Hi all, we’ve both been planning for The Future and spending all available internet time frantically making applications to various establishments to set ourselves up for when we return to England. They’re all sent off now, so we’re hoping to get y’all up to date on the news where we are – we’ve journeyed through Tibet to Kathmandu, spent a brief period at a children’s home, explored some beautiful places in the Kathmandu Valley, been spoiled rotten by Josh’s generous mum who came out to meet us, been amazed at Pashupatinath, nursed one another through the inevitable food poisonings (including our poor friend Sean who managed to get ill only 24 hours after arriving in the country!), trekked the Annapurna Sanctuary trail, rowed on the lake at Pokhara… There’s a lot to tell you all about. But first, the more pleasant bits of Tibet.

Fury at the oppression aside, Tibet was a fascinating place. It’s a riot of colour, as almost every available space (the Chinese area of Lhasa excepted) is filled with prayer flags. When journeying through the country, every pass would be decorated, and all doorways seem to be elaborate.

This can particularly be said of Tibetan monasteries, although I must admit that the monasteries we saw in “official” China (i.e. Amdo) were more spectacular, as have been those we have seen since entering Nepal. The buildings are every single colour imaginable on the outside, and elaborately illustrated on the inside. Many contain enormous statues, a lot of them gilded. One of my favourite characters is the protection deity which looks terrifying – it is often portrayed draped in skulls or decapitated heads,  stamping people under its feet. At first I wasn’t so fond of this, but now I understand that it’s a bit like having a seven foot tall skin head with tattoos on his eye balls for a big brother. It’s alright because he’s on your side.

A particularly memorable monastery-related experience was watching the monks debate in the Sera monastery. It was an incredibly theatrical event as debators stood clapping their hands loudly and lunging towards their opponents to emphasise their points.

Tibetan food, on the other hand, is not something I will remember fondly. Agriculture cannot thrive in the harsh climate in Tibet, so food is restricted basically to noodles, potatoes, radish, and yak. By the time we reached Nepal, we were gagging for some real (any) flavour that wasn’t yak. However, you would be amazed at the amount of uses the Tibetans have found for yak. In India, cows are sacred so they cannot be killed. In Tibet, yaks are sacred, so when they are killed, they use every single last bit of the body. Decorations, meat, milk, rope, bone broth, yoghurt, wool, dried cheese(!), leather, I could go on…The one really tasty thing we had in Tibet is sweet tea. While yak butter tea is salty and definitely an acquired taste, sweet tea is exactly what you need after a 12 hour jeep drive. Made by boiling yak milk, adding sugar and few strands of tea, it’s comfort food in drink form.

We were not hit as hard as those who had taken the nearly 48 hour train journey from Beijing to Lhasa, but the increase in altitude from Xining definitely affected us both. Although we thought we were just a bit headache-y and run down, climbing stairs in our hotel (which seem inordinately steep) was incredibly difficult. We plonked ourselves down in our hotel room wondering why we were so out of breath. Apparently, if you were to take a flight to the top of Mt.Everest, you would have a few minutes of consciousness before you passed out and died. Walking:1, Flying:0.

I think we experienced the most dramatic change in landscape so far as we journeyed on our final day towards the border with Nepal. Dropping down from stark and barren plains where dust storms bother the yaks, we were suddenly surrounded by lush greenery. The roads also changed, falling in quality and up in fear factor. Having said that, the road was only recently officially finished (bits are still under construction) – before that it was simply a dirt road which would have upped the fear factor a couple more hundred percent!

We passed some stunning pieces of natural beauty, including a turquoise lake and an enormous glacier. The latter used to be much more enormous, but it has receded from the roadside where it was in the 1990s, right up the mountain. Climate change anyone? We also had several peeks at Everest, which is called Qomolangma in Tibetan – this seems, as far as I can tell, to translate as ‘Big Momma’. Annapurna, incidentally (that’s the trek we’ve been on in Nepal), means ‘full of food’. I think the massiveness of the mountains was the main thing their namers were trying to convey…

So if you forget/ignore the overwhelming oppression and destruction in Tibet, it’s quite a pleasant place to holiday or travel through… The cost, however, is another matter, which we’ll address in another blog.

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