Day 39 – Going 5.289 m (17.350 ft) and till the end of the road!

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Today was a big day! At 9:00 I was already at the Tashilhunpo Monastery, which was build by the first Dalia Lama in the 15th century, and one of the few monasteries that survived the Cultural Revolution. A nice monastery, many beautiful small shrines, and crowded with pilgrims!

After the monastery visit I applied for an Everest Climb Permit. The odds to get one were very low and as expected, it was refused due to the poor weather conditions. The road to the Everest is still closed after the snow sleds four weeks ago where western tourists died. The answer was clear: ‘maybe next week or the week after’. A group of western tourists also tried to obtain a permit and were very irritated with the unclear answer. They wanted to go at any risk. Seeing the clothing of other foreigners walking around I even don’t think they knew what they were going to face at the base of Mount Everest. The current outside temperature at 5200m is -15°C, definitely not a place to go without proper clothing. It is clear to me; Chinese government will take no risk at all with tourists. I doubt the road will be reopened before spring. Those irritated group of tourists might passed their midlife crisis and willing to take any risk, but I understand the risk of mountains, altitude, and weather. I feel far too young to take such risk. I knew since weeks that the odds to get a permit were low, in particular traveling this time of the year. My dream does not totally become truth. But it is dry, cold, no clouds, blue skies. It is the best season to enjoy the views and take photos. During summer it is much easier to obtain a permit for Mount Everest, but then it is mostly cloudy and very haze.

The permits are added to the Alien Travel Permit and apply for the group. In my case I do not have to arguer with the rest of my group. Being my own group, I only have to agree with myself. That makes life simple! So, upon advice of my guide he applied permits near Mount Everest, both were promising good viewpoints. I have no other options; the way of traveling with those permits makes me totally dependent on him. Wearing proper mountain clothing, paid 350 RMB (42 Euro / 57 USD), with granted permits attached to my Alien Travel Permit, I was ready to go! It took hours of driving to get there … but along the road I enjoyed the amazing views. We reached the first summit Gyatso-la of 5.289m (higher than Everest Base Camp). It was freaking cold outside, but my down clothes kept me nicely warm. It was awesome to walk up to 5.289m with both feed on the ground! This was the highest point of my journey!

Many checkpoints later we arrived at the second summit, with a great view on the Mount Everest and the mountains around. It is still far away to the Mount Everest, very ashamed we did not make it closer. We stayed a while, until dark began to fall. The checkpoints on the road are very strict, precise verification of all the documents prior to going further. No way of getting closer to Mount Everest than my current permits. The views are great, impossible to describe!

We drove further west towards the border with Nepal. At 22:15 we reached the village of Zhangmu, a small town at the border between Tibet and Nepal. This is the furriest point of my travel! Tomorrow starts my return trip, first drive 850 km back east towards Lhasa on road G318, also known as the ‘Friendship Highway’. It is the road that connects Shanghai with the border of Nepal. This ‘Highway’ is not an ‘autobahn’; its name comes from being a high altitude road. With an average speed of less than 40 km/h it will take two days of driving back to Lhasa.

I stayed at a small place in Zhangmu, a cold room, luckily very clean. It was late. I felt tired and sneaked into my down sleeping bag.

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Day 38 – Breathtaking and silent Tibet

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Yesterday I breathed the very cold air into my lungs while walking stairs uphill at 4800 m. Last night, I felt becoming a bit sick. It is not the moment to get sick! So, this morning I took one nutrition bag (full day of nutrition in a small bag that is dissolved in 250 ml of water), 400 mg of vitamin C, 250 mg of Aspirin, and 250 mg of Ibuprofen.

Today at 09:00 my driver and guide were awaiting for me to drive 380 km west till Shigatse. Travelging in Tibet is quite different compared to what I experienced in the rest of China. Beside completion of the necessary paperwork, I had to hire a full time driver and a full time guide for my entire stay in Tibet. Also my itinerary needed completely detailed submission. Today we passed six checkpoints, each requiring inspection of the paperwork. Actually, it is a bit weird being tracked, but on the other hand a relaxed way of traveling. I feel like a prince with two servants taking care of every move I make. The best thing is that whatever I would do wrong, they would be blamed as they must to take care of me 24 hours per day. The car is video monitored, and sometimes the guide apologizes when being unable to answer a question he may not respond. Any government related question is kindly declined, which is fine for me being here on holiday and primarily interested in culture and nature.

When driving out of Lhasa I noticed two things: Firstly, no more air pollution! The air in the cities was always ugly, but once outside Lhasa the air was clean. I could breath. Secondly, no more noise pollution. The continuous noise in the city of Xiamen made me crazy, being it road works, construction works, music on the streets, music in the hotel, the AC in the room … you name it, and there was always noise. Even Beijing, Xi’an, and Lhasa were noisy. Outside of Lhasa, enjoining the sound of silence after all these weeks felt so good!

Today we went from Lhasa via the Kamba-la summit to the Yamdrok-tso lake, one of the four holy lakes in Tibet. The views on the way were breathtaking, and the 50 km long deep blue lake was astonishing. Whatever I thought about the beauty of the Tibetan landscape was surpassed. We continued our way to Gyantse to visit the Pelkor Chöde monastery, founded by the first Panchen Lama back in 1418. Thereafter it took another two hours drive till Shigatse. We stopped shortly at a barley mill and could taste the roasted barley. Actually, it tasted very good.

We arrived at 18:00, a long day to move 380 km.

Landscape

Landscape

Kamba-la summit

Kamba-la summit

Kamba-la summit

Kamba-la summit

Day 37 – Going up to 4.800m (15.750 ft) high to visit Drak Yerpa

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Today at 09:15 my driver and guide were awaiting for me to go to Drak Yerpa, this was a one hour drive east of Lhasa, climbing to 4800m. Drak Yerpa is one of the holiest places in Tibet, it is a monastery with different small temple shrines and holy caves, dated back to the seventh century. From the parking I had to climb the stairs up to the monastery. Walking uphill was not easy at this altitude, whow! It is hard to believe that I was standing at an altitude of 4800m and walking uphill. Being the only foreigner I was the attraction for all those pilgrims. All of them being very nice, saying ‘hello’ (which is probably the only word they know in English) and winking. Next to the Drak Yerpa is a sky burial site. It is only open for local people; to be honest I had no interest to get closer. For those who saw the movie ‘Himalaya’, this is the place were the human remains are handed over to the vultures. On our way back we stopped at the Ngachen-la pass (3980m) which is draped with prayer-flags.

In the afternoon I went to the Lhasa Tsamkhung Nunnery to see the singing prayers. There, I had lunch for 11 RMB (1,33 €) with noodle-soup, yak-meat something, and sweet yak-butter tea. Late afternoon I visited the national museum op Tibet, and as all museums a lot of artifacts, paintings, etc.

Tomorrow I will leave Lhasa and we drive 380 km to the west till Shigatse, heading towards THE mount! From tomorrow on, till my return to Lhasa next Thursday, I will pass 14 checkpoints, each requiring a copy of my travel permit! I have the impression that I am going to become sick. Walking back to the hotel I bought two oranges. This evening I eat both, add a vitamin tablet and 1 nutrition bag. I go to bed early, from tomorrow on it will be long days.

In a few days I can start counting down! Again not much of inspirations today … hope you enjoy the photos!

Ngachen-la pass

Crossing the Ngachen-la pass

Drak Yerpa

Drak Yerpa entrance way

Drak Yerpa

First temple shrine of Drak Yerpa

Day 36 – Walking on the roof of the world, Lhasa!

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Today I had on my agenda a discovery tour in the city of Lhasa. It was cold in the morning, so left around 10:00 to the impressive Potala Palace. I was really impressed about the size, the decoration inside, and in particular about the numerous deep religious pilgrims. You could smell the yak-butter offered by the pilgrims everywhere, as the murmur of monks and pilgrims. A fascinating atmosphere was hanging around. Unfortunately, no photo taking allowed inside, so no inside photos.

Thereafter I walked to the Jokhang temple, the most religious temple in Tibet. The queue to enter the temple took about an hour for pilgrims. As a foreigner I could walk along the line and get immediate access, lucky me! Also here were hundreds of pilgrims, offered yak-butter at every stage in their pilgrimage. The roof of the temple was accessible and gave a nice view over the city.

After a short lunch (yak-meat) I returned to the Jokhang temple and joined the pilgrim circuit around the temple. It was a nice walk through the narrow streets around the temple. Again, being the only foreigner around I felt observed continuously. When mounting my large zoom lens (more than a foot long) on my camera I was closely observed by two police officers. I continued my journey and made sure I was only taking pictures of pilgrims and monuments. I crossed the city and walked back to the Potala Palace and did the second pilgrim circuit around the palace. Around the palace wall there are hundreds of prayer rolls, impressive! I was getting tired from all this walking, probably also from the thin air at this altitude and returned to the hotel to rest.

I can only say, this is a total different world! What a boring blog … no inspiration today … hope you enjoy the photos!

Potala Palace

Impressive Potala Palace

Potala Palace

Potala Palace walk to the entrance

Potala Palace

Entrance court of the palace

Day 35 – From now on being all by my self … making a dream come truth!

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I left the hotel straight after breakfast to the airport. Packed as light as possible and with all necessary paperwork in my hands I was ready to leave. It still remains unclear to me why the local government made it so difficult. Probably every reason is good enough to refuse a Tibet Entrance Permit and an Alien Travel Permit. It is known that permits for journalists, politicians, etc. are refused. So, probably they were suspicious about my application, being a group of 1 person (me and I), a European passport, US paperwork, and a business visa. Who knows, who cares: I got the permits!

A 3 hours 15 min flight south-west took me to the roof of the world! Lhasa! It is my first stop and stay for the next three nights. I will use the time to visit Lhasa and surroundings, but also to adapt to the high altitude.

The flight was impressive, once passed Chengdu we flew above the Himalayas. It was a continuous changing landscape with massive mountains, glaciers, lakes, and steep valleys. These mountains seemed to continue endless. Awesome!

At arrival at the airport all my paperwork was checked, and double-checked. All clear! The weather outside is very nice, and air outside the airport made me breath! A driver was waiting for me and brought me to my hotel in the city. In the city you can smell the burning coal used for heating in the streets. Air is definitely not clean here. I walked a bit around on the main street, but it is indeed somewhat tiresome. As it was getting cold very rapidly I returned to the hotel to rest and update my blogs.

From now on I will be all by myself …. I have the feeling that making this dream comes truth is not going to be easy.

Departure to Lhasa

Departure to Lhasa

Day 34 - Visiting Xi'an area, shouting in Chinese, and going to the Xi'an Belgian bar!

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Choosing the Hilton hotel in Xi'an was a good idea, getting an upgrade by the hotel to the restricted executive floor was probably the best idea. It was a great room with perfect bed, total silence, and ideal temperature. After a good night I was ready for a full day program. The driver called me 08:00 sharp to confirm the pickup time at 08:30. As planned I was a full day on the road, visiting the Big Goose Pagoda, the famous Terracotta Warriors, the emperor Qinshihuang mausoleum, a Terracotta factory, and the Han Yang Ling museum (also an emperor mausoleum). All great sights!
The terracotta warriors are a top tourist highlight in China. More foreigners are hanging around here, including some families with children. Whilst visiting the largest pit of the terracotta warriors I witnessed again how Chinese people are attracted to Caucasians, in particular when having blond hair. We had this experience a few times over the past weeks when hanging around in Xia'men, but this time it was worst. I was standing in front of the warriors, a busy place, next to a family with two young children. Chinese people approached the children and started to touch their hair and face. This was so ugly! It worked like a magnet, one started and several others followed, in particular older people tried to touch with dirty hands the face of both children. The parents tried to protect their children and the kids were creeping away in their jackets. I was so annoyed that I jelled in a very angry tone the first phrase that came to my mind: "Nī zài zuò shén me ne!". The Chinese were shocked, being shouted by a Caucasian in their language. There are most probably better phrases, or I said it totally wrong, but it worked! They understood the message; their behavior was not appreciated and all stepped backwards. Why don't these people understand that we have to be careful when traveling in their country, as we are far less resistant to Asian variants of different kind of infections? I definitely have to improve my Chinese before coming to China with my two long hair blond girls (or color their hair temporary black).

Big Goose Pagoda

Big Goose Pagoda

With the busy traffic it took the driver till 19:00 to get me back at the hotel. It was a great day! I think I did a great job in arranging all travel of the day myself, at a bargain!

During the afternoon I text-ed with my colleague who arrived in Xi'an. As agreed we met at the Xi'an Belgian bar for a last encounter in China. Traffic was as usual like hell in the evening, so I decided to be adventurous and took a motto-taxi. It was indeed an adventurous ride as a passenger on an electric scooter, but I got there very fast. The bar was crowded, full of Brits teaching English as a foreign language in Xi'an. It was an enjoyable evening!

Morning Execerise

Morning Execerise near Big Goose Pagoda

Terracotta Warriors (pit 2)

Terracotta Warriors (pit 2)

Day 33 – Travel day to Xi'an and encouraged to keep writing

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I wanted to stop blogging today, give it all up! But being under social pressure … here you go:

Last night I repacked my luggage. After dinner we went for a short discovery tour to Houhai. This was a nice surprise! Houhai is a large lake north of the Forbidden City surrounded by hundreds of illuminated bars with each of them a small live band. The reflection of the illumination on the lake and the mixture of music styles results in a remarkable atmosphere. We ended up in a bar serving Belgian beers, including Gentse Strop. Being tiered we didn’t stay long time and before going to bed we exchanged photos for the last time.

This morning it was my turn to leave, leaving mixed feelings. I went across the street to Starbucks for a blueberry muffin with an Americano before I jumped into a taxi to the airport. I left most of my stuff in the hotel in Beijing and will pick it up end of next week before going home. I packed my carry-on trolley with the bare minimum of what I need the next 11 days and stowed all electronics into my heavy backpack. Armed with two phones, down jacket, wind breaking jacket, down sleeping bag, and a head overloaded with great memories I should be ready to go west, first going to Xi'an and thereafter going to Tibet!

Packing

With my survival luggage for the next 11 days at the airport gate: down jacket, small trolley (sleeping bag, clothes, etc.) and heavy backpack (electronics)

The worst of leaving Beijing behind me was definitely saying goodbye to colleagues whom became best friends. But no other option, I have to move on. Going to Tibet and the Himalayas is making a life time dream come through, and I am very close to make this happen. Back home I was encouraged to make this adventures trip. I planned it and the time has come to go. I feel keeping tracked and encouraged to continue from home, by many of my CSC project colleagues, and by our CSC interns. Thanks! Really thanks, in particular to those who keep my moving forward over the past days!

The best reason leaving Beijing behind me was probably the bad air quality. The mixture of living in a hotel room with carpets, cigarette smoke nearly everywhere, and outdoor air pollution is horrible for my immune system. I never took so many drugs as over the past weeks to fight allergies. I am on daily mixture of Zyrtec and Aerius since weeks, and in Beijing added several doses of Airomir a day to keep me breathing. Despite the magnificent sites in Beijing, this is definitely not a place where I could stay for a long time. I really hope to detox soon in the Himalayas.

Whilst speaking about drugs, it was remarkable how many people got sick over the past four weeks. Out of the 19 (12 IBMers and 7 interns), I am aware that eight of them got sick. Mostly abdominal related, caused by taking less attention to the quality of food and drinks. I keep my fingers crossed and think twice before putting something near to my mouth. Ok, maybe a bit too cautious. I have lost several kilograms of weight, but that doesn't harm. Colleagues were surprised by my drug survival kit, but several were happy I had it with me. For those who are curious, here is the list of what I carry: Zyrtec, Aerius, Ibuprofine, Naproxen, Asperin, Melatonin, Valium 50, Codeine 1000, Amoxiclave, Ofloxacine, Diamox, Airomir, throat lozenge, and full day nutrition doses.

Today’s program as planned: taxi to the airport, check-in without checked luggage, 2 hours flight on schedule, landed on time, straight from the gate to the hotel and checked-in.The air quality seems a bit better compared to Beijing. At the hotel check-in I received my parcel with my Tibet Travel Permit! Yeah, got it in my hands! The hotel could arrange my tomorrow’s journey to the sites around Xi’an, but I had the impression it was a bit expensive. I took a taxi to downtown area and started my planned visits to the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower, the small Mosque, the Muslim street and bazaar, the large Mosque, and the city wall. In between I arranged my tomorrow’s journey without help of our interns, Yeah! Enjoy the photos!

Xi'an Bell Tower

Xi'an Bell Tower

Xi'an Bell Tower

Xi'an Bell Tower

Day 32 – Happy Birthday to my daughter Evelyn from the Great Wall of China!

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Today is the birthday of my beloved daughter Evelyn! She turns 13 … and I am not at home. I really wish her a great birthday, happy birthday my dear Evelyn! Love you! I feel very sad that I am unable to share this day with you! Megan captured me on a small video with wishes from the Great Wall. Hope you like it!

Today one of us had to leave unexpectedly due to the expiration of the visa. The hotel staff draws the attention on the pending expiration today and it seems impossible to extend the current visa on short notice. Four of us remained in Beijing and we rented a driver to visit the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. It was quite cold and very windy whilst walking on the Great Wall, in particular compared to the temperatures we were exposed to in Xiamen. It was a difficult day, but I enjoyed the views and being accompanied by my great friends. Enjoy the photos!

Happy Birthday Evelyn!

Happy Birthday Evelyn!

Happy Birthday Evelyn!

Happy Birthday Evelyn!

Great Wall

Great Wall at Badaling

Day 31 – First day after the CSC program – visting Beijing

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This morning breakfast at Starbucks, in front of the hotel! Compared to Xiamen it is very cold outside, luckily I have my winter jacket and cap. We walked from the hotel to the Forbidden City for about 20 min. The Forbidden City was very impressive, far larger than we expected. The entrance was quite crowded, but inside the people spread around.

It took us five hours to get through whilst using an audio guide to know what we were looking to. Impressive! After the Forbidden City we walked south, crossing Tiananmen Square and down Qianmen Street till the Temple of Heaven Park. The walk was far … far longer than expected. I started already yesterday with the arrangements for a driver to bring us tomorrow to the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. This morning I got the prices, and during walking I could get everything confirmed. Thanks Laura for helping me out! Let’s see tomorrow how good this arrangement will be. Unfortunately it was getting dark and cold by the time we arrived at the Temple of Heaven Park, time to get into a taxi to the hotel and find something to eat.

Sorry, might be boring above but don’t feel at all in a writing mood at all today, enjoy the photos.

#ibmcsc china

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

Megan in action at the Forbidden City

Day 30 – Bye-Bye Xiamen, Beijing here we come!

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Half of our team left Xiamen today, the other half will leave next day. Today, two of us went home and four of us (Megan, Vani, Michael, me) left for a new challenge: trying to survive a few days in Beijing without interns! We kept our local mobile numbers, thus we can stay in touch with each other and in case of emergency we can try to reach out for help. Tomorrow the rest of the team will also split, some going to Hong Kong and the rest going home.

It wasn't easy to leave colleagues and interns behind when leaving to the airport. It took me some time to know them better, but I learned to appreciate each of them over the past weeks. It was great working, living, and making fun together! Time pressure to leave to the airport helped to keep saying goodbye short. I left with Vani and Megan our interns behind at airport security.

Time will fly, friendships will weaken, but I remember all of you and hopefully we see each other again somewhere on this smarter planet. I try to stay in touch!

#ibmcsc china

Won

Our team - clockwise : Bart - Amit - Megan - Christy - Cecily

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