Saturday, August 28, 2010

Test ride

Last night we went up to the New Manadal restaurant at the end of Barkhour Square to have a little Nepalese food, instead of Tibetan noodles - very fine rice and dhal. We fancied some ice cream and so decided to try Dico's, the local equivalent of McDonalds. We opted for ice cream and chocolate sauce - which all turned out to be faintly yak flavoured. If you're wondering why we tried Dico's its because we found pea flavoured ice cream in the local shops!

After a good night's sleep we were saddled up to go at 9 and cycled west out of the city following the river up stream. The road was good - smooth and not too busy. We came past lots of prayer flags on the mountains and saw people stopping their cars to put fragrant herbs into the little burning ovens by the stupas. Strangely there were seagulls and terns (no black cap). Other birds included a bee eater/bulbul shaped bird with a russet front and dark back, geese and chickens. We also saw our first yaks ambling down the road and plenty of cows in the fields. There were also lots of poly tunnels growing aubergines, melons, pak choi, tomatoes and doubtless many other fruits and veggies. We took a turning up to a tourist eco camp but only found a military barracks and some grumpy guards. But it was up a bit of a hill so good practise - I got quite out of breath whilst cycling but it all subsided very quickly we stopped. After 15miles we stopped for a drink in a cafe and then returned by the same route, calling in at the Tourist Toilet on the way back - better than most others we have visited but still not a fabulous experience. I think it will only get worse as the trip progresses.

Back in town we had noodles at the Lhasa Kitchen and picked up some chocolate - their brand seems to be Dove but I'm pretty sure its Galaxy! Tonight we'll have a farewell meal (to Lhasa) and then tomorrow the tough stuff begins. I think it may be 4 days until I can blog again but it might be all the way back to Kathmandu if we're unlucky in Shigatse with the internet.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Jokang Temple and Sera Monastery

After more noodles last night and a yummy omelette for breakfast we headed off to the centre of old Lhasa - to Barkhour Square. Its this the pilgrims have been circling and we were allowed to go in for 15min to see the splendours inside. The temple hasn't been renovated like the Potala Palace and the centuries of butter lamp smoke have blackened the walls but the central buddha still shines brightly, and the woodwork where the people have past and held the wood has a brilliant patina. The floors were coated in many years of butter too so it was quite slippery under foot. After our brief glimpse we headed up on to the roof where there were lots of golden chimneys and a stunning view across to the Potala Palace. Above the crowds we could easily take pictures, even of the stamping soldiers. The ladies mending the roof were rhythmically tamping it into place and singing, very lovely. Under the square there was a butter lamp manufacturer , where there were a few lads continuously pouring melted butter into the little brass goblets and putting in wicks. There were also a couple of ladies already lighting them. The floor was super slippery and the room really hot. Then we joined the throng and made a circuit of the temple before heading to the 'First West Cake House' for excellent muffins and lemonade.

This afternoon we saddled up and took Gongcho on his first cycle in years, up to the Sera Monastery. the roads were busy but we mostly had our own cycle path, even though it was used by cars and bikes going in both directions. The breathing was good! and we recovered easily after the little climb to the security post. Then on foot we wandered around what must have been a hive of activity, it was quite strange to see it as an open air museum with a handful of monks. At 3 on the dot a gong was sounded and all the tourists headed into a courtyard to watch the younger monks testing each other on the scriptures, making the hands in acknowledgment of correct answers. It was fun to watch and they all see to be having a good time, but it was rather goldfish-bowl-esque. Then a longer route back to the hotel,circling the Potala Palace and braving the traffic. Time for a little more cake and a rest/shower (its been about 25C) before dinns and then tomorrow we'll try a long distance!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Potala Palace and Barkhour Square

After a bit of a noisy night (lots of horns on the main road) we had tsampa and fruit for breakfast, the tsampa was a bit like ready brek! Then we hot footed it down to the Potala Palace, but our allotted entrance time wasn't til 9 so we hung about the gardens and took some photos. Then we were allowed in and started climbing up the steps - a hard job, Zoe said her heart rate was three times its normal. At the top we came in to a courtyard and entered into the palace itself. There were many beautiful paintings and many many Buddhas, tombs from Dalai Lamas, covered in gold. turquoise and other precious stones, including elephant pearl, which apparently comes from their brains (didn't fancy that much!). We only had a short time and soon we were out on the other side descending the steps to a large lake where we caught the bus over to the Summer Palace. This was set in beautiful gardens and filled with flowers in pots. The rooms were smaller but no less ornate. The Tibetan white and blue drapes they use for celebratory tents hung above doorways and windows making a very jolly air. By 11.30 we were all starving (apparently you use more calories at altitude!) so we set of for lunch back near the old part of Lhasa. We went up some steps and found a large room with low benches and ordered lots of noodles and some yak momos, but unfortunately the momosd turned out to be filled with yak cheese - really horrible! Sort of sweet and crunchy and yaky/goaty! The butter tea was similar, with lots of salt in too. While we were having lunch Gongcho got a phone call saying the bikes had arrived from Kathmandu on the truck, so we scarpered back to the hotel to assemble them and make sure they were working. An hour or so later it was done, I had also visited the bank and changed some money (making the teller giggle when I asked for small notes and receiving a really big wad!). Then out to find some puncture patches and postcards before browsing through the market in Barkour Square. We always seemed to be heading against the tide of pilgrims but we saw all kinds of interesting things - lots of massive pieces of amber and turquoise, ancient stirrups and bells, rugs, national costumes and much more. We went to a covered market and stocked up on boiled sweets and biscuits for our trip. Tomorrow we'll take our first cycle out to Sera monastery, but first its time to put the feeties up and have a rest!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


After a super Tibetan meal last night, giant fried momos (sylbanet or something like that) and a bit of a delay in the airport we were off to Lhasa from Kathmandu around lunch time. They said the weather was bad in Lhasa, and after hearing of two planes crashed yesterday we were happy to wait. Then all of a sudden it was all systems go. As we spiralled up out of Kathmandu valley we breached the clouds and as we flew to the East we could just glimpse the tops of some really big mountains, one of them must have been Everest!! As we flew onwards the clouds thinned and we could see the arid mountains and flooded valleys below. As we neared Lhasa the flood of the Bramaputra filled the whole valley but it looked like a regular occurrence as the roads were skirting the edge and the bridge spanned the entire width of the valley floor. We spiralled down again and then we had arrived! We were greeted at the airport by Gongcho our guide and lots of white scarves! There was a 65km drive up to the city, alongside the flood plain and buddhas carved on the rocks and distant prayer flags on mountain tops, looking like myriad spiders' webs. The city was something of a surprise! Lots of low rise fairly modern buildings and shops, but we caught a glimpse of the Potala Palace where we will visit tomorrow. A swift check in (to a cigarette small impregnated room!) and we went out to find some dinner, wandering through the little alley ways of old Lhasa up to Barkhour square. I was quite shocked by the number of security cameras and military police in full riot gear! Gongcho took us past  hundreds of little stalls full of really beautiful things - necklaces, buddhist cymbals, bells, fruit and much more. We ended up at a local restaurant which ace! No momos tonight but lots of noodle soup, of various descriptions and also yak - in the soup and also as milk in the tea - tasted quite goaty! Amazingly it only cost us 1GBP each!! Nick and i wandered back past more stalls - lots of biscuits, which we may have to stock up on before the ride, but even with the time change we're quite tired so an early night I think is called for!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Patan and Swayambhunath

Last night we went to the Utse hotel, which has a fab Tibetan restaurant, lots more momos were consumed! I had Tibetan noodle soup (that thuk or something similar) and Grant (intrepid Aussie who'll try anything) had some of the fermented millet drink (Tongka?). I thought it was quite tasty but he really didn't like it, it was sort of like hot sherry.

Today we were up bright and early to hand over our bikes which are being driven to Lhasa by Durbah and his crew, hopefully there won't have been any landslides as they will have to carry them over! We were also supposed to be going for a sight seeing tour but it was really tipping it down so we rearranged to go after lunch. So Nick and I commandeered the hotel bus and a driver and went down to Patan, just to the south of Kathmandu. We were dropped off in the Durbar square and had a very pleasant wander through the area. There were loads of people about and even a queue to get into the Hindu temple. We later found out that its a special festival today and every one was having a lovely time. We stopped off in the Old House cafe for hot lemon and black tea, served by a young lad who looked about 12.

Back up at the hotel we bumped into the rest of the group about to go for lunch at the Gaia restaurant again, so we joined up with them, again a good lunch. The we all piled into the bus and went out to Swayambhunath, the monkey temple. We made it up the 360 odd steps to the top and were greeted by a fabulous view out across the valley. The temple was a stupa and equally crowded with Hindu pilgrims. Our bus picked us up on the other side of the hill and we drove towards the Kathmandu Durbar square and went for a great big walk around the area. We stopped in to see the Kumari, the living goddess, a girl of about 5 or 6, a rather weird experience, sort of like going to the zoo, with all the tourists gawping up at her as she made an appearance over a balcony. We walked back to the hotel past the markets Nick and I saw yesterday. Thankfully the rain has stopped, last dinner in Kathmandu tonight and then off to Lhasa first thing in the morning!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bikes and Boudhanath

After our team talk we all headed out to the Rum Doodle restaurant for a little butter chicken masala and a welcome beer, but then we all caved in for an early night! This morning we first went to choose bikes for Nick and Zoe (a zoologist and keen cyclist), calling in at two cycle shops. The second had rented to Red Spokes before, so they gave us a very good price! And they promised to put new cables and cogs etc on to the bikes. As that happened very quickly we had plenty of time for a good explore, Nick and I wended our way down to Durban square, past many temples and shrines, through many muddy puddles and market stalls. On the way back we stopped at the Gaia restaurant for lunch, just around the corner from the hotel and 5min later the rest of the group dribbled in too! I had momos - exceedingly delicious steamed dumplings! After lunch we met up with a guide from Eco Tours and he took us down to the Pashupatinath Hindu temple, where it was teaming with people, Sadhus and there were at least 3 cremations going on. From there we went to Boudhanath Buddhist stupa, this was much quieter even though there were lots of people making the circuit around, turning the prayer wheels. The rain was gently falling again and we went up to the Saturday Cafe for a chocolate brownie and a cup of tea. Nick's gone off to pick up his bike and we await Joyti our Nepalese guide to tell us if we're on a flight tomorrow or Thursday out to Lhasa!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


After many hours in the air we have arrived in Kathmandu! What excitement!! It was fairly chilly as we left London, roasting at 5am in Doha and then raining in Kathmandu when we arrived at 4pm. An interesting trip through the rush hour traffic and we arrived at the Holy Himalaya Hotel. The staff are very friendly and loaned us some umbrellas and we had a 20min walk down the road and back. Fabulous smells and sights, really exciting. Off for a team talk with Douglas our guide.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Toms and peppers from the garden

Haul of fruit/veg from the garden! Not bad for a place where it seems to rain rather a lot!


So we're all packed, I've just come back from seeing Nick at Red Kite Cycles who very kindly took off my pedals and gave the brakes a once over. Bertie is in his box and everything is in our rucksacks. Its really started throwing it down, I hope this is not a sign that the rest of the holiday will be the same! The weather forecasts are not promising wall to wall sunshine. So we've slipped in some washing up gloves and shower caps for extra waterproofing (though we might look at bit silly!)!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


On Saturday Nick and I will fly out to Kathmandu to start our BIG trip. We're joining Red Spokes to cycle from Lhasa back to Kathmandu. But if we're flying to Kathmandu how do we get to Lhasa? As we're joining a tour we're allowed to fly into China from Nepal, which makes life a bit simpler than having to fly to Beijing and then get tot Tibet!

Its approximately 600miles and the map above gives my estimate of the route and the approximate positions of some of the really big passes in red (many over 5000m - eek!). I have also drawn in the detour to Everest basecamp and the Rongbuk monastery, though as its not marked on the map, that looks a bit wild!

We have a lot of kit - we need to deal with it being hot in Kathmandu (35 C) and maybe -15 C up on the Tibetan plateau! I'm not sure how we'll squeeze it all in and a bicy
cle (Bertie, Nick will rent one in Kathmandu) - currently I'm at 10kg stuff and 12kg bike!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cafe Soya

We had a super trip to Cafe Soya in the Arcadian, with Kira - exceptionally tasty food, like the wontons above and the monk noodles below, and also the summer noodles!

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