Saturday – Lhasa,
Today is the last day in Lhasa before heading up through the Himalayan foothills towards Everest. Today we visited the famous Putan Palace, which must be the 8th wonder of the world. It is the cities highest building, built up on a hill in the heart of the city. It was constructed in the 7th century and has been the home, and burial sites, for most of the Dali Lamas – including the 7th and 13th (deemed to be the most ‘important’ in the Buddhist faith. Miraculously it was the only building that was left untouched by the Chinese during the cultural revolution.
Sitting on top of the hill as it does, and at this altitude, the climb of the stairs to the top leaves you gasping for air. But it was well worth the effort.
Due to the popularity of the site for tourists and for pilgrims you are only given an hour to get round (you are timed and if too slow your tour guides license is revoked), so it was a bit of a cultural sprint. One of the highlights was actually watching the construction of a new stone floor. This might seem like a dull thing to select as a highlight but this was no normal building site. As Putan palace is a holy site the floor is constructed with pure stones, and not concrete, and team of about 50 people (mainly young girls) march up and down the raw stones in an 5 orderly rows, carrying a heavy ‘basher’. They sing a religious, and haunting song whilst bashing the ground to the beat. This was more like a dance than a building site -truly magical. It must take them weeks and weeks just to break through all of the stones to lay an even floor about 20m squared. One American, also watching this activity just didn’t get it commenting on ‘how inefficient’ the process was…
After lunch we decided to do some ‘training’ to get prepared for the altitude and trekking we would be doing next week. So we picked one of the peaks surrounding the city (the city is on a raised flat bed completely surrounded by peaks -there must have been about 60 we could choose from. It was hard work, steep and very shingly terrain. Fabio (Gazzetta), Tarquin (Daily Telegraph), Johnny (Photographer) and myself made it to the peak after lots of panting, sweating and stopping to catch breath. Breathtaking views awaited us from the peak looking back down into the city. We climbed 500 metres vertically reaching 4,100m – the highest I have ever been (previous was in the Alps at 3,800). Whilst we didn’t stick around at the top for too long no one in the party seems to be showing any signs of altitude sickness – which is good (something everyone in the group is worried about). Maximo (GQ) and our lucky competition winner (who is 60) made it most of the way up and would have made it to the top if we had more time.
We leave Lhasa tomorrow morning for a 5 hour drive up through the foothills to Shigatse for some more acclimatising.
Thanks again to Johnny for posting this update on my behalf….