So as is the norm we are up early for breakfast and thankfully not as crowded today as it was yesterday! Plenty of time for my obligatory omelette, toast and black tea, as usual if I stay anywhere for a while I get into a food routine, god forbid they can’t make me an omelette any time soon.
Achut our Tour operator comes to see us off and of course to make sure I haven’t lost the China Tibet visa in the last 12hrs since I saw him. I reassure him that I have it and we head to the airport and check-in. At this point we are showing our visa all the time, checking in, departure immigration, security you name it they want to be sure you have it!
As seems to be standard practice as well our flight is delayed by just over an hour, but thankfully not much longer. Its not a long flight (1.5hrs), and 2hrs ahead of Kathmandu and the packed lunch box we get has 3 different types of bread/cake (just bread mind you, nothing else to go with it!) and a curious yoghurt that is more like a mousse. Sichuan Airlines are not too bad, its a very busy flight though but most people are transiting rather than leaving at Lhasa like myself and Nora.
And so we have arrived in Tibet, and start going through customs which isn’t too traumatic except Achut was very clear we need to keep one of the visa copies. As its a Group Visa you have to go through individually and then they mark you off and the last person gets the paperwork. I can see how people lose it!! Thankfully with just two of us I shout to Nora to make sure she gets the copy back we need to get back out again.
The usual security, pick up your luggage, and then get this scanned, and your tags checked and then another level of immigration check before we leave the airport. Its certainly a lot of security and checking from Kathmandu to Lhasa that is for sure.
We meet our guide Sonam, who has pretty good English. She welcomes us to Lhasa, the usual scarf is put over our heads. We then get the introduction and checking of the itinerary. She also explains to us quite clearly not to ask any political questions of her at all, either in car or in public. She points to something on the dashboard to indicate that they are being monitored as tour guides.
We are then given strict orders to drink lots of water, not to have a shower today, and eat very little tonight. We are at an altitude of 3,600m above sea level and so this is apparently to help avoid altitude sickness. We get taken to our hotel for the next few nights, Shang Bala Hotel, which is very glitzy. Apparently everyone still smokes so we are on the top, quiet smoke free floor apparently. I have to be honest we have done pretty well for hotels so far (apart from them always smelling of smoke), long may this last!
We are taken through the itinerary for tomorrow and then offered a change of plan for the last day, I think she is very used to people being a bit “templed out” I think the term is, and so asks if we are interested in more of a scenic drive and seeing more rural Tibet. This of course comes with a price tag as its not on the tour, and involves a 3hr drive out of Lhasa, but Nora and I both agree we would like to do it, and of course get lured in by the opportunity of seeing wild Yaks!! Tomorrow we go to the winter palace and I accidentally forget the Dalia Lama is in exile, and asked how often he visits his palace… ooops, I think the puzzled look on her face says it all!! I don’t know, maybe that counts as a political question too …. double oooops!
Chinese flags line the streets at about every 10metres along, Chinese writing on all the storefronts with the Tibetan in smaller writing above this. We are also told not to take photos of the armed forces that line the streets or they will take camera off you! Its all very “controlled” or so it feels, 50 minutes and we get to our hotel. We head out and wonder around, we wonder into a square and are quickly reprimanded and sent back, unsure of whether its because there is a fee to visit, or just security we give the place a wide berth and head to grab our light meal! The Lhasa kitchen is very nice, everywhere is freezing even indoors all the staff are wearing puffer jackets, we order vegetable spring rolls and vegetable noodle soup, still staying off the meat for now! Then back to the hotel.