From the dizzy heights of Tibet

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A view from the top of the world

They say that if you are in Tibet, you’re sitting on top of the world. After spending 8 days here, I understand why. Tibet is the highest region on earth, with an average elevation of 4,900 metres above sea level. In comparison, Brisbane, Australia, where we live, sits at 28.4m above sea level.

Tibet has the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, which peaks at 8,848m, the world’s highest Palace complex (the Potala Palace), the highest railway and railway station, the Qinghai -Tibet Railway and Tanggula Station (5,068m), and many of the world’s highest lakes.

All this elevation brings Continue reading

Of Monks and Monasteries

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A spectacular view

There are hundreds of Buddhist Monasteries in Tibet and they are an integral part of life here. We visited the Pabonka Monastery, situated at the base of the mountains which surround Lhasa, and offers panoramic views of the area and the Potala Palace. The Monastery was built in the 7th century and is one of the most ancient Buddhist sites in Lhasa.

A Pilgrim - if she can do it so can I!
A Pilgrim – if she can do it so can I!

We joined the pilgrims in their kora, the circumambulation of a sacred site which is both a type of pilgrimage and meditative practice. Smiles, stares, giggles and frequent hello’s greeted us as we joined the Tibetans of all ages, dressed predominantly in traditional clothing, carrying Continue reading

A bit of Tibet’s history – The Potala Palace and The Jokhang Temple

When I first thought about travelling to Tibet, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It just sounded like an exciting, scenic, religious, and mystical country to visit, and that was before I began to do my research. Now that we are here, literally sitting on top of the world, I can say that I have not been disappointed.

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The “Travel China Guide” tells us that Tibet’s history “began about 4,000 years ago, when living was simpler. Lhasa is Tibet’s political, economic, cultural and religious centre with abundant cultural relics, including Continue reading

Thank you Tenzin Blind Massage Centre

P1100489 (2)We arrived in Lhasa feeling tired and breathless due to our lack of altitude acclimatisation. With two days until our first tour activities we had always planned to rest and adjust before doing any serious sightseeing.  What better way to spend the time than by having a massage. Lonely Planet had recommended the Tenzin Blind Massage Centre and so we took ourselves there.  The outside appearance was not particularly inviting or attractive and I almost backed out however, with some trepidation, we went down the narrow hallway and up the dingy stairs.

P1100493We were greeted by a friendly blind young man, who introduced himself as Sarin. He spoke excellent English and explained that they offered two types of massage: Tibetan, clothes off with oil and soft pressure or Chinese, clothes on and harder. We chose the Tibetan massage and were guided up a steep staircase to a Continue reading

Tibet – A Breathtaking Rail Journey

We chose to travel on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway as we made our way to Tibet. This special railway extends 1,956 km’s across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and connects, Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. What an experience this 21 hour train journey provided us!

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The railway itself is an engineering marvel. For starters, the line holds the title of the world’s highest railway, peaking at 5,072m above sea level as it Continue reading

A Blog about Smog

I don’t think that I can spend a month in China and not say something about the smog.  From the first day we arrived in Yangshou I have felt disoriented, as if my senses have shut down and I am unable to “tell” what the weather will do. The sky is unlike anything I have seen before and the air feels different. While there have been some gloriously clear days, in general, a grey haze hangs in the air and it feels oppressive.  Steven and I have both been coughing since we arrived and I am convinced that it is smog irritation.  Steven is a well managed asthmatic and I have feared that the smog would set off an attack but thankfully this has not happened.  Before we left for China, friends who visit here often for work warned us about the smog and they check the air quality before they travel.

I am writing this in Xining, at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau on the 23 floor of the hotel.  I look across at the other skyscrapers and the dirty haze just hangs in the sky.  It horrifies me that I am breathing that air. Do children who grow up with this think it’s ordinary weather? How long would you have to be here before you started to accept this as normal, that a really smoggy day was just a bad day?

Today in Xining the Air Quality Index is 134 which means it falls in the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” category. Apparently the general public, like me, wont be affected, but Steve with his asthma may be affected.  To give you a comparison, Brisbane, where we live, was 45 on the same day, in the “Good” category.

In Beijing I read an article in a magazine for expatriates living there.  A man discussed his dilemma about staying and working in a country he loved now that he had a young child. He had been ok about putting himself in the unhealthy environment but felt completely different when he made that unhealthy choice for his child. Lucky him, he had the choice of whether to leave or not, the Chinese don’t.

P1090187 (2)The cause of the pollution is complex, but I understand that Continue reading

Just a Walk in the Park – Xining

cranesWe are in Xining because that’s where we will catch the train to Lhasa, Tibet.  It’s certainly not the most attractive city that I’ve been in.  It’s surrounded by barren rock like hills, with a population of 2 million living in the multitude of ever increasing high rise apartment blocks which stand like sentinels across the skyline. The air is heavy with smog and dust.  I have read that Xining has been dubbed the “summer resort capital of China” due to its cool summer, but somehow can’t see the attraction.

So, after picking up our train tickets to Lhasa from the station, and feeling uninspired to visit tombs or temples I pointed to the largest green space on the Chinese language map and said “let’s go there”.  We flagged down the taxi, pointed to the map and were delivered to the Peoples Park.

P1100281 (2)Somehow the air was clearer there and we spent an enjoyable couple of hours wandering through this community park.  As we ate our ice creams we watched Continue reading

Off the tourist track – The Tang Dynasty Tombs

China’s history and culture is amazing, and it seems every Chinese person has a great depth of knowledge about their country’s past, so it was wonderful to have cousin Wei as our personal guide through some of China’s best sites. Coming from the West, I had previously only paid attention to the much publicised Chinese icons such as the Great Wall, the Giant Panda’s and the Terracotta Warriors. But after our visit, I am in awe of the vast array of heritage sites far beyond those we typically associate with China.

The Spirit Way
The Spirit Way

As a key historical region, Shaanxi rates at the top.  “It was here were it all started for China. As the heartland of Continue reading

The Red Lantern Ride – Xi’an City Wall

P1100260A wonderful delight in Xi’an was cycling around the old city wall.  In fact we liked it so much that after completing our morning ride with Karin and Wei we returned the following day to do a sunset ride.  Steve aptly named the circuit the “Red Lantern Ride”.


Plenty of room to ride
Plenty of room to ride
Xi’an is one of the few cities in China where the complete city wall is still standing and that’s pretty amazing because it was built in 1370 during the Ming Dynasty.  This is a huge structure, the walls are 12 metres tall, 12-14 metres wide at the top and 15-18 metres thick at the bottom.  The walls form a rectangle with a perimeter of 13.7 km.



Initially the wall was built with earth, quick lime and glutinous rice extract.  This made it Continue reading

Emperor Qin Shi Huang and his Teracotta Army

It’s been described as the greatest find of the 20th Century, and touted as the eighth Wonder of the World. I was only 15 in 1974, and it was in that same year when a group of peasant farmers in the Lintong District, Xi’an, digging a well, discovered the Terracotta Warriors (Terracotta Army).

Awe Inspiring
Awe Inspiring

We have all seen pictures of them, but the enormity of this discovery only becomes evident when you visit the site. Awe-inspiring, Gobsmacking, Amazing, and Incredible, are all words that immediately come to mind when you first see the Army lined up in formation in their pits, but these words don’t come close to describing  the sensation you have at first sight. It was much more.

P1100001The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The sculptures were buried with the Emperor in 210-209 BC, and their purpose was to protect the Emperor in his afterlife. Estimates from 2007 suggest that Continue reading