It’s a beautiful sunny autumn morning. We wake to the sounds of monks chanting and bells jingling in the faint breeze. We stumble out of our room and onto the roof top terrace of the Samye Monastery Hotel. The sunlight is blinding. We sit for a while, sipping hot tea, taking in the views over the monastery and postponing the packing for as long as possible.
We’d have loved to have spent another day, but eventually we peel ourselves away and go in search of a truck that will take us and the locals to the ferry quay to cross the Yalung Tsampa (the Brahmaputra River). Today we are heading to the Yumbulagang Palace.
Thursday, September 20, 2007, on the famous train at last!
5.45: Our alarm goes off at this barbaric hour, so that we can finish our monster packing, trying to stuff all our Tibet souvenirs into our backpacks, which are straining at the seams.
6.50: Since Lhasa, like the whole of China, is run on Beijing time, it’s still dark when we leave the hotel and go looking for a taxi. Even so, we can dimly make out the silhouettes of the pilgrims, as they quietly make their way past us, turning their prayer wheels and softly murmuring sacred mantras, headed for the Barkhor Circuit.
7.15: The mammoth station is virtually deserted at this time, as the first passengers are only just beginning to arrive. We are let into a huge marble hall with shiny floors and high ceilings, but nothing inside: no shops, no cafeteria or restaurants. There is nothing to do but sit in the waiting room, instructed and lectured by uniformed staff with megaphones who tell us not to put luggage on the seats, not to smoke, to fill in our boarding cards, etc. etc.
It seems that foreign tourists will be allowed back into Tibet. The Question for indivdual travellers is whether they will be allowed in too? Or will travel be limited to expensive and highly controlled tour groups? And what about the Tibetan areas around Tibet?