Cover photo credit: JC Chan
To Shigatse and back.
Although the photos near the bottom are of Lhasa at night, it would be a shame to not mention Shigatse in the brief few hours we were there.
Located 3860m (12,660 feet) above sea level where the oxygen content is 67% of that at sea level, Shigatse is the second largest city in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China after Lhasa, the traditional capital of the Tsang province, and is nicknamed “The Gateway To Everest.” It is set to be an important administrative and transportation hub between China, India and Nepal whenever the railway link among the 3 countries is completed (now 3 years behind schedule).
After coming from Lhasa on one of the most beautiful drives in the world yesterday, we turned in last night at our hotel with some decent garlic yak steak at the restaurant next door. They even let us take their food on their silverware and plates (with the help of some saran wrap), knowing that the hotel would return them back anyways.
The heating in our rooms didn’t work, so we all went to bed wearing most of our thermal layers and fleeces. In my case with my sore throat, fever and altitude sickness, I added on my balaclava and wool beanie. I literally went all ninja when I slept.
On the bright side, by the time we needed to wake up the next morning, I was already ready to go! “Calvin, wake up, we need to go.” “Well, I’m already all dressed up…”
The weather didn’t change that much when we drove out on a chilly Shigatse morning:
The main thing to see in Shigatse is Tashilhunpo Monastery, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas and the second-highest-ranking tulku lineage in the Gelukpa tradition.
Constructed in 1447 and covering a floorspace of 300,000 square meters, the monastery is the largest in western Tibet and bears the world’s largest gilded bronze Buddhist statue: the 22.4 meter high Maitreya Buddha.
Instead of the tall and grand complexes of Lhasa, the complex here is wide and long. Nevertheless, the Tibetans like being as elevated as possible, so a 5 minute climb up is still required once past the entrance:
Once inside, take your time wandering the open squares…
…linger around hidden corridors…
…and immerse yourself among the throngs of pilgrims here waiting to pay respects to the tombs of the Panchen Lamas…
Thanks to Shanika’s sneakiness with her phone, she was able to get even more great photos of the interiors (photography isn’t allowed, but not many were enforcing the rule). The next 16 photos are hers:
And the the 22.4 meter high Maitreya Buddha itself:
From the complex’s wide squares you can also get a great view of the rebuilt Shigatse Dzong (aka Shigatse Fortress), the site of where Mongol ruler Gusri Khan installed the 5th Dalai Lama as the supreme ruler of Tibet, before it became the residence of the Tsang governor.
The fortress was originally destroyed in 1961 after the 1959 Tibetan uprising and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The Shigatse Dzong you see today was rebuilt in 2007 on a much smaller scale with the help of donations from the city of Shanghai.
It is sadly mostly empty now, with a small passable museum on Tibetan culture located somewhere inside.
After half a day at the complex we began our drive back to Lhasa, this time on a more direct, less scenic (but still beautiful) highway than yesterday’s drive. It took us about 5-6 hours to get back.
Once we returned to hustle and bustle of Lhasa, it felt like we returned home:
But once the night fell, Lhasa would transform into a quieter, calmer, and different city.
We highly recommend taking a night stroll from wherever you’re staying to Potala Palace, even if it’s in the middle of winter:
What country am I in again?
After making 11 new friendships on this 3 week journey together across 7000 km and 4300 miles, it was finally time to say goodbye for the 5 of us left on this long, physically demanding and emotionally rewarding trip together. To celebrate — altitude sickness be damned — we bought some alcohol from the local supermarket and spent the wee hours of the night psychoanalyzing one another before hopping on a 7:30am taxi to the airport the next morning.
I was the first to go, boarding a 9:40am Tibet Airways flight to Chengdu and arriving 2 hours later on time. Once there and thanks to Amex’s Gold Delta Skymiles Card, I was able to snag 2 free China Eastern flights on First/Business class; one from Chengdu to Shanghai and a long-haul one from Shanghai to NYC. After 3 weeks leading a group of 11 awesome people, a near-miss with Xi’an, a week of sleep-deprivation, and 4 days of acute mountain sickness, I’d say some bougie R&R was sorely needed.
The check-in process already involves a dedicated, fancy lounge:
And the dedicated China Eastern First/Business class lounge at Chengdu wasn’t so bad either:
My flight from Chengdu to Shanghai Pudong:
They’ll take your order before take-off; I had a choice of beef, pork, or chicken with rice and some Pu-er tea:
I got my own dedicated vehicle to transport me from the plane to the airport after landing:
And my own dedicated entry for security:
Hung out at the dedicated China Eastern lounge at PVG airport:
As for the long-haul, 14 hour flight itself from Shanghai PVG to NY JFK, it’s a fully 180º reclinable seat with a complementary bottle of water, slippers, and pouch containing basic amenities such as an eye mask, toothbrush, hand lotion and hairbrush.
The TV pops out:
And they’ll feed you well, and often:
With service staff constantly checking up on you to see if you need anything to drink or if you’re hungry, it’s overall a great hard product. Although it’s no Emirates, it’s not a bad spend if you have about 50-80k miles on a SkyTeam airline.
Home sweet home.
And every now and then (as often as probably everytime), such as the one here (involving Gerard Butler coming up to us) and here (involving deportation), other monsooners would like to share their alternative path home.
This one come from Mihaela, who returned to Xi’an after the trip and just so happened needed to retrieve her lost FitBit:
How to get to Xi’an North bus terminal [from the airport]: First off – have yuan bc they don’t take credit. Once ready with yuan exchanged at an airport bank at a rate considered [at a level of physical assault] – leave airport and go across the street to the building with the buses sticking out to purchase your one-way ticket with no option for return.
Bus routes are displayed in Chinese and English. When you figure out which bus you need, attempt to speak to teller in english. Be prepared to be shuffled to other tellers who may or may not speak English. After you finally acquire your ticket go to the gate that is displayed on the board.
When you arrive to your gate, stare at the Chinese characters on the placard above the 3 separate lines that are associated with each gate. Slightly panic until you ask a bus terminal employee which line is your destiny. Finally, arrive at station.
p.s. Oh, and also offered 5 Mongolian Tugriks [equivalent to a fifth of a US penny] for part of my payment for the return ticket.
This one’s from JC; it just warms your heart to hear this:
In Chengdu, after missing my connecting fight and running back and forth between the equivalent of 4 miles between two terminals, a young Chinese Etihad airlines representative, went as far to stay two hours past her shift and ensure the airport hotel calls her to ensure my safety.
She let me sit in her office as I was soaked in sweat and panic she passed a water to me. I haven’t eaten in 16 hours. When I “thanked her so much”, she said, “don’t worry, I’m a good person”.
- At time of posting in Shigatse, China, it was -14 °C - Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear