shanlung (shanlung) wrote,

Harry Potter // Rustaq // 1st overland into Lhasa


In another forum in my thread at , greycloud talked of her delight at Batty and that she worked with her zoo fruitbats. She also mentioned of working with the zoo bird of preys and owls in particular.

Which is why I thought these photos taken when I was in Laos might interest her. Then I thought again I should blog it for everyone as well in case you do like owls as well

Surely, you do not think that Harry Potter is the only one that play with owls do you?

I spoke for a while to the owl to calm her. I knew she was not going to hurt me. Then I got her to stp up and then she got on my shoulder.



That Laos trip was covered during my writing of Tinkerbell Legacy starting in here

Even more photos of Laos trip in here

Here is another of me with my friend's fids. I spoke to them and I knew they were not going to hurt me




On the way back from Dubai, we passed by this signpost to Rustaq. My wife told me of a castle she read there together with hotsprings.

I recalled seeing signpost to Rustaq the last time we went to Nakhal fort. It was clearly autumn now in Oman, and the ambient temperature was a delightful high 20s C instead of high 40sC.

So during the last Oman weekend, we drove to Rustaq via Nakhal route. I love that Nakhal route as that brought us on the other side of the vast mountain range on way to Jebel Akhdar and Nizwa.

We reached Nakhal and drove on. We came across the most beautiful of wadi alongside of the road after that. Water was flowing in the wadi and families were there enjoying their picnics and the day there.

Considering that so little rain fell in any year in Oman in this area and that last rain fall was in January, that water must have been ground water seepages from the mountains. That no excessive pumping of ground water as done in so many other countries to have allowed surface flowing water that you could see. When I was in Riyadh, the pumping of ground water for irrigation sank the water table by 30-50 meters. Traditional oasis all dried up over there. Oman is doing very well and the flora and fauna benefited.

I had to stop to join them for a while. Flying Riamfada to delight all that watched us.

Here are some of those shots. More will be seen in the folder
Wadi before Rustaq



We then continued to Rustaq. It was a beautiful small town with gentle people. Oman is proud of their castles. Even before oil and gas were discovered, Oman spend scarse money to protect and preserve their heritage.

The entrance fee was nominal. We paid and step past the perimeter walls into the castle ground.

More will be seen in the folder
Rustaq Castle


And at the first lower ramparts, Riamfada got to stretch her wings


We then walked into the castle and saw this enormous flight of steps going up to the castle walls. It was high. Riam had never done high flights before. So it was a very good time to start. Sequential shots of her powering herself up to me can be seen here


She did that too well. Which made me thought of flying her up the flight of steps.
Those sequential shots are seen here


You would see her flying and then resting on the balustrade about halfway up and then taking off again to complete her flight to me.


We went up a tower to see the guns all ready to fire their round shot or grape shot at the enemies of the Sultan


Followed by flying Riam across the air well of 3 floors of the fort. She had no fear of the void below.

Sequential shots in

We made our way back into the castle and startled some bats. One remained on the wall that we shot. He was a tiny insectivore bat, about 2/3 the size of Batty.


The flock of bats flew into a totally dark room. I knew I shouldn't, but I told Joy to stick her camera and used flash to see if the bats be located.


We came out to the top ramparts. With a flight of steps up the top of the walls.

Sequential shots here

Riam getting practise flying up to me


Sequential shots here

and then across the void at top


Sequential shots here

and she got to fly down to me too. Over a group of other people who enjoyed her and who had their photos taken with her.


Sequential shots here

and she flew up to me again.



1st overland to Lhasa

editted on Mar 7th 2011
to include some photos of this trip
that my wife discovered recently in obscure corner of a cupboard.
Tibet first trip scans

and partly related to this episode
Last Footfall in Nepal//

In an earlier entry,
Modes of flight of Riamfada and comparison to Tinkerbell //Some chess memories, hustler foil, Bali ,

I wrote of my chess memories including that of Nepal. Moccasinlanding comments decided for me to add on what I could drag out of my memories before they fade entirely away.

This trip into Tibet happened in the autumn of 1985 or 1986, a long time ago.

I kept a notebook diary during this time, a notebook of paper that you use a ballpen to write on. In the years since then, I am no longer certain if that notebook can be found. Some of the events might be displaced in time and sequences without that notebook to guide me. I had taken photgraphs of slides but all those might be in Singapore, if fungus and molds did not get onto them.

I was staying in Sita Home again in Thamel district of Khatmandu when I came back from Annapurna to apply and wait for that visa from Beijing to enter Tibet as independent traveller.

My original plans were to just cross over that border and get back into Nepal. When I came to Nepal, I never thought of getting into Tibet. My clothings were not superwarm clothings and I brought only enough money for Nepal and some souveniers.

When the visa came to me, I decided to lighten my load keeping them at Sita Home storeroom. Tibet was a big unknown mysterious place in those days. I was also very conscious that it was Communist China I was going into. With that and fear of the high altitudes of Tibet, I thought it to be prudent to go there very clean. I gave away all my mellow herbs to other friends staying at Sita Home for them to enjoy.

I then took a local bus to Kodari, the border crossing into Tibet. I reached there late in the afternoon. The bus dropped me off and I walked to what was told to be the Chinese check point. That bus was actually a truck and in those days, trucks doubled as bus in that they take you as far as they can go for a fee.

I reached there to be told they were closed for the day and will be opened next morning. So I had to stay somewhere for the night as perish the thought of taking bus/truck back to Khatmandu. There were no town or inns. I walked past a ramshackle lean-to by the side of the road and was invited to stay by the Indian family with hand signals. I joined in their dinner of dal bhat, (rice with cooked curried lentils) and slept on their floor to their incessant chants of 'Rama Krishna' through the night. I thought they were very religious. Until the next morning when I woke up and they wanted me to pay the equivalent of staying in a suite in Hyatt. Then I realised they were chanting prayers for the good fortune of netting me.

Bargaining started and ended with me paying 1/2 of what I paid in Sita Home in the end, which was 5 times more than what that piece of floor was worth just to get on my way.

I crossed the Friendship Bridge with my backpack and was thrilled that I was now in fabled Tibet. Walked a hundred meters to what passed for the passport control, got my visa scrutinised, passport stamped, and I was officially into Tibet.

In my earlier innocence, I thought Tibet was just across the border. Which it was. But no one lived just across the border. There was this town further up the road and mountain side that I walked on to.

And found I was not the first independent traveller across into Tibet as I thought. There were 8 others. I forgot all their names. I wrote that all in an old notebook, those kind with paper that you used a pen or pencil to write in. There were two who stuck in my memory even if their names escaped me now. One was a bearded Canadian medical doctor. Another was a Chinese from Hongkong. That HKer came all the way overland to Nepal because he heard the grass was greener and better there and he decided to check that out. That Canadian was checking sunrises and sunsets on the Everest trail when he got word that Tibet was opened and thats why we were there in that little border town.

None of those foreigners could speak a word of Chinese. I knew a few words of Chinese by virtual of watching Chinese Kungfu movies even if I had to follow the plot by the English subtitles. I was only in Taiwan in 1990 when I learned to use Chinese. That HKer could not speak or understand English, but he could use Chinese and Cantonese. I knew a bit of Cantonese and so could communicate with the HKer.

The others were more knowledgable by pre reading TIbet. I read a lot of Tibet, but those readings were on the Pundits or secret agents send by English to spy on Tibet as local natives. Or on that Milerapa saint and mysticism in Tibet and not at all useful in practicality of going about in Tibet. I came into Tibet without a clue as what to do other than going into Tibet.

I tapped on the others collective wisdom and found little more knowledge other than the consensus that it would be better for us to stick together.

That HKer was better in that he could read Chinese and speak Chinese and found that there was this bus leaving the next day deeper into Tibet. I relayed that back to the others. As that was the only bus, we stayed the night in that town in the only inn in town.

We all woke up to a beautiful day, absolutely crystal clear. And it happened in front of my eyes, almost like in slow motion. The side of the mountain came loose. Boulders the size of apartment blocks rolled down. That road we came up by was cut by the bouncing boulders. The debris swept on down and cut the road again, and yet again, and yet again.

We were told the road was cut in a dozen places and would not be opened for a month. So we were the first across, and the last for that year as it was about October and winter would shut the border after that.

That Hongkonger, HK, ran out of money by the time we met. I found out the USD200++ that I had was very big money in those days. To get back to Singapore, I had to go to Lhasa and down China into Hongkong where I could use my Amex card again. I could not do that on my own and I needed HK. HK needed the money that I had and that he would repay me once we were in Hongkong. We shook hands on that unholy alliance.

On behalf of the group, he went and negotiated the charter of the small bus to take us all to Lhasa.

In the country of the blind, the one eyed man would be the king. So in that group of travellers where the rest could not speak a word of Chinese, my ability to speak a few words of Chinese, and a few more words of Cantonese, allied to that Hongkonger who could not speak a word of English made me if not the king, the de facto leader of the group.

We all went into that old bus and on our way. We were totally off the pages of Lonely Planet or any guide books. The road was incredibly rugged as it wound its way up the Himalayas. We passed vistas of untouched forest and saw waterfalls cascading down the sides of hauntingly beautiful primordial land. It was an adventure of a lifetime for all of us.

The road went up higher and higher. It was a wonder that the old Chinese made bus could move on even if it was almost at walking pace. The fear of altitude sickness faded as we went along. The forest changed into scrubby shrubs, like gigantic brown pillows on the slopes. And then we passed that into grassy slopes and to snow covered scree. The day was coming to an end when we reached an outpost in a little hollow where we were to stay for the night.

We had bowls of steaming noodle soup from the canteen. It became cold. Very cold. I was told by the Canadian Doctor, CD, that might have been -25C. Accomodation was very primitive. We were lucky enough to have a room and a huge bed inside with thin mattress.

To ward off altitude sickness, I was drinking and drinking a lot of water as advised by books and by CD. So there was a lot of pee inside me.

Toilet was anyway outside. When I zipped down my trousers to take a leak, you need not worry about privacy. A thick cloud of mist enveloped you from belt down. When the slight breeze cleared the air, the pee was turned into yellow ice.

There were nothing else to do. It was getting colder and colder. We all slept together on that bed to try to share our body warmth. That was not the time for modesty.

Early the next morning we left after a simple breakfast of mantou or steamed chinese wheat dumplings. My friend HK was buying a lot of mantou and stuffing that into his backpack. I wished he told me why that time.

The bus continued to climb. The sun came out and some warmth returned to take away the bone chilling freeze of the night.

Our little group clicked on very well in our little bus, united by circumstances and on a journey never before made by other independent travellers. After that night, and other nights where we huddled together on gigantic bed/sleeping platforms, we all suffered and enjoyed together.

Our fears of altitude sickness receded. I spoke aloud my thoughts of regretting the discarding of all my herbs back in Nepal. Everyone chimed in with their regrets of not having any herbs for about the same reasons, fear of Communist China and potential hazards from the high altitudes on us.

This was made more poignant in the awesome sceneries that we passed through.

The sky was of a blue so deep that it was almost black. Then the ground and mountain side of a yellow and brown so bright that it hurt the eye. Instead of having a bright sky and dark ground, it was reversed in having a dark sky and bright ground. The air was so clear that you can see almost for ever.

The journey would be that much better if we still have our herbs.

We came to a stop in a non descript outpost. To our incredible surprise, a foreigner in a coat of thick sheep skin joined us. He had been travelling for 6 years now. Somehow, he made it into Tibet and that town where he joined us. He did not even know of the availability of visas, and he did not care.

He endeared himself to us all when he brought out a bag of mellow herbs. He told us, that the Chinese never liked to interfer with local customs. And local customs did smoke what is called as Peng Ti Yen which translated into Local Tobacco. It must have been the high altitudes and the strong UV light on the plants. We all agreed that was the best smoke we have had.

We all chugged along on our little bus. The views made that much richer by that PengTiYen.

It was a series of ups as the bus climbed and climbed until it reached the top of the pass and then down and down. Some of the mountain passes were well over 5000 meters.

I had a headach coming on as I went up and up. It got to the stage I was paralysed and could just move my eyeballs. My Canadian doctor friend was sitting beside me. I could not talk and only could roll my eyes up and down and right and left. I answered his questions that way. He gave me the cheerful news that I had the cerebral swelling of altitude sickness. I knew nothing could be done. I kept watch on the stream flowing down the direction the bus came from and knew we were still going up. And up and up. I thought I might die. From a detached viewpoint. And I felt no fear, or regrets.

Then I saw the stream changed direction and was flowing in the way of the bus direction. And we were heading down , and down. And I felt better. And the lower we went, the better I became and my headach went away and I could move again.

From time to time, the bus stopped for special views. One such view was to see Mount Everest from the other side. We were so far away that Everest appeared as an average mountain, and not very big at that. Wisp of clouds were eddying about the top and picturesque. The size and tranquility belayed little of the hurricane force winds at the summit and climbers if any at that time attempting to reach the top might remain forever there.

We all quickly learned not to walk fast even though we all got used to the altitude. One can get very breathless , which was not a nice feeling at all.

Now it seemed romantic to be kind of pioneers being the first to travel in such a way. The infrastructure was not set up like in Nepal where you have restaurants and teashops and places to stay.

There was this period of 3 days where no canteens or restaurants were found. I wished HK told us earlier why he was buying up those mantous. He shared that with me. I could not eat with him when the rest were starving. We all pooled the food that we brought with us. Bars of chocolate, biscuits and dried fruits. That lone traveller opened another of his bag, of tsampa this time or local Tibetan parched barley ground to powder.

We found places to sleep but they had not the food and refused to sell us the little they had saying that we could have food at Shigatze.

We finally were nearing the first major city, the ancient city of Shigatze. We passed by a field where Tibetans were harvesting the ripening crop. We saw a table by the roadside, with a pile of unleaven wheat pancakes with a young girl behind

We were a very hungry lot when the bus stopped. We all felt whatever they want to charge us, we all would pay. Those pancakes were warm and absolutely delicious. We ate all the pancakes. That girl smiled at us, reached into a basket under the table and brought out more. We ate that lot too. Then the others working in the field came over to the table.

I asked HK to find out how much it cost all of us. Then we found out.

The pancakes that we ate was their lunch and not for sale as we all thought. They saw us all so hungry and enjoyed their wheat pancakes so much that they did not have the heart to stop us from eating. They refused to set a price, any price that we could pay.

I never felt so small. To the credit of the entire group of us, all felt the same way as I did. We, the modern civilised people, were taught a lesson in humility by those Tibetan farmers.

I was flipping through my guide book and a photo of Dalai Lama dropped out. They took a look and all fell to the ground and prostrate away. Photos of Dalai Lama mattered a lot to them. We all checked our postcards and any of Dalai Lama to give to them. It was embarassing that each gift of the photo was followed by the Tibetan dropping onto his/her knees. I even tore out a photo of Dalai Lama from a guide book I had to give to them.

Shortly after that, we reached Shigatze. And the first truly comfortable guest house ran by Tibetans. Water was boiled and brought up to us at the roof top of that guest house. We had the first bath in about a week. It did not matter we all were mixed, men and women. The urge to get clean and feel clean was all imperative.

Then we had the first wonderful dinner.

The next day was a day of rest and to explore Shigatse. We were wiser and bought bags of tsampa for emergency rations. And mellow PengTiYen was good and plentiful.

That lone traveller left us at Shigatze. The rest of us continued to Lhasa on the bus.

We finally came to the last pass before we headed down into Lhasa.

We had to stop the bus on top of that last pass. The sight was awesome in crystal clear air. You stand there and looked South and the entire Himalayan chain of mountains could be seen at the horizon hundreds of kilometers away. Then you can turn and look Northwards and the chain of Tienshan chain of mountains could be seen. That moment must be celebrated. My Canadian doctor was a master of Rizla. He stuck together a dozen Rizla rolling papers. All of us gave a bit of the mellow herbs to him. And all that got rolled into a beautiful gigantic work of art.

We knew Lhasa was an hour or so away. And after we reached there, we all would part. We inhaled good and deep, and thought of peace and goodwill to all mankind and our planet and the difficult and yet beautiful times that we shared in the last week. An hour later, we all left on that bus down to Lhasa.

We said goodbyes. My funds , little as it was, had to take myself and HK back into Hongkong. Amex or any other plastic was not recognised in Tibet or in most of Communist China at that time. It would only be in Hongkong where HK could return the little that he borrowed and my Amex could be used to buy my flight back to Singapore. HK then said he would get a taxi to bring us and our luggage. I wondered what taxi as I could hardly see any cars on the road. A short while later, he came back riding on the seat of a horse drawn cart with a local.

HK and I went to stay at Snowland Guest house. Snowland was very much less expensive and helping to stretch my money and in the Tibetan quarter. We would be in Lhasa for a few days to explore more of Lhasa as well as to arrange flights down to Chengdu.

Lhasa in the mid 80s consisted largely of the Potala which was actually built on a hill and the Tibetan quarters. The Chinese quarters were just a few blocks of non descript squat grey concrete buildings.

In 1999, I revisited Lhasa again, travelling overland across the Himalayas from Yunnan, village by village. The Lhasa Chinese quarters exploded to engulf Lhasa. Thats another story at another time.

I was walking with HK on the main road towards Potala. Ahead of me were a couple of Tibetan ladies with their hairs all beaded up and in traditional dresses with billowing skirts. They were about 30 meters ahead of us. Then one lady stopped and squatted by the roadside. Her companion stopped and they continued chatting away. Just before we reached those two, that lady stood up and continued on their way nonchalantly chatting away. I could not believe my eyes then to see a pile of turd steaming away from the spot where that lady squatted over.

The Potala palace was built on a hill and the hill became part of the Potala. The size of that white and red structure dwarfed everything in Lhasa. Saying the Potala was awesome is such an understatement. I found I was in a unique situation. I was both a foreigner and a Chinese. Where the Chinese could not go, I could go as a foreigner dragging HK along as my friend. Foreigners were so rare that they had no idea what to do to foreigner. And where foreigner could not go, I could go as a Chinese and be dragged along by HK.

In course of time, I needed to visit the toilet in Potala. I could not manage what that lady had shown me, to do that by roadside. I did not wear baggy skirt like what she worn.

I can tell you folks the most impressive view of Lhasa was from the wide window of the toilet. The toilet was built over a huge crevase in the side of the hill. The concrete floor slap spanned over with an opening where you discharge down down down below.

I was wondering why the ceiling of the toilet had white, red and pink tissue papers stuck to it. I squatted over the hole and felt the chill of the air being blown up channelled by the cleft in the hill. The toilet there did not smell and stink the way public toilets in China. I finished the main business and doing the required paperwork. I threw the paper down the hole and the tissue paper was caught in the updraft and smacked up onto the ceiling and stucked there with the other tissue papers. I experimented and found that if you throw the paper into the hole hard and towards the side, the paper will escape the updraft and flutterred slowly to the foot of the hill. I hoped they will not 'modernised' the toilet and left it the way it was. You all can then try your skills in throwing tissue paper the proper way and not add to those stuck on the ceiling.

We went to the Jokun, the spiritual heart of Tibet. Crowded with Tibetans. We visited the Dalai Lama beautiful Summer Palace kept the same way as it was when he fled into exile. We hired bicycles to cycle as the distances in Lhasa were vast.

We went to see the sky burials. The dead were not buried in Tibet and wood too precious to be used for cremation. The dead were taken to top of nearby hill, cut apart and the vultures took care of the rest. We were there respectfully. In later years, uncaring tourists flocked to sky burials determined to get pictures unmindful of the religious decorum that caused ugly scenes such that they were banned.

It was time to leave Lhasa for the flight to Chengdu in Szechuan province. The bus took us in late afternoon to the military airport a couple hours away.

The flight was in early morning. Lhasa was not a city of bright lights. The airport a couple hours away from Lhasa gave us the most incredible view of the moonless night sky. The sky was velvet black. Strewned and sprinkled with thousands upon thousands of diamonds and stardust. The 'normal' constellations could not be recognised as so many more thousands of stars shined. The Milky way was an immense band of light. I could easily read a book from the starlight. we both lie on the ground and just took in the wonders of that nightsky.

In time some officials came to us. Lying down on the tarmac of an airport runway was not encouraged even if that gave the best view of the stars above. It was getting colder too. We took off an hour before dawn. When the sun came up , it was stunning to see the mountains and plateau of Tibet below us. In crystal clear atmosphere without any clouds, I pressed my nose to the window and soaked in all I could see. Then far away, the edge appeared in a sea of clouds. The plane descended and we were back into the murk of the world we left behind. And touched down in Chengdu.

HK booked the train from Chengdu to Hongkong. Funds were running dangerously low and we got what was termed the hard seater train, which would take 3 days 3 nights (or was it 4 days 4 nights) to reach Hongkong.

We still had a couple of days before departure. And of course, allowed us time to check out a bit of Chengdu.

We saw this cheery wine shop. With more different kind of chinese wines than I could imagine. And had wines that tasted just like gin, and like maidera, and white wine, red wines. The crowd in that wine shop was cheerful, full of the joy of living. I joined in their drinking games. You swing out a fist and whatever fingers you chose and must shout a number that include the fingers of your challenger. The loser will drink up a small tea cup of wine.
After a while, it mattered little who win and who loses.

We went to this tea place. Must have been at least the size of 2 soccer field. For a few cents, you got a pot of tea leaves that you could refill with hot water. You chose a table from the hundreds of tables and seat there and have your tea. Waiters would be wandering about the tables carrying what looked like outsized watering can with very long thin spouts. When you finished the tea in the tea pot, you opened the lid. From far away, they would direct a very thin stream of boiling hot water right into your tea pot. That was done so accurately as a big relief to me. Especially when those streams of boiling hot water were poured in arcs over my head into out pot or teapots on other tables.

There was a section in this tea park on chess. Hundreds of tables of the Chinese chess and wei-chi were packed with people playing. Wei-chi is better known as Go, played with white and black seeds. Wei-chi is a very ancient chinese game, hijacked by Japanese who called it go. The sound of hundreds of games going on at same time with the seeds smacked onto the board was hypnotic. I was very impressed to see that Chess section honored Western Chess even if no one there played. Oil paintings of Lasker, Capablanca, Stienitz, Alekhine watched over all the players there with oil paintings of what must be Masters in Chinese Chess and Wei-chi as well.

In time, we got onto the hard seater train. In short while, I understood why it was called hard seater. No sleeping bunks, and the seat were really hard. The train was jammed to extent you folks would never have understood. People crawled into the space between the seat and the floor. You opened your legs to have two heads poking out in between. You shift your legs and the heads appeared next to your thigh. In space too small for bodies, they would stuff their live chickens.

It was terrible the first day and night. The 2nd day and night it became agony. The next day it was not that bad as the nerves in your legs and back already died. And the train rolled on and on and on.

That was the first time I was into China. I am an ethnic Cantonese with ancestral home in the province of Canton. I seen the map of the rail and noted the towns we passed. I looked forward to hearing the dialect of Cantonese spoken in the home province of my ancestors. That to me would be like a 'home coming'. I ticked off each station as day by day and hour by hour the train rolled closer and closer to the border of Canton. I was willing myself to remember into my heart the first phrase of Cantonese. I was wondering would it be 'Joe Sun' (good morning) 'lai hoe mah' (how are you).

The train rolled into Canton province and people there came up the train. I hear ' tieu lai ger mah chow hai' with a start and a shock. That was a vulgar expression very mildly translated to 'go f**k your mother'. I was a bit in distress and expressed my sorrow to HK what I hoped to hear and what they had said. He looked blanky at me at first and then roared out in laughter. He was also Cantonese as the same as 99.99 % of locals in Hongkong. He told me in his class, brothers would use the same expression to each other notwithstanding they have the same mother. That phrase was about as common as clearing throat.

Finally we reached Hongkong. He repaid me the money I loaned him. My plastic was back into action and I flew home.

editted on Mar 7th 2011
to include some photos of this trip
that my wife discovered recently in obscure corner of a cupboard.
Tibet first trip scans

and partly related to this episode
the precursor before striking into Tibet
Last Footfall in Nepal//

The precursor part of Nepal before I flew to Jomoson in above
and playing chess for one afternoon in one small village near Khatmandu

//Some chess memories, hustler foil, Bali



If what I wrote help you and you like to help, give a thought
for the wildlife sharing our planet.
Do write that cheque to Gerald Durrell wildlife trust

I am a life member of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Do join us to do
whatever we can for the wildlife that shared our planet.

or to any wildlife conservation body of your choice

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