Posts Tagged With: potala palace

Jinan and Taishan

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Ok…so the number one reason for coming to Jinan was the money…Chinese currency has images of famous places on each of the notes. Our introduction to this was when we were in Guilin rafting down the Li river past the lumps. The guide pointed out that the picture on the 20 yuan note was the lumps over our shoulder. Pretty cool really. Then we got to Tibet and found that the Potala palace was the image on the 50 yuan note. A bit of research revealed the following:

1 RNB – Xihu lake – Hangzhou – been there
5 RNB – Mt Taishan – Jinan – here now
10 RNB – 3 gorges – been there
20 RNB – karsts (lumps) – Guilin – been there
50 RNB – Potala palace – Lhasa – been there
100 RNB – great hall of the people – Beijing – been there

It was the only one we had missed…so we really had to come. When we were in Shangrila we were having dinner on our last night and a lonely Chinese lad turned up and was sitting by himself so we asked him to join us. He described his name for us as “batman inside me like a clown”… after laughing possibly more than I should have we decided that the translator was playing tricks…as it turns out his name was Heath…and it was a Heath Ledger reference that turned out really funny. Anyway there had been the odd email traffic since then and we had stayed in touch.

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Heath had moved from Beijing to Jinan and just had to meet up with us again and host us while we were in town. Which he did…and did brilliantly. After a catch up and a beer in the room we headed out to see the sights around town. The first stop was the Baotu Springs. Jinan is famous for its artesian springs and there are apparently 72 of them in and around the city. We then hit the big park and square followed by the food street to eat snake and some other goodies. Then on to Black Tiger Spring, the Five Dragon Pool and a bunch of other springs etc.

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The one thing that Heath did that earned himself god-like status was ordered us a local delicacy…that we had already had before in Beijing. It is without doubt Jill’s favourite dish on tour but it was the victim of “Chinglish” on the menu and was only known as Beijing heaving. We had asked and described it to many others along our journey but to no avail…then randomly this dish popped up on our table. For those that care it is called… phonetically “jing jiang ro si” which means Beijing sauce meat shredded. Heath wrote this in Chinese for us and it may well be ordered again…many times.

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It was then Monday and Heath went off to work but we arranged to meet near the food street for dinner. The one thing that has not got a mention is the town…it is in a basin and in summer the breeze does not get in and the humidity cannot escape…it is known as one of the five furnaces of China. We arrived on a 37 degree day with 70+% humidity. It was swelteringly hot and the forecast was for the mercury to get above 40 degrees in the days to come. Talking to Heath he told us that in winter the wind comes from the other way and gets stuck in the basin, swirling and making the place bitterly cold.

We had a lazy start to the day before heading off to the 1000 Buddha mountain. We of course started the journey nearing noon which meant we were climbing the mountain between 1 and 2 pm in the 40 degree heat. Buddhas seen we headed back down the mountain by way of the luge. As it was quiet…there was nobody on the luge but us…Jill hopped on while I took a photo then off she went. I walked back to the luge, got on, waited a while then took off.

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Assuming a level of safety standards…I figured that there was no way to crash…it would just scare you with the extreme speeds…surely the luge can’t fly off the tracks. Assuming these things…I put the throttle to full go…on the fifth corner as I flew off the luge and over the edge of the track…I revised my assumptions. Got back on went full tilt to get speed up again but started using the brakes coming into corners. Turned corner 9 and had to slam on the brakes as I had somehow caught up to Jill…even with my crash.

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So anyway…miss daisy and I then hopped a bus to get home for a shower. Couldn’t get the right bus and ended up walking about 3-4 Kms home. The next day we headed up to Mt Taishan (this is actually redundant as Shan means mountain but my brain needs them both for some reason). Taishan was about 38 degrees with 80+% humidity and involved climbing 3000 stairs to get to the half way point where you could get a cable car to the top. It is one of the holy sacred mountains…at about the 1500 stair mark I came to the fairly self evident conclusion… that it was not holy to me.

I stopped, sweated and inhaled water while my wife kept going…she truly should be committed. She claims to have wanted to bail at the 2000-2500 step mark but is too bloody minded to give it up. So she kept going to the cable car. It was a misty day and there was no view so she did not take the cable car to the top…but she can honestly say that she did the long haul of a hike. Having walked the 3000 stairs she then walked back 1500 where she found me relaxing under a tree. At that point we wandered the remaining 1500 stairs back to the bottom together. Jill did over 6000 and I did over 3000 stairs.

My water intake for the day exceeded 8 litres and Jill’s was even higher still…add to this the beers and soft  drinks as the night went on and our fluid intake for the day was something like 15 litres each. Our clothes were soaked with perspiration and we stank. The one hour train ride back to Jinan was uncomfortable and overly aromatic. The shower on our return was as welcome as it was critically needed.

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We had a catch up with Heath at the food street for dinner (I wanted more snake and Jill wanted the Beijing heaving) and we all watched the fountain show. Each night at 8pm the square in the middle of town puts on a fountain show… with music, lights and squirting water etc. All choreographed and timed to the music…just like in Vegas. It goes for 30 mins and is pretty spectacular. The place is packed each night and with good reason.

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Tibet…Lhasa

 

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.

Categories: Tibet | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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