Kathmandu and Lhasa – Mon 27th to Thur 30th April 2015
Just as we are about to retire to bed on the 27th I notice the mirror start to rattle slightly and shouting outside. Time to get out. I am sharing a room with Eileen and we each grab belongings and make our way down to the gardens. In hindsight we realised that we should probably have alerted our travel companions – I guess they know who they can rely on now!
On reaching the garden we found most of the hotel staff and some guests assembled but really the small aftershock was over before we got down there. The experience shook us slightly though and sleep eluded us for some time.
Tuesday 28th dawned and we were up fairly early for the airport. We are to fly out to Lhasa in Tibet today and our flight is scheduled for 11.40am. The airport is chaotic and packed with people of all nationalities trying to get flights home following Saturday’s disaster.
And so we wait.
We sit in the stuffy airport for eight hours but there is not chance we will be complaining. Flights are delayed or cancelled due to the aid planes, from around the world, flying in. We spot teams from India, Pakistan, China, Israel, France, Turkey and the U.S. Their arrival into the country is far more important than us leaving it.
Eventually we spot our flight is being called. It has been a long day but we work out that we should arrive in Lhasa by 9.30pm.
Or maybe not! Soon after our flight takes off I overhear an unsettling announcement telling us it is two and a half hours flight time to our destination in Chengdu. Others reassure me that it is just a mistake in the announcement but as the flight goes on our suspicions continue to rise. Eventually, when asked, a stewardess explains “No, we are going to Chengdu. You will stay in a hotel overnight and be picked up at 5am to fly to Lhasa.”.
Can you imagine our delight at this unexpected diversion?!?!
Many tired, angry and confused passengers disembarked at Chengdu – my first visit to China – and we were farmed out to a plush hotel for four hours sleep.
And so a bonus, extra flight for she who hates flying finally delivered us to Lhasa on the morning of April 29th. It had taken around 50 hours of travel and transit time to get here.
The scenery is stark and stunning with snow capped mountains rising all around. The breathlessness which comes with walking at normal speed reminds us that we are now at an altitude of around 3650m.
It will take us all a few days to acclimatise and with our bodies exhausted from lack of sleep it’s not long before some of start to feel the effects. All the flying has taken its toll on my ears and I frequently feel as though I am walking around a rolling ship. I join the others for a visit to Barkhor Square and then get some rest.
I know just how important it is to allow the body to acclimatise. I almost did not make it to Everest Base Camp in Nepal in 2012 when I walked too fast one day of the hike and ended up with the blinding headache which is a sign of oncoming cerebral oedema. Luckily a rest day and some diamox saw me through. I’m not prepared to take that risk again.
The trick is to walk so boringly slow that you sometimes think you have stopped, drink lots of water and (I know you won’t believe this one folks) have a couple of days off alcohol whilst acclimatising.
The advantage is that when I get back to the UK I will have a raised red blood cell count for up to two weeks so hopefully will be able to smash it up running and cycling!
Tibet is fascinating me already. The traditions, buildings, smells (mainly yak butter and incense) and friendly people are a joy to absorb. Today we have visited the Potala Palace and Norbulingka; these were the winter and summer residences of the Dalai Lamas. The Potala Palace is a stunning and vast thirteen storey castle which was built in the 7th century AD.
We haven’t forgotten the terrible devastation which we left behind in Nepal though. It is at the forefront of all of our minds and we hope that we are all spreading the word that more help is needed.
I am hoping to get more than the 3 hours of sleep I managed last night (a recipe of jet lag, altitude and cough) because I am starting to feel human again. Excellent news as we have a 5 hour hike tomorrow – bring it on!
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