Tag Archives: xining

Xining and Xiahe


For Elaine these are pronounced shinning and sha-her respectively.

Well this was our post Everest malaise…we intended to get massages and pamper ourselves…in reality we both fell in a heap. Our hostel was run by the nicest Tibetan guy you will ever meet (Westin) and had great wifi, big screen tv, a hard drive full of movies and tv series, and we almost had the whole place to ourselves the entire time we were there.

Westin told us that a group of Tibetans get together every couple of months to celebrate and remember their heritage and that this was on the next day…Jill and I and (Rob the British cyclist who was there) were all invited. So we went along to a Tibetan picnic in the park. A great group of guys, too much food and way too much booze for the 11 of us that got together.

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After the picnic day we both checked out…I watched tv for three days straight on a comfy leather recliner while Jill read the kindle and watched tv intermittently. I discovered that the plain Chinese steamed buns are unsweetened (unlike all the bread you can buy) so grabbed some of them and sat on my recliner squeezing vegemite onto them and grazing. In one of my rare excursions off the recliner I found the “eggy thing” shop (a sort of pancake with egg, crispy thing, bean sauce, chilli, and lettuce…called phonetically gem bean).

We did nothing for days…could not even be arsed enough to walk the 120 metres to the massage place to get $8 massages. Every now and then I would venture the 70 metres to the restaurant and bring back food…but that was about it. If you remember the last post…the journey to Tibet and Mount Everest was quite tiring… And we needed some well earned down time.

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An amusing sideline was our foray into Chinese hostel management. Westin had to go home for 24 hours (up in the mountains) for a family religious festival…but had guests arriving and nobody to deal with things…so we volunteered. An Italian girl was due to arrive at 1 am so we agreed to let her in and show her the ropes etc… At about 11am a Chinese couple arrived wanting a room for two nights…but spoke no English…Westin was up the mountain and out of range…the cleaning lady was nowhere to be seen… And Jill and I were left to play charades and fumble our way through checking in some drop-ins…getting them rooms etc…it all worked, the Italian girl arrived and was checked in and the following afternoon Westin returned and we handed back the running of the place to him.

Having done nothing for about 3-4 days it was time to move again. Jill (with the help of Westin) booked us bus tickets to head towards Xiahe which is the site of the Labrang Monastery which is the second largest monastery in the world.

This bus ride took us through the grasslands meadow belt of China and was in fact what I thought Tibet would be like. Green rolling hills, expanses of sparse grasslands dotted with stupa’s and inhabited by horses, cows, sheep and even the odd yak or two. The scenery was stunning…the ride was murder. Throughout the 7-8 hr bus ride there was not a 100 metre stretch that was not pot holed, pitted or rutted. Add to this the last 50km on rough dirt track and we were back in Tibet doing the base camp trek once again.

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Add to this the fact that we did not fit into the bus seats as they were so close together…the seats had metal poking through them and into us…we had the world’s worst bus driver who talked on his phone most of the journey and sat on his horn constantly for the whole ride…and his female bus conductor who learned to whisper in a helicopter who would not stop talking the entire time. I put in ear plugs and prayed for the nightmare to be over…and after a mere 8 hours (or 480 ear piercing and rear punishing minutes) later my pain ended.

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Having arrived in Xiahe we slept and headed to the monastery early the next day. We did the 3 kilometre Kora around the outside of the monastery, followed by a zig zagging through the middle. The standout feature is that almost the whole distance around the monastery is covered in Tibetan prayer wheels. With hundreds of locals doing the lap around the joint spinning the wheels as they went. We had the opportunity to climb one of the temples and get a birds eye view over the entire complex.

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In its peak the Labrang monastery housed about 4000 monks but for political reasons this has been limited to 1500 monks. The town of Xiahe only has a population of 70,000 and it is impossible to walk 100 metres without either seeing about a dozen monks or hearing car horns. This place is the worst place we have been to with respect to inappropriate use of the car horn.

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The streets are wide, the population is low but the car horn noises are incessant. At all times of day and night the car horn blows…if you look around to see for what reason you will see a car on the road and a pedestrian on the footpath. The Asian use of the horn to notify of passing is annoying but in places like Beijing with the whispering assassin electric bikes it can be understood. In a small town with wide roads and no traffic…this is infuriating as it is 100% unnecessary.

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Our foray into Tibet started with a 24 hour train journey from Xining to Lhasa. This is the world’s highest railway, the “Qinghai-Tibet Railway” with some people calling it (falsely) the “rocket to the roof of the world”…this is by no means a rocket train. The train peaks at a whopping 5072 meters above sea level at the Tanggula Station, also known as Dangla, which is unsurprisingly the world`s highest railway station.

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The oxygen here is half of that which is available at sea level and as such oxygen is pumped into the cabins of the trains from the 3500 meter mark. This would ordinarily be a good thing but alas this is offset by hoards of Chinese men standing in the enclosed trains smoking cigarettes next to the no smoking signs. As a former smoker for many years I am fast becoming an anti-smoker due to the manner in which the Chinese blatantly disregard all semblance of consideration.

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The scenery along the journey is spectacular…with wide sprawling plains criss-crossed by streams and dotted with sheep (the non fat bottomed kind) and yaks…all leading to snowy peaks. When the sun rises in the morning you find yourself in a 100% whiteout as the clouds and snow envelop the train. As the train climbs to its highest point the clouds give way to the icicles that slide down your windows and the majesty of the mountains.

The trip to Tibet is very heavily controlled and cannot be done on an individual basis but rather must be done as part of an organised tour. This obviously adds to the expense and places you fairly in the midst of touristville with no options for escape. The first real stop on the tour was the Potala Palace which is the traditional home of the Dalai Lama and has been since the 17th century.

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In 1959 the current Dalai Lama fled to India during the Tibetan uprising. The palace is built at an altitude of 3,700 m (12,100 ft) and houses the mummified bodies of the previous Dalai Lamas (5-13). According to our guide the monks go in to cut the hair and fingernails on the deceased Dalai Lamas every so often.

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Following the Potala Palace we headed to the centre of town to the Jokhang Temple which is the oldest (7th century) and most important temple in Lhasa. The temple is surrounded at all times of day by people performing a full body prostration kora around the temple. For the heathens amongst you (like me) they stand praying for forgiveness for the sins of the body, the mouth and the heart…and then lie face down on the stones…stand take three steps…and do it again. The guys in Lhasa did three laps of the temple (about a kilometre each lap) but according to the guide people are known to do this between religious sites totalling over 500 kilometres. Many of the ones we saw had callouses on their foreheads.

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The next day we headed off en masse again to the Drepung and Sera Monasteries. The Drepung monastery was the home of the Dalai Lamas prior to the construction of the Potala palace by the 5th Dalai Lama. As such it holds the bodies of 2-4 with the first Dalai Lama really not getting a lot of kudos. These are beautiful sights on either end of the city. We had planned to head to the museum but were advised by the tour guide that there was no history there…just the Chinese story about the peaceful integration of Tibet.

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The monasteries at high altitude are proving to be a fair challenge. The scarcity of oxygen, combined with the stairs you climb to get to them means you are breathing very heavily when you get there. Alas upon arrival you are sucking in gobfulls of incense. Add to this the fumes from the yak butter candles and there is some serious hyperventilating going on. I swear that breathing in the fumes from the yak butter candles upped my cholesterol level by about 5 points.

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On an evening outing we floated past the Potala Palace on our way to the local night market and found that is was lit up in the evenings. So on our return to Lhasa after hitting Mount Everest Base Camp we grabbed the group and headed to the palace for an evening photo shoot.