4 days in the Nepal's mountains

We're back...after some awesome days in the mountains of Nepal. The Himalayas were shrouded in mist most of the time but when the peaked through the clouds, boy were they impressive!

Most of the walk was in thick jungle like nature and if you can imagine a jungle with autumn colours...and we saw white monkey!

We walked through many terraced hills where they are harvesting their wheat and saw all shades, tones, and hues of yellow and green as the wheat was in differing stages of harvest....really cool stuff.

The internet connection in Pohkara (where we will be until our bus leaves early the 2nd for Varanasi, India) is pathetically slow so this is all I will write. Nepal will need another post sometime because its a beautiful place with incredible mountains.

Also, now that I can get on my blog, I will post straight there, that way if you are sick of receiving these updates (as they double for my journal and can't be that fun to read through sometimes) just go to the site.


unless you REALLy want them sent to your email, just let me know.


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A bit of finishing and bits

ok so if you read Mike and Jason's account you can get a pretty good idea of the "road from hell" or "ride of a lifetime" or "i think I could possible die tonight". Now it would all be fine but the biggest thing we can't give up is that NO WHERE did we read in any of the guidebooks that we would even be venturing into anything remotely dangerous (seriously mom and dad, I had no idea) and then with the car's steering being hand welded back together, Holy mother, was it something else. Also, from what we saw in the moonlight it seemed to be one of the most incredible feats of construction and engineering to build a road up the Tibetan plateau so why haven't we seen some Discovery Doco on this project??? or why is there no record of this road??? or are we just softies??? NO WAY!!!! It nearly brought Lucy to tears, uh that's right people, Lucy. But we have all agreed that it was amazing and as it was a full moon night, and we could see the light relfecting across the sheer canyon ledges and in the raging river beneath, there really is nothing to compare and we did live so all is well. But boy, was it a ride. Also I would also like to mention the incredible feeling of being on top of the world, literally at eye level with the tallest mountains in the world. This was before we hit the road of death of course and we were climbing up to 20,000 ft. and were literally seeing just the perfectly white peaks of the mountains as the sunset but when you are that high the sky is blue and fades into pink at the horizon...and amazing dusty pink i have never seen before and felt soft. Our driver told us to hold on and as we passed through the prayer flagged arch to the top of the pass, we beheld an incredible sight; the sunsetting over the cloud shrouded Himalaya mountains. Yum Yum. We jumped out for a few pix and boy was it COLD... a real frigid dry cold...and at that moment we were very very glad that we hadn't gone to base camp with our feable equipment. Back in the jeep and the descent began. In the next 4 hours we would descend over 11,000 ft down off the plateau...we just kept going down down down. Oh wait a night! What a feeling! Of course within those 4 hours the radiator hose broke, the boys ran down into the canyon to get river water, we stopped by a mining town at midnight for some fried rice and to seek out a new hose, and then we winded our way down absolute sheer cliff edges on what was really like the worst logging road ever, stalling and us having to push start the car 4 or 5 times ( i stopped counting), and finding ourselved head on with huge trucks coming up the road that was only big enough for one of us and a cliff on the other side. Of course, once I found out that our MDSH had done this drive 3 times that month, I realized why his car was falling apart and also felt much more confidence in us arriving to Zhangmu, which we did about 2 AM or so. Oh what a night! Besides the fact that Zhangmu is like a super seedy brothel town built literally on the cliffside, life was good and we found a relatively clean room (we just didn't look too hard) and got a few hours of sleep before making our way down to the border crossing and into Nepal.


the most incredible travel day ever! Jason's account

Hey, we have had a very exciting couple of days coming over the border to Nepal from Tibet.  We left the town of Shigatze early Tuesday and headed west towards the border.  The highway, which was in great shape, was almost abandoned.  Our driver made several stops to meet with some shady characters along the way.  I don't know how i feel about being a drug mule, but oh well.  We came to a small town that felt like we were in the old west.  Our driver told us that was the end of the road for him because the road would get much worse. 
we got out and started looking for someone to take us the rest of the way to the border because we were determined to get out.  Not that we didn't like tibet, I actually really like it, its just that it was time to go.  Of course we picked the cheapest guy and maybe we should have questioned our choice when his old jeep cherokee could barely start.
The guy driving was a super nice chinese fellow.  We made our way through a checkpoint that was swarming with ugly europeans and passed right by the turn-off for Everest base camp (we were over trying to get a permit) and actually got a pretty cool view of the world's tallest mountain a little ways farther down the road.  We drove through the town of Dingri and the nice road gave out to dirt.  The terrain we were driving through was beautiful but appeared lifeless.  Little settlements and lots of sheep, goats, and yaks.  Most of the traffic on the road were horse drawn carts carrying traditional tibetans.  The road got a little rough and I heard a bit of a grinding noise; the driver pulled over and got out to inspect the car.  The steering arm that connects to the right front wheel had come loose and was dragging on the ground-and basically made steering impossible.  after a quick fix with bailing wire we were back on our way and the steering problem seemed to be fixed.  The next little settlement we came to he pulled in and told us he would get it fixed.  out of this mud brick building came one of the more unique looking fellows i've seen on the trip.  Our driver and the man started scanning the dirt yard for bits of metal with which they started welding the steering arm securely into place.  After the first weld our driver hit it several times with a hammer and told him that he needed to do it better.
I think that if we knew what was coming ahead as far as road conditions go, we never would have gotten back in with such a sketchy weld job, but these guys know what they are doing, right?
We continued up and up a mountain pass through an area that reminded me of Death valley, by the time we topped out we were at 16,568 feet and had an absolute beautiful view of snow capped peaks of the Himalayas.  We got out and could tolerate the cold only long enough to take a few pictures, but it was definately one of the most dramatic scenes I've ever seen.  When we got there it was dusk and it got dark fast but the near full moon also came up. 
The description of the climb down towards the border is that it drops about 2700 meters, we assumed we had done a lot of that in the first hour or so down, but we hadn't.  We got into a tighter river valley that quickly turned into a steep-walled canyon.  The road was under repair but the way was good and the river not far below the road.  Our driver suddenly stopped and made another inspection.  The engine was in danger of overheating because his new radiator hose cracked and was draining water all over.  We made our best attempt at repair and the three of us (Mike, our driver, and me) climbed down the steep talus slope to the river, filled up all the water bottles we had and climbed back up to the car.  The fix worked good enough to get us the short distance down to a small village who surprisingly enough had a guy that could fix the problem. 
We ate dinner (our first meal all day) and waited for him to return.  I checked email and was warned by the internet xiaojie that the road down was very dangerous.  Of course I waved it off and we were back in business.  Of course the road was very dangerous as the trip from the plateau to Nepal occurs in short distance.  The next 33 km to a border town called Zhangmu is on a dirt/mud road that is usually wide enough for just one car but that has large trucks coming up it frequently.  The road clings to the side of the cliff and in the moon light the bottom was out of sight most of the time.  By this time it was midnight and the moon casts errie shadows on the canyon.  Several times we had to stop to let traffic coming the other way pass and several times our vehicle died and we would have to get out and push start him.  The first time was fun but the other times that we had to push him were downright scary.  The thought of plunging over the edge and dieing was with me throughout the trip. 
During the ride we passed several big streams that went right over the road.  At times we would regain the river and then suddenly it would plunge away again seemingly thousands of feet below.  After three hours of white knuckle driving we made our way to the border town of Zhangmu, we paid our driver an extra $100 and found a hotel, the time was around 2:30 in the morning.  The closest hotel was what i called the Whoretel and was the creepiest place I've ever stayed at.  I didn't drink any water because I didn't want to have to use the toilet it was so bad.  We stayed up talking about the events of the day realizing that if we had known what we were getting ourselves into we proabably wouldn't have gone, or at least we would have gotten a decent vehicle. 
We got up the next morning and made our way through the chinese border, walked nine km down similar road to the Nepalese border.  the mountain sides were full of trees and waterfalls, it was an amazing change from the barren plateau of tibet.  As we approached the border the immediate change of culture was shocking.  We were definately out of china and in Nepal.  The women were all wearing Saris and the poverty was very apparent.  The border took a few minutes to get through and we were immediately greeted by a man willing to take us the four hours to Kathmandu in his small toyota.  The drive to Kathmandu stayed in canyons and mountain tops, passing buses full of people both inside and on top.  We saw one truck rolled on its side, a burned out bus, a scene where a car had recently rolled off the road down a hill, and what I'm pretty sure was a dead man off the side of the road.  This place is definately different.  We got to the city and we can't wait to leave.  We will head out tomorrow to the countryside to try some trekking for 4-5 days and from here I will fly to China to continue my travels by myself. 

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the most incredible travel day ever! Mike's account

So we got to Nepal yesterday which is really cool.
TIbet to Nepal was really one of the funniest and interesting trips of my life. Just getting into Tibet was interesting as we were unable to get the permits we needed, but we took the train anyway and managed in ok.
We went to a monastry that was out of bounds to tourists without the second permit which we were also unable to get, but we went anyway, and the police there gave us a 50yuan fine - that is about 10nz - each.
But the fun started when we were trying to get from Shigatse to Nepal. We found out from the PSB - the Polce guys - that we didn't need a permit if we were going straight to Zhangmu, so we decided to skip Mt. Everest, which we saw from afar but could not get a visa to see up close, and head straight to Nepal along the high way.
So Tuesday morning we got up really early and headed straight to the bus station with confidence as we didn't need a permit. We went to buy a ticket and they wouldn't sell them to us. We tried to pay the driver directly but no one would let us on.
Jason and I decided to go to the PSB to get a little note from the police man to tell people that we were allowed on bus. The PSB wa meant to open at 9:30, come 11:15 there was still no sign of opening so we decided to go back to a large group of Mafia looking men who were willing to take us about half way to where we wanted to go. That trip was very uneventful with a nice brand new smooth road and we went really fast.
We got to our destination which was a stretch of shops lining about 30metres each side of the main road - a really western town where people would ride rotary hoes rather than horses and carts pulled by donkeys would fly past.
Once we arrived at this town I went up to the police guy who was manning the raod block arm and asked him who could take us to Zhangmu, the Tibet-Nepal border town. He left his spot and spent about 5 minutes wondering around asking if any one was going there. The one bus a day there had already left hours before. The travel book we had said that it was about 4 hours and a road that was "a little rough", but we finally found a convience store owner with a mid 80s Jeep who was willing to take us for 1500yuan total - that is about $75nz each or 300nz total. However, he seemed to think it would take about 8 hours - we were a little dubious about this however.
Well after he managed to get his car started - it took about 10 minutes and he could only get it started in first gear for some weird reason - we took off and quickly hit a fairly good gravel road which we followed a it got gradually worse for about 2 hours. We got pictures of Everest and a few other mountains but didn't really stop as we were eager to reacht he edge of the plateau before the sun went down as it was meant to be amazing.
Next is where the fun started. This guys Jeep had a few mechanical problems which he failed to fully disclose to us. We encountered the first of these about 2 hours into the trip. Dad will know that in these old jeeps the steering rack is connected to a steering arm hooking straight to the front right wheel. A much longer arm bolts thorugh this shorter arm and then runs to and steers the left wheel. Well this left sterring arm sheered it's bot off and was left dragging on the ground. This meant the left wheel didn't turn. Well he fixed this by ramming an allen key through the pin whole and wrapping 20metres of no. 8 wire around the area where one arm bolted through the other. We took off at high speed and it seemed to hold well. We assumed that we would go the rest of the way on this system - little did we know what the road turned into.
The driver with more foresight pulled into a village of Tibetan Mudshacks about 15 minutes up the road and found a mechanic - which in Tibetan we now realise man with mysterious high power welding machine.  So this old guy Mehanic was summoned from his drunken stupor at the little ale house and came to "fix the Jeep". This fixing process began with a 10 minute search around a junk pile for old metal he could do stuff with - at this point the amazing super welding machine was yet to be unvielded.
Our driver and Tibetan grandad Syd decided on the end of a broken screw driver and showed it to us as we watched is disbelief, uncertain as to how this was meant to help. It was then that the door to the workshop wa opened and a tractor-like engine connected by long cables was started up. The man then pulled funny $1 warehouse sunglasses out from his pocket, crawled under the jeep and proceeded to weld the two steering arms together with the old screw-driver welded into the two arms to ensure they were solid. Had we known the state of the road to come we would have been sceptical of the effectiveness of this fix job which the man charged $2nz or 10 yuan to perform. (Chris will have more about this experience and the people we meet there.)
So we carried off again and motored quickly, we thought perhaps far to quickly considering the potential for the steering to come undone at any moment.  But off we went over the most beautiful alpine area in the world. We kept wanting to stop for pictures but the driver was insistent that the views we wanted were only a little way ahead. And they were. We climbed to the top of a 5200m pass and that was the edge of the plateau. The mountain peaks we could see before turned into huge mountains which we could see from base to peak - we were at the Himilayas. We stopped and took photos, but as you can imagine 5200m at 8:00pm in a northern hemisphere late October, wa a tad chilly so our photo taking lasted about 5 minutes - lukcily the ast few minutes of sunlights.
The road from here went from bad to terrible. We dropped from 5200m to 2500m in only about 100km. That drive took 7 hours and this is where all the real fun began. We took off from the top and the road descened quickly into massive gorges where the road was only just hanging onto the side. It was like someone had built a road around a fiord in Milford sound. It was just hacked out of the rock. We follwed this road uneventfully for about 2 hours and then the "brand new" hose connecting the raditor to the engine burst. Luckily we were a good 1000+ metres below the pass and it was only just warm enough to get out of the car and try to fix it.
The process began with Jason, Mr. Driver and I scrambling down a steep sloop to a river to fill our empty water bottles. Then began a 1 hour process of fixing the radiator hose. The one on the Jeep was screwed so he grabbed his old one, the one he had just replaced, and attached that. However, he had replaced that one as it had a huge split in it. We wrapped sellotape around the hose to stop it from leaking in a process that took ages and ages. (More about the details of this later). We then jumped back into the car and with only a minimal amount of leakage drove "around the corner", literally no more than 1km, to a village. Here we jumped out and ate food, the first meal of the day at 11:00pm. Our driver rushed off to find a new hose.
Interestingly, this worker miner camp shanty town had great food and at 11:00 at night our driver was able to get a local to fabricate exacly the right hose for him out of top quality pipe used in their road working rigs, and the hose and installation only cost $10nz, including the late night hassle me from bed fee. Our meal was the same price and really really yummy. It was however freezing so we waited in a small internet cafe occupied by chinese kids playing a dancing game. Really funny.
Our driver promptly returned and despite it being midnight insisted that we go back down the last 33 km of road to Zhangmu.  This road is under heavy construction, much needed as it is currently the most dangerous road in the world. The huge cliffs feel hundres of metres, perhaps over a thousand at there highest point, to a river below. The road continued to wind along the cliffes as the descent from the Plateau continued. This portion of the drive was filled with terror and fatigue as the road seemed to descend from one bottomless canyon to another, each time the road becoming steeper and more difficult than before. Everytime the road widened enough to feel comforable workman camps of heavy canvas tents emerged at the road edge and heavy equipment was parked in ways to take our vechile to the cliff edge. Moreover, this road is the main shipping highway between Nepal and Tibet. So, at some point we came accross huge trucks lumbering up the hill towards us.
Somehow during our first truck encounter the Jeep stalled and would not start. We all a\had to jump out and push the truck to the very edge of a huge precipice and wait for a convoy of massive vehicles to roll on past, one coming to with n only a cm of smashing out little jeep with its rear tail.  Well needless to say the drive down was insane and we can not tell if the dark augmented or reduced the fear we should have felt. It did mean however we did not get any photos.
So around 2:30 we rolled into Zhangmu, with a huge sigh of relief. We found a place to stay for a few hours until we walked accross the border, 10nz for all for of us. It was a brothel I am sure and the red halkway lights were creepy.  But there was little choice. We paid our driver another 800yuan between us - about $60nz just because we felt guily that we had forced anyone to ride that road - and then we went to our room and didn't sleep for aleast an hour after that despite absolute fatigue.
Then the next day we got to nepal.
This is the short version - I will write this adventure in more detail later.

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the most incredible travel day ever! Chris' account

ok. here goes but bare with this internet connection and we'll see what i can articulate at this moment in time. mike has also written his account....like the gospels, his will no doubt be very lively and mine full of odd details
we woke up at 6:30AM on Tuesday morning to make our way down to the Shigatse bus station where we had stopped by the day before to check on getting a bus to Tingri and onto the border of Nepal. Didn't seem like it would be a problem. The air was very chilly and even though it was passed 7 when we were walking, it could have been the emptiness of the middle of the night due to the fact that Tibet is on the same time as the rest of china but is thousands of kms away. the night/morning sky was that silver blue as the sun was thinking about rising.
at the bus station the man shook his head when we asked about a ticket and then the bus driver did as well. so mike and jason pulled out the serious chinese and explained that we had been to the police station the day before and he assured us we didn't need a permit if we weren't going to Everest Base Camp (that's right, we WERE that close and didn't go, but you don't want to get me started and we got incredible views as it was) and straight to Nepal but they were not having it...wouldn't say panic, because we weren't on a tight time frame but more just annoyance and confusion and the lines of communication and the complete ambiguity and uncertain situation that Tibet is in a constant of flux when it comes to foreign independent travelers. It is NOT unsafe but no one really knows what is going on, so it seems but luckily we had chinese speakers in our midst ( rock stars!) and so while Lucy and I waited in our of our favorite internet gaming haunts, they ran around trying to get the police to give us some sort of notary that we could travel by bus. 2.5 hours later, and sure the thought drifted through my mind of mike being dragged out of some heated conversation into a Tibetan holding facility ( very brief thought) and Lucy and I being on the internet in Shigatse the rest of our days but not long after that thought, they were back and told us the office hadn't even opened and so we (clinging to what the police told us the day before) hired a taxi to take us the 4 hour drive to New Tingri ( the last city before the turn off to Everest Base Camp) which was as far as he said he was allowed to take us according to China's policy but really we found out it was because his little car would have self destructed on the road we would have to traverse.
That ride was pretty uneventful but the landscape was incredible with more of the stark mountains, red earth, and sand dunes, but blue blue sky. Desolate areas for sure. He stopped the car once and disappeared behind a mound to relief himself and perhaps make some sort of dealings in a shady room in another little town...hey, whatever you have to do right? It seemed that most of the people where these turquoise studs with a bit of coral that hangs from beind the ear...as a side note, I really like them and once when mike needed to go he was directed to the toilet which was just a plot of land across from the school. Most of the drive was along a very new and flash highway that was nearly deserted with the occassional check point that our driver needed to show his ID but I will admit I always held my breath just because the farther we got, the less i wanted to get someone who made us take the very long trip back to Llasa but it was fine and friendly.
When we arrived at our destination, there was pretty much nothing there except a few little shops and the Snowman GuestHouse and the Chengdu Restaurant and a rope across the road with a police man. Totally felt like a deserted dusty wild west town. Because Mike is cool, he just rocked up to the policeman and told him we wanted to go to Zhangmu (the border town to Nepal) and the police smiled and said he would ask around so he left his rope post (letting several cards go by :) and we tried to convince our driver to take us the rest of the way but thats when he told us with a cute little hand motion that his car would fall apart (little did we know...) and that's when Mike came out from a convieniet store and and a late 80s white jeep cherokee with a "ski patrol" insignia on the side pulled up beside us and this was going to be our bessie, our vessle to the border. We hadn't been waiting for more than 10 minutes when we had a ride and were back on the road. We had originally arranged Mr. Driver Man (what we now fondly refer to him as) to take us to a city quite close but the cop at the rope thought he was taking us all the way to the border and handed him money to buy him his favorite soup but Mr. Driver Man told him that we didn't want to go that far but being in that car, we just wanted to all the way so we paid the money to go all the way which was a lot more because he told us the road was a bit rough, ha! We were off.
Ten minutes later we made it to THE checkpoint. The elusive one that all the foreigners in Tibet seem to be talking about and the first policeman asked us for our permit and I felt a waft of anxiety (that dang permit) but Mr. Driver Man was actually "the" man and 10 minutes later we were back on the road and as we weren't going to Base Camp, it was just a quick check. Not long after, we were passing the turn off to Base Camp and we all felt fine, despite the fact that pretty much everyone we talked to said we HAD to at least try and get in but we didn't come to go and in my very humble opinion the experience we had i would NEVER give up to go on an organized tour to Base Camp. Yes, it is true that due to the recent activities with protests and Bush meeting the Dalai Lama that Tibet had been forced into a position of defense and permits were stopped if wanting to see some monestaries, sights, and base camp so there was a buzz of confusion everywhere foreigners hung out and most people felt they had to join a tour and if you wanted to go to the base camp you really did but it was all buzz and we wanted to find out for ourselves (not trying to defy just purely wanting first hand information) so that's why we went to that monestary on our own and took public buses and tried to get a permit in Shigatse which is when we saw that there was actually no way to go to Base camp without a permit so why join a tour?  On our own we went so there weren't many foreigners doing it that way and we even went further to get some shop owner to drive us and it wouldn't have been as easy without some chinese speaking.
anywho...passing the road to Base Camp we soon came to an opening a there she was, Everest peaking out and very magestic and holy hell I never thought I would be THAT close so I felt pretty special even though she was just peaking out in the distance. Why I call Everest she? Only a woman could be that majestic...bu dum dum chi. The town of Tingri, "Home of a wicked view of Everest" was another dusty wild west town with lots of people milling around in colourful headscarves. I mean think if your hometown had that view. And as we passed through town Mr. Driver Superhero Man told us that this is where the road was going to get a bit rough and yeah, it got a bit washboardy and dusty, dusty for sure! I became addicted with looking behind us as the view of everest just got better and clearer...so cool. It was amazing to look to the right and see these arrid golden hills and to the left and see the Himalayas. There would be villages dotted in the distnance but besides the dust of the road our our Ski Patrol Jeep, that was pretty much it until...we hear a clank and we pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.
I waited for Mike to report and the steering arm had completely come off the left front wheel but that is all I will say about that and maybe Mike's account will say more. But that is very bad so we all got out of the jeep into some beautiful sunsetting golden light on the meandering river with frigid water and watch as our Driver Superhero took off the wheel and totally pulled a McGyver...a quick fix but a fix none the less. We also took this pause to notice how awesome our hair looked being dusted for the past hour and it would remain that way until we got to Nepal yesterday. I got an idea of what Mike will look like with grey hair...not too bad :)
On the road again and just a few minutes later we were pulling over into a place that said
" The Ritz, guesthouse and restuarant" our our MDSH (Mr. Driver Superhero) was asking if anyone could fix cars. We all got out and waited as some skinny leather-face man rigged up his welding machine and put on his sunglasses and started welding away at the steering arm. Again, maybe Mike will say more about this but as this was happening Lucy and I were falling in love with one of the local Dustball kids ( totally covered in dust so their eyes really stood out white) who just sorted of hung around but wasn't begging or anything. He was wearing a back pack so I thought he was waiting for a bus but he was just waiting for...anything. He had the most hopeful sort of eyes so I went to the jeep to see if I could find anything and I got my hands on one of these individually wrapped bread rolls we had called, "Europe Bread"  but when I turned around he was right behind me with eager eyes. I gave him the roll and I have never seen such a light pass through someones face and his smile was gold. real gold and my heart broke as he literally skipped away with his little roll. what a cutie! Soon our car was all welding together costing a wopping 1.50US and Europe Bread Boy was back, I gave him another bread and saw that same light but this time tied to take a picture. We waved, he smiled and waved back and the next part of the trip was only going to get more incredible...more on that later....read on for Mike and Jason's accounts.

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7 days in Tibet...Nepal

this will be a quick one.
yesterday we were able to travel from shigatse, tibet to zhangmu which is on the border of nepal. it was one hell of a day and one that i will need to give some real attention to as to adequately describe the day. we are in kathmandu and we have eaten and will soon take showers and go to bed. i will say that the change in culture and landscape from tibet to nepal was shocking (in a good but drastic way). its a beautiful place and we are excited to get out of kathmandu and into the mountains for some trekking and a potential yoga retreat.
more, much much more, later.

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Samye by boat, Shigatse by bus

The other day we got ourselves up nice and early and headed to the bus station to organize a ride to Samye which is 150 kms southeast of Llasa and is where the first Tibetan monestary is built in the 8th century. Upon arrival to the bus station, we each experienced a bit of what Britney Spears must tackle everyday with the pappis, as we were swarmed with men asking us where we wanted to go and then following us in a heard as we walked towards the station. I am so glad Mike and Jason can speak chinese...it has made what could be tricky so very not. So in Llasa you can get lifts in peoples' personal cars and they issue you with official bus tickets. odd. It was quite a thrilling ride those 150kms. Pigs, yaks, goats, sheep, and cows in the road and people seem to be hard pressed to stop...they just lay on the horn.The landscape is stark and vast and dry. Very Central Otago for those of you who know that landscape. After a very zippy trip our driver dropped us off at this river where we were meant to catch a ferry across to the monestary. It looked deserted so we weren't so sure if we had just been abandoned in the middle of nowhere but soon a Tibetan family arrived and we pretty much fell in love with them. We offered them a bread roll, we tried to communicate as best as we could but after the warmed up to us, it was all smiles and head nods. I asked them if I could take their picture and the father took off his jacket and sat like a chief for a portrait and the mother took off her head scarf. They were very eager to see their pictures and seemed pleased. While waiting for the ferry, MIke and Jason found some perfect skipping rocks and soon our Tibetan father joined in with them. It was cool to see them and then lots of other men join in. But then we soon made our way to our ferry which was really like a big row boat with a lawn mower motor stuck in the water. We meandered through sand dunes and islands for 45 minutes until we got to the other side where we were met by a minibus that drove us the last 20 minutes to a wall village and monestery passes sand dunes and tall gray mountains. At Samye, they have accomodation for monks, pilgrims, and travelers to the monestary. That is all there is to see so we made our way over and enjoyed a more relaxed visit to the monestary than the ones in Llasa. They are such ecclectic, almost frenetic, collage-like sacred spaces. Metals, Papers, flowers, candles, tiles, pictures, paintings, sculpture, statues, they have it all right there. Our Tibetan family had obviously made their way to this particular sacred space and we saw them in the main chapel saying their prayers with their daughter hanging around their knees. This particular monestary was really well taken care and after we had been through the whole thing we were on our way out and this little tiny old woman thought we hadn't been upstairs so she urged us and even walked us towards the stairs and we just didn't want to break her heart so we went back up but snuck out the back making sure she didn't see us. The people in Samye were very welcoming and friendly but we have found the customer service in Tibet to be....uh....non existent. :) We had a nice fried rice and cabbage dinner at the local restaurant and a relaxing evening. It was nice to be out of the city and not in a room right outside a Yak butcher like in Llasa. We woke up early (mike really early with his first travel vomit which was luckily up on the room) but all of us had special experiences in the squats at the hostel. Holy boy, these ones were amazing...shoots in the floor that depended on gravity to move the goods or should I say bads? We got back on the bus that took us back to the boat but we did awake to snow on many of the surrounding mountains so we packed on all our layers for the chilly ride across the river. We boarded the motorized row boat and made our way across pretty quickly and luckily there was a bus right there going towards Llasa but we got dropped off midway and got a bus to Shigatse which we thought was going to be a couple hours but was actually 4! The road was paved most of the way but for the second half it was really bumpy but through beautiful canyons and landscape that was similar to the South west desert of New Mexico just without the cactus and really high snowy peaks in the distance. Oh Boy it was quite the ride through some very desolate places really. Finally we arrived in Shigatse and we found ourselves a dorm room, some food, and some internet. We are going to be hanging out here for the next couple days until we can get the permit to travel the 4 days to the Nepal border which we made quite a significant move towards today. Yes, is is getting colder but still nice and warm in the sun. There are a few monestaries here that we will visit and the monks all wear these boots that look warm and sturdy and are kind of funky so I want to see if I can get some...until the next time a few pix on the site. ¡¡

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Samye and Shigatse

random pix from the ride to shigatse and the snowy peaks
the boat across the river to Samye
our family posing
mike at the ferry crossing
us on the roof of our hostel with the first tibetan monestary in the back
cool things on the edge of the gate
our family again
the monestary


Llasa day 3

We finally made it into the Potala today and it was magnificant. Those Dali Lamas have some incredible gold/gem encrusted tombs. A few more random pix from the day. I can't tell what I am posting so it's random. I love the colours of the scarves the women wear...we got some incredible shots of them and saw the most beautiful girl who was really posing for us but sadly mike was taking a picture of her father's ring...Tibetan Vogue I tell you. Tomorrow we are planning a trip to a monestary and then over to Shigatse for a few days. I don't know what the internet will be like so it may be a couple days.


Llasa day 2

so the internet access in Tibet is really good and we have not been sleeping well and altitude really is something else so come 3pm we are all set for a nice break with internet. here are a few more pix from the last few days in Llasa.

Today we ventured out to see The Potala but all the alotted tickets were gone so we got some for tomorrow. Llasa is a city of pilgrims. I think yesterday was especially busy at the temple but every morning the streets, especially the curcuits by the temple are filled with pilgrims, some praying, many holding prayer wheels, and most humming and chanting prayers.the pilgrim curcuits are lined with the big barrell gold drum prayer wheels that they spin while they walk by. A city of pilgrims.

So after we couldn't get into the Potala we got a minibus/van (the main form of transportation) about 4km out of town to another monestary. I think most are the same but what is so cool about Tibet, is that it feels so alive and present. China's rituals seem gone( just perhaps more rural and hidden) but Tibet is bam and here we are meandering through their holy places with them as they pray and devote. Some seem more devote, doing what looks like a muslim prayer (where the kneel and touch their head to the ground) and others wander in in their jeans so there is a vast variety of people and their levels of devotion, etc...They tuck money in nooks and crannies, pour yak butter wax (we think) into the candles to keep them burning, duck their heads under shelves, throw prayers scarves, and touch everything like doors and walls with a certain faith. This monestary was much less packed but with a steady stream of pilgrims. The children get these little black marks on their noses in the temples and they are so cute. We walked through monks quarters, this room where monks were making these prayer prints and the room was full of thousands of wood prayer blocks, and amazing prayer halls.

After a few hours, we made our way back to town and as we wandered to here I saw the most beautiful group of women. I think i could look at the women all day and i need to get better at just taking their pictures in stead of watching them in awe as they pass by. So there are a few different looks the women have, all of them beautiful and elegant no matter what age or status. But one look in particular is gold and coral drop earrings that actually have to have a chain attached to their hair to hold the weight, then a sort of cowboy hat with their hair pinned up to show their neck, and then a sweater with a stand up collar, and a black a-line skirt to the ankles that has a wrap over one of their shoulders. Sort of a tibetan cowboy queen.
tomorrow is definitely the Potala and then the next day we are going to head out 150kms out of Llasa to the oldest monestary in Tibet and stay there...then we will be testing our warm clothes...so we'll see.
beautiful place.


more Llasa



i could only get this pic to loadf...that is the Potala Palace behind me.


Tibet is in in your face culture. Of course, Llasa is a mix of Han Chinese and Traditional Tibetan culture but we were all in awe of what we saw today.Tibetan prayer flags are strung across most rooves and the sky is a perfect blue and the clouds white and light. The sun is hot and the weather is that perfect temperature but when the sun goes down or you are in the cold it gets cold. The city is surrounded by tall mountains with the Potala palace towering above the city in a prowess I never thought a building could have...the Edinburge Castle is close. I can't imagine what it would have been like to see that place from a distance before the city was sprawling around it. It rises 13 stories so we thought we would wait another day of rest before climbing the stairs up.
We woke up a bit lazily since we were smashed from the train ride but made our way toward the most visited and most sacred Temple with the most sacred statue in Tibet and it also happened to be a special pilgramage day so it was quite the day to be there in and amidst of everyone. I don't know that I am articulte enough to describe the beauty of the Tibetan people, especially the woman, olive skin, blushed cheeks from exposure to the elements, hilighted by these incredible turquoise earrings. Long Black hair braided with solid bright coloured yarns of purple, green, yellow, orange, and red and adorned with chunks and strands of coral and turquoise and silver. Luckily we did get some pictures because its just too hard to express. Awe-some as in I am full of awe over these people.
Lining the streets were stalls and stalls of jewelry. Some of it amazing and some of it obvious knock offs. Just the corals and the turquoises alone were glorious ( my two favorite stones) and I want one of everything. But we are talking huge chunky necklances, as in golf ball size stones...yeah, big. I wish I could have my Aunt Janet here to help me discern through this stuff. Just going to have to come back.
 We entered the temple and were immediately meshed into a line winding its way through the belly of the temple. Later we found out that we went in the pilgrims entrance not the foreigner entrance...so we got the real deal and were shown where to bow our heads and which way to go, although we were in a pretty tight line for about 2 hours as we entered many smaller rooms of devotion to Buddist gods before entering to "the" room which was a statue encrusted with gold and jewels and a monk told us where to touch our forhead and pay our devotion. I swear the Tibetan people ( you know in my whole day of being here) are the most smiley people I have ever been around, seemingly very kind and gracious with beautiful kind smiles. These faces...love it. I don't know that I would bring that much joy into a total strangers life with just my smile...then we climbed to the roof and got the most amazing views of the Potala and in the very distance on one of the bigger peaks I could see prayer flags that had been strung between the two peaks. Yes, there is something very unique about Tibet. I am not one to rate cultures but Tibet is unique (oh wait I just said that) and I haven't even left the city yet...
oh and we switched hostels to a place that a free laundry service and we all got all our stuff washed...it had been, I don't know, 3 weeks! Just in time. After that bit of wandering we were tired people and wandered our way to this internet place and are just relaxing a bit. We are planning on another 3 nights here and then we are going to venture out into the countryside...
Nate I want to come back here with you!

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after 45 hours on train we are in Tibet!

This will be quick but we made it to Tibet after a 45 hour train ride which was incredible through some of the most remote, stark, and beautiful landscape I have ever seen. It is the highest train in the world going over passes of 5000 meters! Snow capped peaks in the distance and a land that is always frozen. Some of the hills looked like they were covered in a deep brown/yellow velvet...with turquoise rivers coming down from the mountains. Wild yaks and antelopes dotted the landscape and every once in a while a camp of tents was scattered in the distance. What an experience!
Now we are in Llasa getting used to the altitude and feeling totally exhausted but we are here and here to stay for several days before moving on but I will say that it is just awesome to see the mix of people and the incredible colours and ecclectic mix of textures and people. I love it and I love the coral and turquoise jewels I can barely contain myself. I must say there is a shroud of difficulty that abounds within the backpacker world of getting to here but we found it an incredible journey on the train, met many very kind people and are excited to start our second month of traveling here in Tibet.
more later.
c &m

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Beautiful Chinese Mountain

So remember that tale I told a few weeks ago about climbing that amazing mountain staircase....well we found an even more amazing one here in Emei Shan. We are in Sichuan, China...real honest to goodness Sichuan Chinese food and boy is it HOT!

 We took the train out of Cheng du yesterday after a visit to the  Panda Breeding Center...funny name huh? The guide book made it sound like it was going to be run down and even a let down but it was great! I love Pandas now and am reminded of the the little yellow t-shirt mom and dad brought home for me when I was 2 from seeing "the pandas" in DC. They ARE really cool and now I too want to protect them. Actually they are hilarious, sitting up chomping down on bamboo like little couch potatoes. And after they munch down they sprawl out and sleep. I think I took more pictures of the pandas than I have of anything else so far (i will probably delete most of them...can't be that cool but maybe). So we have seen the pandas (only found in the mountains of Sichuan, China) and found them to be very endearing but Lucy and I think they would be even more endearing if they could be mini and and perch on your shoulder. Pandas were very cool. Afterwards we wandered around the Tibet quarter and found some fried rice and already I am giddy at the prospect of all those textures, colours, and amazing jewelry...I can't wait!

The train out of Chengdu took us through some lovely paddocks full of green-ness. The same green-ness that when thrown in a wok and mixed with some garlic has made us very happy travelers. Mike and I had nice conversation on the ins and outs of communist, socialist, and libertarian ideologies as we trained through the country-side. We arrived in Emei Train Station and got a taxi to the Bauguo which is through the gate and at the foothills of what is one of the holiest Buddist Mountains in China (used to be Taoist but switched over in like 600AD) and it is incredible. It can be meandered around and wandered through for days. There are monasteries along the way to stay in and many little moss covered bridges, pavilions, and MONKEYS! It is really really well taken care of and although there are some areas with lots of tourists (didn't see one foreigner amidst them) there are areas complete left to you. All those romantic ideas of a misty mountain China, this was it! Scene after Scene of beautiful picture and it was barely even mentioned in the guidebook. Hmmmph. Very glad we came down here. We wandered around for most of the day (legs shaky again from all the stairs) but it was great day that we finished off visiting one of the local restaurants ( we prefer the family joints to the bigger ones so we always seek them out upon arrival) with our garlic-afied greens, some super hot kungpao chicken and coke. Good day.

Tomorrow we are off to see the biggest sitting Buddha in all of China, then maybe to one of the villages from 'Crouching Tiger' and then back up to Chengdu to catch our evening train to Tibet. It's actually 51 hours from there. Ha! That will be a tale to tell. I hear that the squats in China (which can be horrific) have nothing on those in Tibet so we are in for a treat! I have refrained from telling my squat stories because I can't adequately express my horror in words.

on that note.


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Xian and Chengdu

We made it to Xian and out to the Terracotta soldiers which were amazing. What a find that was and what a job it is to dig them out!
It was rainy in Xian but there is really interesting Muslim Quarter (quite an ecclectic mix Chinese-Muslims) and very cool Old Mosque but with chinese architecture of course. Mike found this vendor making chicken kebabs so those were a Xian favorite.
We took the train to Chengdu last night and arrived 18 hours later. The train stopped everytime it picked up speed. There are some sights to see around the area like the infamous Pandas and a big buddha. We have train tickets leaving for Tibet on Sunday....36 hours from here. Should be fun.
We just got back to the hostel from getting 4$ hour long foot massages and a nice lunch that was about 1$ for some good rice and veggies. Things are definitely cheaper out of the cities.
Internet has been hard to find of late so many of the funny tales will have to wait until I can tell them in person. The weather is getting cooler but we are happy that it is not raining today.
ta ta

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Goodbye Beijing

Last day in Beijing...
Its been pretty rainy the past couple of days but today was a windy blue sky day, nice fresh autumn day and all the pollution was swept away.
Yesterday we visited Mao Zedong's body. Heaps of people lining up...really incredible to see them all queing to see him. He looked very waxy. A sea of umbrellas filled Tiannamen Sqaure yesterday. It will be nice to come back one day and see it without so much going on...or does that happen?
Then we visited the Forbidden City. Incredible place shrouded in all sorts of chinese history and myth. Its vast and tiring but well worth a visit. There were, of course, crowds of people there and can imagine the experience being more sublime without all the people but a must see in Beijing. In fact, in our wanderings we have come up with one heck of a tale told within these very forbidden walls. A tale the proves that love can overcome ALL! The tale of a young Eunach falling for one of the concubines ( yeah, bet you never thought that could happen!) and the story's crescendo is when they have to run from the guards and her bound feet burst out of their bindings and her feet are healed. We are going to get that girl from "Crouching tiger" to be in it but not sure about who we can get to play the young eunach...Jackie Chan?
After we wandered to the Temple of Heaven which is a gorgeous temple-like pagoda where the emperor used to go to pray for plentiful crops or something like that. It was a striking three tiered pagoda with all deep blue tiled rooves and painted with electric blue, deep green, red and gold leafing. Yum. It was in the centre of a lovely park. The emperor sure knew how to have big impressive and beautiful spaces around him.
This morning I sort of insisted that we find the Olympic Stadium and check it out. I don't know if you have seen any picture of it but it's an incredible structure, nicknamed the Bird's Nest, for very apparent reasons. It wasn't the easiest to find but we made on the bus and wandered as close as we could get to the construction area. The whole area sort of looks like Fraggle Rock with all the men in yellow helmets working deep down in the earth to erect these massive structures. I am glad we made the effort to go. Not only are they building that one but several others as well and it is very evident that they have spent a lot of time cleaning up the area and getting it ready for one heck of a presentation. But this steel nest is impressive. Definitely a sight to see...well I think it is.
We opted to walk everywhere today and now we are doing some quick email before we catch our night train to Xian (where the Terrecotta soldiers are). Hopefully we will be in Tibet in about a week. So we'll see how the planning all goes but its always fun moving to a new city.

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The Great Great Wall

The Great Wall is indeed great!
Yesterday our much awaited travel partner (Jason) arrived and the real Beijing tour can begin although we have had a myriad of odd wee adventures the last few days. We rented bikes the other day and actually biked around this city of 15 million which was less scarry than biking around Christchurch! Everyone seems absolutely insane on the road but when you are amidst the madness, they are extremely patient with eachother and we joined the flow, well on the road but in the little hutong (alleys) we pretty much had to walk with the bikes to get through the throngs of holidaying chinese people. So many people! We found another really good restaurant and added to our repetiour of dishes. They do some mean steamed veggies with garlic. yum! We have also sampled several really good chicken kungpau/ sweet and sour sorts of dishes. So I must say palettes are being fed in a more likeable way these days.
A few stories:
Today we traveled to the Great wall. We opted to take a tour (really cut the cost of getting there) to the area that is best preserved and I would write the names but I say J to S. It was a 10 km walk in between these two areas and it was outstanding! It is magnificant, a must see. It really does twist across the crests of the mountains like a snake, something magical almost. The day started out in a deluge but ended in clear blue sky so we saw the wall hidden in mist and exposed in the daylight. There were bits where it literally scaled 70 degress up mountain sides and plunged down deep and right back up in reverberating waves. Awesome.
We walked for about 4 hours up and day the wall. A beautiful walk but a long day that began at 6AM and finished back at our hostel around 6PM. So we scurried off to get some dinner from a new place around the corner. We are feeling more confident and now that Jason is here we are making him speak all the chinese to give Mike a break but Mike really is just good at the ordering now that he did it again but this time when he asked for our veggies with garlic we got a plate with raw carrots, cucumbers, and what looked to be some sort of leaf to be worn in the garden of eden sprinkled with raw chopped garlic...the literal presentation that was. Pretty funny. The carrots and cucumbers were really nice and we had another really nice chicken dish with peanuts in sort of chilli sweet sauce. good but odd.
one more funny bit to say and maybe i have said this but oh well and this is acting as my journal:
So I think I have mentioned these crepes they make here. Just like the crepes of gay paris but they crack an egg on them, flip to fry, then add an asundry of sauces, spices (msg no doubt) and some crispie things, fold up for what lookes almost like a burrito chinese style. They are alright and help to quell the hunger monster inside but weeks ago we thought how good they would be with bananas and Nutella. One desperate morning we went to the shop and purchases 3 chocolate bars and 3 bananas and asked one of the crepe ladies...she was happy to oblige and little crowd grew to watch with interest (perhaps disgust) but we were also sharing our culture with her (right?) and they were so good but the chocolate was a little overwhelming and they needed to be spread out. So a few days later in another town we did the same thing but this time we got the woman to spread the chocolate which we cut in half and they were even better. So then we had an even more brilliant plan and emailed Jason to bring Nutella from the states. Again, it was in a moment of desperation and all three of us sent him an email and so he got the message loud and clear and brought a bottle for each of us! We are in heaven. This morning we got some oil breads which are really nothing but oily overfried breadsticks and alone are wholly unsatisfying and coated them in Nutella...brilliant. go jason. this boy is going to fit right in.
Tomorrow we are off to the Forbidden City, Pass by Mao's pickled self, walk around Tiannamen Square for real, and start arranging our tickets out of the city and to Xian. We are all feeling pretty wasted from the big day out. I am very excited to go to the Forbidden city after reading a bit more up on the extravagance that existed within (concubines, eunuchs, feasts to feed thousands each night but only for the family.....)
Happy Birthday Nate! See you in a month in Delhi.
c & m

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Being in Beijing with all of China

Hello people.

It feels like it's been a few days and things seem like a bit of a blur to be honest. We arrived into Beijing late Sunday night and made our way to the hostel we booked online through what seemed to be a pretty seedy alley into one of those hostels that is chuck full of foreign hooligans looking for a good time...not that we aren't but we more look for places to sleep.

I have a friend who lived in Beijing for a while and told me the people were mean and I must say that in comparison to the other cities, they are much less friendly (is that pc?) but it is most definitely the capital city of a communist government. And oh yeah, we landed here the eve of their national holiday....BAM! So China has a billion people and I think half of them are in Beijing. It's called Golden Week and so we have a whole week of it and lucky that's our time here. There are sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ( each of those o's are like a million people) many people in the city which makes things like seeing the Square and the Forbidden city more like trying exercises but we are holding off until after Thursday when our friend arrives. We were going to leave the city and come back but were told there would be no way to get back in so here we are.
So we got up the first day (the actual national holiday) and walked amid the sea of people, walked through Tiannamen Square with all of China, and decided to just get out. So we went to Silk Street which is the market we always hear about selling all the knock offs and Gortex, etc....Holy freaking cow. It had it all and more. Everything you could ever want (or not want) was there. Each booth had several assistants who knew english and there was a reverberation of " hey lady you like" coming from literally every angle. It was borderline insane. Each of the 4 levels had different stuff. shoes, handbags, clothes, glasses, watches. tailored clothes. The whole lot. You would ask the price and they would say, "most special price for you, 1800 Yuan" and you would walk away and they would say," for you 200!" and that was before any haggling. Lucy got a really beautiful Chloe handbag (that retails for 3000NZ) for super cheap and it is a pretty darn good replica and we picked up some funky little shoes (NZ 10$, US7$). It was overwhelming but as we are somewhat seasoned in the effects of markets, we did a complete browse of the whole thing before we went in again....much suggested approach as you could spend you savings in the first booth where as by the time we were finished the wander, the novelty had warn off and we were ready to leave.

Since were weren't  going to be able to leave the city, we decided to find a quieter hostel and we found just that, the Lotus hostel. So we will be here for the next few days. Once Jason gets here we will see the sights and plan our trip to Tibet.

I only have a few minutes left but would just like to mention a few things about Beijing. There are public toilets....more like community toilets. So not everyone will have a toilet in their house so there are community ones since the system just couldn't handle it. So you will see people just wandering the alleys in their pjs brushing their teeth on the way to the public toilet. The wafting smells of open sewer are special. And people just tell you what they think. Today I was in a pharmacy and this woman who worked there pointed to my face and said "bu hao" not good...about my pimple face. Good thing I have a moderately stable self confidence. And these girls at the market yesterday called Mike a rabbit and pointed to his little tummy and asked when he was going to have his baby..all this was in chinese...ok?

There are Olympic posters everywhere and I think it is going to be pretty interesting come next summer as ( well at leas for the moment) everything is manual...tickets for the bus and the subway, there are workers for all this. But I guess it can't be any busier than we are seeing it now.

Tomorrow we are going to rent bikes and bike around the Hutongs (which are the little alleys all around the city). It certainly feels like a city of fantastic history...the heart of china. Hopefully Friday we will be going to do a 10km walk along the Great Wall.

It has felt really good to just chill out a bit and have some down time ( no site seeing) these past couple of days. The beds here are the softest we have found as well as the pillows.


c& m

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