Tantalizing Tibet Sept 14 – 20

I was very blessed to be able to travel to Tibet with  an incredible group of women from the American Women’s Association in Hong Kong.  There were 11 of us from a variety of countries,  Annie ( our leader from Avon CT..small world), Andrea (Germany), Gabriella (Moldova), Elizabeth ( Norway), Amal(Egypt), Diana (Canada), Glenys ( England), Marika ( Belgium), Jillian ( New Zealand), Joni ( Philippines) and myself. Eddie was our leader from Country Travels here in HK. We left very early on Thursday  morning to fly to Chongqing China.  From there we were supposed to fly to Lhasa Tibet. We did eventually get there but we had a couple hours of delay. They were doing military training at the airport in Lhasa so flights were delayed and you really did not know how long the delay would be.  We were off walking laps in the airport when we all of the sudden saw “Boarding” for our flight.  We rushed back and boarded the plane for Lhasa.  The elevation in Lhasa is 3656 meters (almost 12,000 feet). Most people can take altitude sickness medicine to help ease the symptoms of high elevation but I can not. It is common to get headaches, shortness of breath and nausea. Immediately upon landing you could feel the thin air.  Deep breaths were difficult. As we left the airport we were each handed a Hada ( a white scarf used in ceremonies and welcoming. Our delay made us get in later than expected and the hotel ( The Shangri La) had to keep the restaurant open long enough for us to get food. This was our room on the 2nd floor.IMG_9100 We had dinner then went to bed.  Usually you would have had an afternoon to adjust to the altitude but we did not get that luxury. All night long I had a terrible headache. Thank goodness our room had been upgraded to a suite and I was able to go out to the sitting area and not keep Gabriella awake all night.  The hotel also had an oxygen room where the air was pumped in with extra oxygen. I went down there in the early morning and sat there for about an hour. It really did help.

The next morning, after a good breakfast and some caffeine for my headache, we started our touring.  The first stop was the Potala Palace. It is probably the most famous landmark in Tibet. It is an UNESCO world heritage site. It was the Winter residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to  India in 1959 after the Tibetan uprising. It was constructed in 1645.

After lunch we went to the Sera Monastery,  It is one of the best preserved monasteries in Tibet. Several hundred monks live and study here. Much of it was destroyed in 1959 . Many moved to Mysore India where they have a sister monastery. In the afternoon you can watch the monks debate but today they were testing so they were debating against their teachers.

That night we had a great meal of traditional Tibetan food.  They eat a lot of Yak – grilled, butter, yogurt, milk, etc.  Fortunately, Eddie, our guide from HK, started learning our tastes and we started having less food and more vegetables.

Saturday morning we woke up early to go to the Ganden Monastery.  It was about a  2hour drive  . At the end it was 9 km of switchback turns. Very twisty and turny. Yuck! It also is at a much higher altitude , 4500 meters ( 14763 feet)  We hiked around the monastery which gave us beautiful scenery.  It is one of the “great three” monasteries in Tibet, along with the Sera and Drepung.  It was built in 1409 . Much was destroyed in 1959 but was later rebuilt. . The hike was unbelievably beautiful, with prayer flags hanging all over and small monuments to different dieties all over.  At the main room we were lucky to be there when the monks were coming in to pray. It was quite the experience.  Unfortunately in many of the rooms of the monasteries you can not take pictures.

 

In the afternoon we visited the Jokhang Monastery (or Temple).  It is considered the most sacred and important temple in Tibet.  It is located in Barkhor Square.  The people are so devout in Tibet. They pray in the streets, in the squares, at the temples.   It is  a beautiful Temple with a diverse mix of architecture.  After we toured the temple we walked around the streets to do some shopping and people watching.  After much shopping ( the theme of the trip)  we went for dinner at a home.  It was called the Tibetan Family Kitchen. The family cooked for us and showed us how to make dumplings. Everything was fresh and delicious.

 

On Sunday we left Lhasa and headed to Gyantze. On our way we were treated to another day of beautiful scenery.  We had lakes, rivers, dams, glaciers, mountains, sheep, and local villages.   We stopped at a small village to walk and take some pictures. The homeowners were so sweet. They invited us in to their house. We took lots of pictures and some even tasted their homemade barley beer.  They showed us how to use their solar stove in the courtyard.

As we continued we stopped at the roadside where they had a collection of Tibetan Mastiffs. They  are massive dogs. We had our pictures taken with them.

The Yamdrok Yumtso Lake  is one of the three holy lakes in Tibet.  It is about 638 sq km (246 sq miles) in area.  It sits at 4441 km (  14,570 feet)  above sea level. The blues were so vibrant.   We had a couple of passes that were very high. I  think the highest was 5039 meters (16532 feet) .  It was a challenge just to walk a few feet.  Everyone was struggling for air even though we really were not doing much walking. Our lunch was set up on the lake in a tent.  They even had a portable toilet tent ( really just a hole dug but surrounded by  a tent). The food was delicious and the view spectacular.

 

We were going to head straight to the Pelkor Chode Monastery but as our tour guide Thundrup was so flexible, we went to the Old Town area before dinner instead. It has on old west feel to it.  There are cows and horses on the main street.  Many of the houses are planned to be torn down and the residents moved to a more updated area. There are mixed reviews from the residents here.  We came a cross a group of men playing a traditional Tibetan dice /drinking game. They were having so much fun. After dinner a few of us tried to stay and watch the Fortress be lit up .  We waited a long time and only parts were being lit. By the time we got home all the lights were on. It was hard to get a good picture but it was very impressive.

Monday morning we went to the Pelkor Chode Monastery. On our way out some of us ran through the market to catch a glimpse of the locals.  We saw yak being butchered, metal wares being sold and a variety of fruits and vegetables.  The monastery was built in 1418. Originally it housed 15 different monasteries made up of three different sects.  This was a rare showing of tolerance between the Buddhist groups in Tibet.  Today it is only made up of the Gelugpa Sect. Its most famous structure is the Kumbum.  It is a 32 meter high structure made up of 9 floors, 108 gates, and 76 shrines and chapels throughout the 9 tiers.  It has about 10000 images of  Buddha throughout.

Our next trek was off to Shigatse ( also known as Xgatse)  . It is the second largest city in Tibet .  Its name means “Fertile land” .  It sits at 3800 meters above sea level. We got there and checked in in time to do a little shopping before dinner.  Our dinner had some live traditional Tibetan music, singing and dancing.

Tuesday morning we headed to the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. On our way there we stopped by the  Pala Manor.  We had to walk over a rickety bridge to get to the street since the road was under construction  It housed many artifacts from Tibetans under British rule . While I was waiting in the shade I turned around and the cutest little boy was looking at me through the gate.  The courtyard was beautiful and I said that to the women sitting there . They came over and opened their gate and invited us into their garden . Next we  stopped at another local home.  The woman served up butter tea and potatoes.  They were very open to showing us every bit of their house.  Once again the warmth of the people was overwhelming.

The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is also called the Heap of Glory. Founded in 1447 by the First Dalai Lama. It has been expanded since then.  It covers nearly 300,000 square meters.  It was a very peaceful and serene feeling monastery.  . We were walking around and hardly anyone else was there.  It was very refreshing.

We travelled back to Lhasa in time to shop on the Barkhor Street before dinner.  Andrea and I went to get a blind massage.  There was a school  for the blind at one time and now there are  a couple of blind massage locations.  It was quite an intense massage.  I felt sore afterwards. Shopping was a main event on this trip.  There were so many beautiful and tempting things to buy.    We went back to the Shangri La for our last dinner together.  Another theme to the trip was great food.  We had an incredible meal with an incredible view.

 

At the Shangri La we were on the 6th floor this time.

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Wednesday morning we sadly had to head to the airport.Our flight back to Chongqing was delayed due to military training again.  We knew we would miss our Hong Kong connection in Chongqing, the question was could we get 12 people on the next flight to HK or would we have to go through Shenzen and then drive back.  We sat at the airport from about 9:30 until 3:30. Finally we got our flight that took us to Chongqing. We had missed the HK flight so then we had to get a 9:30 flight to Shenzen. From Shenzen they coordinated 3 cars to drive us back to HK. It is about a 2 hour drive when you add in the border crossing.  They grouped us by location. I was the third out of four in my car so I got home about 2:15 AM. Needless to say it was exhausting.

This trip was a trip of a lifetime. The people I travelled with were so friendly. The locals were warm. Our tour guide, Thundrup , was full of information and kept us enthralled at every turn. Eddie, our HK leader learned a lot throughout the trip and changed our schedule as needed. He told us at the end of the trip how he would adjust our meals each night.  He also learned how to deal with women who loved to shop and take pictures.

If you ever get the chance to go to Tibet, take it!!!

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Folly Beach July 30 – Aug 4

After Dad’s big party we had a need for a little vacation. Unfortunately Catherine had to fly back to NYC but the rest of us headed off to Folly Beach SC.  We had never been there but thought we would give it a try. It was a little closer to drive from Atlanta even though still a long way from CT.  Folly Beach is near Charleston and Sarah would need to fly back to New Orleans so that was convenient too. We booked a dog friendly house since at that time we still had MJ. It was so sad to go into the house which was soooo pet friendly and not have MJ. They had books about labs, a doggy door, pictures of their dogs, and plaques where they had buried their dogs in the backyard.

Our house was across the street from the beach which was so convenient. The weather was beautiful even though it was windy the first few days.  We played in the rough waves, walked on the beach, ate great food and had some competitive rounds of spike ball again.  Two of my friends from high school,Cynthia (Harrell) Huston and Susi (Haight) Robinson, live nearby so we were able to meet up for lunch.

Sadly we had to drive back to CT for reality and drop Emily off in NY to do some visiting before her real life was to start too.

 

Dad’s 80th Birthday Party July 29

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Dad’s 80th birthday was Aug 28 but we all could be in Atlanta for the weekend of July 29 so we planned a BIG party for him.  Everyone pitched in and planned the party from all over the world. ( me in HK, Julie in Calf and everyone else in Atlanta) .  It was great to be able to take a family picture with all 38 of us in it. This has not happened in years!!! We had a mass with family and friends and food afterwards.  Hopefully this is a memory that will last a long time.

Chihuly Exhibit at the Botanical Gardens

I am not going to explain all of this, I will let the pictures show you how beautiful it is. June 9

Note the author of the poem!

MJ

June 7. OK not going in to a lot of details here. Just know that she is surprising us every day. Long story short, we thought we were going to have to put her down.  She has a huge tumor, was swelling all over, was anemic, not responding to meds, not eating, not moving, had to help her up and down the stairs, etc  We planned it for Wednesday. The vet came over to the house.  She was so remarkably improved that the vet said it was not the time to do it. Catherine felt like we were being punk’d after having gone through so much emotional turmoil and then not going through with it. Now she is eating, going up and down the stairs by herself, not swollen, tumor smaller, chasing animals in the backyard… She is a miracle dog!

Update:  Unfortunately MJ took a turn for the worse in July and after waiting to see Lyndon she died July 24 .

Catherine and Emily’s graduation from Fordham!!