Many of Tibet’s monasteries are built on mountains. These sacred mountain monasteries are considered to be home of the deities, where they are closer to the heavens. Of the myriad of monasteries to visit in this highly devoted and god-fearing nation, the Potala Palace is by far one of the most majestic and imposing structures in Lhasa. It has been the official residence of the Dalai Lamas since the 7th century until the present Dalai Lama was deposed in 1959.
Built on the top of Moburi (the Red Hill), the grand Potala Palace occupies this holy site and can be seen from miles away. Situated at an elevation of 3,700m, it is the highest palace in the world and I am ready to face the challenge of climbing 1,000 steep steps to the top.
But first I have to stand in line (that stretches far) to get to the entrance gate. The line comprises of Chinese tourists from mainland China and a sprinkling of foreigners. Our tickets have already been purchased well in advance because visitors are limited to just 2,300 per day. Read More
Fringed by fabulous landscapes of the Himalayan mountain ranges, Nepal has some equally exciting medieval city squares. Located in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, these centuries old Durbar Squares comprise of royal palaces and courtyards, stupas and monasteries, and historical value , decorated in the most intricate woodwork and temple art imaginable.
Although most of these places suffered considerable damage after the 2015 earthquake, there is a sense of relief and gratitude that all was not lost.
I drive over to Patan City in Lalitpur to see its ancient royal palace. It is dusty and hot but thankfully not too crowded. There is a big ‘do’ happening this evening and the outside courtyard is being ‘set up’ with sounds and lights. Some people have already taken their seats along the parapet walls, in the hopes of getting a better view, I guess.
The city is surrounded by four stupas at the four corners, which are said to have been built by Emperor Ashoka. This is one of the most elegant architectural treasures of which Patan is very proud. Read More
Here I am, in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, the highest plateau on Earth. Apart from a mild headache, I am handling the altitude of 3,650m rather well, thanks to the Diamox substitute (for altitude sickness) twice a day. I am looking forward to spending the next six days in this contentious region.
On arrival, I have been given a ‘notice’ which tells me to refrain from any political activities, drinking alcohol or doing any strenuous exercise (in order to acclimatize better), and to expect very basic living ‘conditions’, etc. I am also under supervision of a Tibetan travel guide because restrictions require foreign travelers to pre-arrange a tour with a guide and transport for their time in Tibet, making independent travel impossible. This is because of China’s stronghold on Tibet and its people, which led to the deposition of the Dalai Lama in 1959.
I check in to the Yak Hotel, an understated, yet comfortable hotel located in the center of the old town.
Having left the Everest Base Camp in Tibet, we spend the night at the Kyirong Guest House. Kyirong is at the border of Tibet and just 25 kms from the main (new) Nepalese entry point for anyone traveling overland.
At the border, we have to pass through Chinese customs. It is a long process and despite very few travelers, the baggage inspection is thorough and tedious. Each and every item, souvenir, literature, map etc., on Tibet is confiscated. We exit with only our photographs and memories!
Outside this customs building is (about) a 50m stretch of no-man’s land. We drag our luggage through this dusty path to the Nepali baggage check area.
Unlike the one we just left; this is chaotic! Bags, people, dust, confusion and chaos is a stark reminder that we have definitely left China! Read More
Everest Base Camp. EBC they call it. I’ve seen pictures and dreamt of visiting this highly elevated location (no pun intended). Now here I am, en route…
I leave Lhasa to the Everest Base Camp via Shigatze. There are 11 of us in this bus and after five days together in Lhasa, we have become good friends and happy travelers!
Tibet is located on the Tibetan Plateau, the world’s highest region. This mountainous region is speckled with life-giving rivers, spectacular lakes and the most amazing views. And the winding road network is a sight to behold! Read More
One of the highlights of my trip to China is experiencing the train ride from Beijing to Lhasa. Despite the initial reservations of coping for two days on a train, dealing with altitude sickness, and living in a cramped compartment (meant for four), I am excited!
I get to the Beijing West Railway Station with just enough time to battle the madding crowds, pass luggage through overworked scanners, decipher the Chinese-only ticket details, search for correct gate and platform, and struggle down the escalator without tumbling down headfirst!
With ten minutes to spare (train departs at 20:00), I am at the platform and boarding the Z21, the sky train that will be my accommodation for the next two days.
I have (wisely) got a soft sleeper, better known as a first-class sleeping cabin. These berths comprise of four “soft” sleeping beds, a pillow and a blanket each, a small table, flask for water, one power outlet and four oxygen outlets, and a door that can be closed for privacy.
I have a dream to someday visit all of the Wonders of the World. This time, it’s the Great Wall of China. Built between the 5th century B.C. and the 16th century, the Great Wall is a 4000-mile, stone and earth fortification built to protect the Chinese empire from invading Mongols. This makes it the world’s longest man-made structure.
While there are many sections of the Wall that can be accessed, I am at Mutianyu, known as one of the best-preserved and least crowded. It is 65km to the north of Beijing. Once there, the ticket entrance is a short walk from the vehicle park and I’m given the choice of walking up to the top, or hitching a ride on a cable car.
Of course, I get on the cable car!
As SQ 802 circled Beijing’s airspace for landing, I crane my neck at the window seat trying to get a glimpse of the Great Wall. I am disappointed because at this late midnight hour, there are too many twinkling lights to confuse me in this capital city of modern architecture.
China has been a source of fascination for me. From wondering what the most populace nation in the world was like, to history lessons about ancient dynasties, the Mongol conquest of China (I am a great fan of the Genghis Khan), the strict communist control by Mao Tse-tung, apt quips by Confucius, to walking finally on the world’s wonder, the Great Wall among so much more.
Now, I’m here….
That means “good things come in small packages” in Scottish. A perfect description of my destination!
The weather is chilly yet a welcome change from the scorching heat in Colombo and the three-hour 30 minute drive to Hatton is easy and picturesque (and much more bearable than the three-hour power cuts I was experiencing at home). I am en route to The Argyle , located along the Nuwara Eliya road and Google Maps explains the way very clearly.
Set in 3.1 acres of sprawling tea country, The Argyle is large, spacious and themed along Scottish heritage in reverence to the era of the Scottish tea planters who settled in this area in the 1850s.
“Go and visit the S.E.A. Aquarium,” pestered my offspring over the phone. So, with an afternoon to spare before catching my flight back home I headed off to Resorts World Sentosa situated just across the street from the Bay Hotel Singapore.
Located in a 20-acre park which combines two attractions, the S.E.A. Aquarium and the Adventure Cove Waterpark, it was once considered to be the world’s largest aquarium by total water volume until overtaken by Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Hengqin, China.
Despite it being a Friday evening, I was relieved that there were not many visitors. This, undoubtedly made my visit easier, faster and more enjoyable.
The aquarium is amazing. It really is.