The Net Fairy – our very own genie in a bottle

I love the internet! Without it, I don’t know how I would have planned our six month adventure. Before the internet, if you wanted to travel, you needed the help of a specialist (a licensed travel agent) to make your bookings and guide you in your planning, but not anymore.

Nepal - the earthquake derailed our six month adventure
Nepal – before and after the Quake (Telegraph/Alamy/Barcroft)

Well, at least that’s what I thought, until on the 25th April, and then again on the 12th May, severe earthquakes hit Nepal and threw our plans into chaos. At the time, we were in China, and our internet contact with the rest of the world was restricted, thanks to the “Great Firewall of China”.

Before leaving Australia I had locked down our itinerary, which included Continue reading

Glimpses of Tibetan life

Inside a Tibetan house

The two small boys stood watching me solemnly, standing against the wall with their mother a brief distance away. We had stopped in their village to take photos of the yak dung covered walls, drying in the sun so that later they could be used as fuel for the fire.

P1100743 (2)
Yak dung covered walls

I walked up to the boys smiling but their solemn expression didn’t change, they were wary of me, one of four strange looking foreigners who had alighted from a van. I had two bright juicy oranges that I wanted to share with the boys. After a nod of consent from their mother I gave each of the boys an orange. Their faces broke into smiles and they clutched their gifts tightly. We stood there smiling at each other for a while then I wandered back to the van assuming that we were about to depart, however our guide, who knew of my  desire to see inside a Tibetan house, spoke with the boys’ mother and she invited us in.P1100757 (2)

From outside the house appeared of good quality and quite a substantial size, two storey and rectangular, typical of the houses in the area.

P1100750 (2)

We were led past the Continue reading

From the dizzy heights of Tibet

P1100944 (2)
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

P1100585 (2)
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.

P1100562 (2)

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!

P1100450 (2)

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