Agra, I read that it's best to see the Taj either in the early morning or late afternoon because visiting during mid-day a) can be unbearably hot and b) with the bright sun shining, the monument just looks like a big, white marble building - apparently, not resulting in the impressive vision that visitors are expecting to see.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Planning is so much easier when you have help....

After I settled on my itinerary for Delhi, I decided to see if there were any India based travel agencies offering city tours that would cover the sights (major tourist spots) that I was interested in seeing. Google "Delhi City Tour" and you'll get a slew of hits. I pored over one tour company website after another and finally found the one that offered an itinerary that appealed to me. More importantly, from what I can tell, it is a reputable agency that has been in business for 20 years.

Monday, August 6, 2007

.....and the wait is finally over!

I booked my spot on the Tibet tour on July 5th and at that time was told I would have to wait for a month for final confirmation that the tour would depart as scheduled - we needed a minimum of 5 passengers and only 4 had signed up at that time. If not, I had the option of joining a group that was leaving a few days earlier - which I could do but didn't want to because it would have been smack dab in the middle of the week which, according to my friend Lei, is when all of China takes off on vacation and goes traveling. Lhasa would be a mob scene - not something I would have enjoyed being in the midst of.

So yesterday I emailed Intrepid to find out about whether or the tour was on. I got a reply back that because there were still only 4 passengers signed up they needed to check with the Tibet field manager and would let me know the next day.

Then, today I got the word that the tour was ON!! Potala Palace, here I come!!, all I have to do is finalize the rest of my travel arrangements - airline tickets, visas, etc.