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ASIA: TIBET
11
Timeless in Tibet
been following the Friendship Highway
from Lhasa to Kathmandu, one of the
world’s classic road trips, stopping off en
route at two of Tibet’s greatest architectural
treasures: the great kumbum (stupa) of
Gyantse and the incredible Tashilunpo
There’s simply nowhere quite like Tibet,
magical land of reincarnated lamas, Monastery, one of Tibet’s most impressive.
which is one reason why Lonely Planet writer
spirits and an exiled god-king, whose The journey is a rollercoaster ride that
people still harbour incredible reserves crests several high passes, one of which
Bradley Mayhew keeps returning. of faith and devotion. After the prayer – the Pang-la – we had just paused at for an
service I followed the pilgrims as they obligatory photo stop.
T
he demon’s bloodshot eyes butter and juniper and bathed in a warm circumambulated the monastery walls Ahead lay an unbroken arc of
stared straight back into mine, beam of diffused light. It was a glorious in a continuous line, spinning prayer snowbound Himalayan peaks from
unfl inching through the half- sight. Hundreds of crimson-clad monks wheels, rubbing holy rocks, bending Makalu to Cho Oyu, with Mt Everest the
light. A necklace of severed heads lined the pews swaying and chanting in under strings of prayer fl ags and jewel in the centre of the crown. Everyone
hung around his neck, and his left hand deep guttural tones, as novices ran up prostrating themselves at holy spots. started to snap shots of the world’s highest
held a skull cup full of blood. I stepped and down the aisles refi lling the bowls I quickly fell behind to catch my peak but I’d been down this road before,
backwards and felt a cold bony hand grip of steaming yak butter tea. A series breath. The view here over the city of and knew that the views of Everest just get
onto my shoulder. of two-storey golden Buddhas gazed Lhasa is breathtaking – and for once I better and better until you are fi nally left
“Tashi Delek”, the monk said with down on the monks with an approving, mean this quite literally. At an average standing at Rongbuk Monastery, open-
a smile and motioned me past the enlightened eye. altitude of over 4000m, the Tibetan mouthed, staring at one of the world’s
gruesome statue, out of the blackened It was a magical, almost medieval plateau is one of the highest places on classic views: the sheer North Face of
Tantric protector chapel and into a huge scene, but one that is still commonplace earth, and most visitors feel breathless Everest. There’s no viewpoint on the Nepal
prayer hall, heavy with the smell of yak in parts of Tibet. This is, after all, a and headachy for the fi rst couple of side that even gets close to it.
days at least, as their bodies furiously As the wind whipped against the prayer
try to conjure up some additional red fl ags and a Chinese army truck passed
blood cells. Lifted by the Indian tectonic beneath us it was clear that Tibet can no
plate and shielded from the monsoon longer claim to be a forbidden land and
by the Himalayas, Tibet is a stunningly it’s certainly no ‘Shangri-La’. It is now
beautiful high-altitude desert of huge a reluctant province of China, bustling
valleys, brilliant light, and glittering with Chinese goods, commerce and
turquoise lakes. construction. But take a road trip into the
I’d passed one of these holy lakes, the countryside and stop off at a small local
coiling Yamdrok-tso, or Scorpion Lake, monastery or shrine and you’ll discover
en route from Lhasa to Tibet’s second there is still plenty of magic left on the Roof
city, Shigatse. For the last few days I’d of the World. Magic and wonder. ■
B
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TIBET – THE
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15 DAYS
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£1275, €1915, AU$3255,
F
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NZ$3765, US$2680,
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A CA$2935, ZAR21,675
C
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Book early to secure your
O
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place on our highly popular visit
S
to the Roof of the World! The
journey starts with a fl ight over
the Himalayas from Kathmandu
to Lhasa. Crossing the arid Tibetan
plateau we come to Gyantse
and Shigatse, and then over the
Gyatmso La Pass, the highest point
in our journey at 5220m on our
way to Shegar. From Rongbuk
Monastery, we walk to Everest
Base Camp. We then journey to
Zhangmu across the spectacular
Lalung La and Nyalamu Passes, from
where we head back to Kathmandu
via the Friendship Bridge.
8

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