Racing Bikes in Tibet: Day 7
Posted on June 01 2016
We drove through the night to reach our destination in Lhasa. The quality of the road deteriorated considerably and to say the ride was bumpy would be an understatement. Those of us unlucky enough to be seated in the back, spent equal parts seated and also floating weightless in the air. About 200km outside east of Lhasa we needed to climb a pass at 5500m along the infamous G318. This road goes unbroken from Shanghai all the way to Lhasa and is a popular route amongst cycle tourists, though we didn’t see any during the drive in.
The day began with the Potala Palace in the center of the city. Being a public labor holiday, we were not held to the usual two hour time constraint to be in and out of the building. Built by the fifth Dalai Lama, the palace served as the winter palace and houses the burial stupa shrines of the Dalai Lamas. One detail we all noticed about the facade of the palace was what seemed to be very thick coats of paint that had dried with many drip formations that more resembled stalactites youâ€™d find in a cave. Our guide explained to us that there is an annual whitewashing festival where buddhists from all over Tibet congregate around the temple and pour a mixture of white clay and milk to produce the perfectly white facade.
After our tour of the palace, we headed towards the square where the Jokhang Temple monastery is located. If the Potala palace is the geographical center of the city, Jokhang Temple is the cultural and economic center. Shops, restaurants, street markets and stalls all radiate from the center of the temple. Swamped with tourists, merchants and pilgrims, most of the shops catered to either of the two predominant groups. We spent the afternoon soaking in the city on a rooftop bar, generally just enjoying our free time in this culturally rich city.
We met up with Jiaxi, our local Tibetan guide, and headed for one of his favorite local noodle shops. This place obviously is not frequented by any tour groups or even foreigners for that matter. It was a scene out of a movie when we walked in and you knew all eyes were on you. After the initial 30 seconds of surprise, the novelty wore off and life continued as usual. We had a bit of a photo session with the cafe/restaurant owners and had hand pulled noodles and a type of meat pie. It was more of a thin crispy pancake that went beautifully with the meal.
We wandered the streets around Johkang temple later that night and stumbled upon a small bar. It was perfectly situated down a dark alley and was run by an eccentric man from Dongbei in China. We quickly learned he had previously first arrived by horse from Yunnan province to Tibet 15 years earlier. Needless to say, the man was interesting company and went spent the evening chatting about life in Tibet. We all wanted to know how difficult it would be for a foreigner to permanently live in Tibet. As nights would usually end in other parts of China, our night and trip in Tibet ended with food on sticks grilled over hot coals.