May 15, 2009:
After a 2 hour flight from Chengdu, China (which is a common launching spot for travelers to visit Tibet) we arrived at the airport near Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. It was a beautiful sunny day and our tour guides were waiting for us out front with signs that read “George Joseph and Heidi Brook” – a little bit different than what we are used to, but it worked!
The Landcruiser ride to Lhasa was 60 Kilometers and took almost an hour, but we didn’t mind as we just enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the towering mountain peaks with the rivers running in the valleys below.
Our tour guide had pre-selected a couple of places for us to stay and the first place was Yak Hotel, located just a couple of blocks away from the Potala Palace. The asking price was 680 Yuan for a standard room and that was very high! We told our tour guides that we were ready to see the other place, but then they found the hotel manager, who they said would give us a better deal. We told them that we didn’t want to pay more than 250 Yuan and he agreed! I was a little surprised so we asked to see the room first and it was quite nice! We generally don’t like tours, but so far it seemed to be working in our favor.
Our room was on the third floor, which doesn’t sound that high, but the altitude here in Lhasa is about 12,000 feet! By the time we reached the room we were both gasping for air. It was very hard to breath and our hearts were pounding! We both thought that we were in pretty good shape from traveling for the past 5 months, but we were no match for the altitude change. Our guides kept telling us to “Take it slow. This is your first day so just relax.” They wanted us to go take a nap, but it was 12:30 PM and we were hungry, so while we did take it slow we went in search of food and an ATM in the Barkhor area. We found both next to the Snowland Hotel, which also has an internet cafe for 5 Yuan/hour. The food at the Snowland restaurant was excellent. We decided to dive right in and try some Tibetan food and all was excellent.
We ordered cheese momo (dumplings), which tasted and looked just like raviolis even with marinara sauce! We also tried a dish called ‘shom day’ – which was a mixture of rice with grapes, a little bit of butter, and yoghurt – excellent!!. Our most adventurous dish was ‘shap trak’ – I didn’t really read the description, but it was recommended by the waitress and it contained yak meat, which is similar to beef (which neither of us eat), but we decided to try anyway. It also was excellent and similar to steak fajitas, except instead of tortillas we got a huge piece of naan. Finally, for drink we tried ‘butter tea’ – made from their local type of cattle known as the yak. But ‘yak’ only refers the males, the females are called, ‘gi’ (not sure of the spelling). So the butter is called ‘gi butter’ not ‘yak butter’ as it is commonly referred. The taste was rich and salty, but I was enjoying it. Heidi on the other hand was smart to not drink too much of it.
On the way back to the hotel I was starting to get a headache, but I just attributed it to not having enough water and the kink in my neck from so much flying. We both went straight to bed once we got back to the room and set our alarm for 5:00 PM, so we could go out later for dinner and do some souvenir shopping. But when our alarm went off at 5:00 PM my headache had become a full blown, I can’t get out of bed and I need some Anacin right now, type of headache. Besides, both of us were just too tired to get out of bed so we went back to sleep after I took my meds.
A couple of hours later we both realized that we were suffering from altitude sickness. We had all of the classic symptoms: headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and shortness of breath! I was wishing our guide had told us to buy altitude sickness medicine and oxygen before the pharmacies closed. It was a long and miserable night!
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