Mission to Tibet, Part 3
By Jeff Baggaley <email@example.com>
Dec. 17, 2002
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8
The Road to Ali
The day after the sky burial, I got a ticket to Ali, Tibet, 1500 kms to the West of Lhasa- the far West. ALL of it along those notorious Tibetan roads. Three days and three nights in a sleeper bus. YIKES! We boarded around 6PM that night, loaded with supplies for the journey. We would be stopping four times in all- not for fuel (there were no gas stations between Lhasa and Ali), but to eat and go to the bathroom. The driver might-or might not-stop en route, I was quietly informed, if you put in a request to stop along the side of the road; so better to take advantage of the scheduled stops- that is unless you wanted to count on the unschedualed breakdowns, of which you can be sure (I was further informed), there would be a goodly number.
The driver was a sight to behold: slight, very dark, and never without a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Hair sticking straight up and out, and I would swear, I saw smoke coming from that hair in the wee hours of the morning.
The guy in the bunk above mine had flown straight in from Chengdu- no time to acclimatize- an obvious military type, and if you were to go by looks, his specialty would be torture.
Ali is predominently Chinese and has large military facilities. There are many areas in the western sectors of Tibet that are hotly contested between India and China, and a number of other countries in the vicinity. I don't know if that's because of some mythical cave loaded with ancient technology (was it ZSL who suggested that?) or because of geopolitical considerations. Whoever controls Tibet and its western passes has a good run into the Asian interior (my guess is the latter for what it's worth). The entire western sector of Tibet is clearly of primary concern to the Chinese.
There are a number of checkpoints along the route, which, mercifully, were not being assiduously checked. To travel anywhere in Tibet (outside of Lhasa), you need a permit. To get a permit, you need to go on a tour. It's Winter season in Tibet and there really aren't enough people to get a tour together. Ergo (at least officially), Winter travel in Tibet for the foreigner is for all practical purposes limited to Lhasa.
I was discreetly told to just go ahead anyway. Don't worry about it. Just get a permit in Ali, once you get there. I was also informed from other people that, more than likely, I would not get there; being turned back at any number of check points, not having the requisite permit.
Not having a thing to lose- I went.
And indeed, they were very lax at the checkpoints (thank God!); not even bothering to look at my passport too closely to see if I even had a Visa. It was a little tense at times, but the doors kept opening- and who was I to call them on their all-too-lax-enforcement policy?
Mr. Torture in the bunk above me was comatose, suffering severely from altitude sickness. I was feeling the altitude myself, as we kept climbing from the 3,600 meters of Lhasa to over a thousand more in Ali- not to mention a couple of passes that topped out at close to 6,000 meters. Also going through serious caffeine withdrawal, I didn't stir all that much for the three days and three nights, as the bus lumbered-oh so slowly-onward and upward, perpetually swaying as though crossing the sea to the Isles of the Blessed - our chain smoking Charron at the helm. Even though there were two drivers for the trip- supposedly to relieve each other now and then- I never really saw any other driver but that man, ever at the wheel for three days straight.
And so we crossed the Tibetan Plateau, high above the tree line- all mounatin, and rock, and ravine, and precipice. Very beautiful. Were you to color the sky a reddish hue, the topography would be indistinguishable from photos of Mars.
I was starting to feel something new on the journey, something that hadn't kicked in yet, but something that I had been expecting- psychic attacks.
At first, they were indistinguishable from the altitude sickness, and the caffeine withdrawal in these first couple of days on the bus, but after a while, they became more obvious- heart chakra attacks; recurring and increasing in intensity. Having left my SP at home for fear that it would be confiscated, all I could do was pray. That, along with Angela's ministrations in Halifax, and what I later discovered were her requests to forum members to join in, were indeed enough to mollify what-at times- were fairly severe attacks. THANK YOU everyone for you prayers and thoughts!
And then ...ALI!
A city out of nowhere. Taxis everywhere. Hussle and bustle.
I had it all planned out: find a hotel; grab a cab; go to the police station- and throw myself on their mercy, asking for a permit. I was told that that was the way to do it. It usually worked. Sometimes not, depending on whim and whether you could afford the...mmmm....'surcharge'. And that's precisely what I did.
At the police station, I was waiting on the foyer steps for the offices to reopen at 4PM after siesta time. What I took to be a Tibetan family then entered the building. We exchange greetings: "Tashi Dele! Tashi Dele!" The woman sits beside me. I try to communicate how I'm from Canada, wanting to go to Kailash- pointing to my phrase book, gesturing ,signing, whatever it takes to talk. A very complicated procedure at times, and very laborious even to try to communicate simple things. And so we 'talk' for perhaps 15 minutes or so. And then- in impeccable English: "Why don't you come into my office Mr Baggaley and we shall see what we can do about you permit."
The officer in charge of permits and visas in Ali! I think my jaw hit the floor pretty hard because she was still laughing 10 minutes later. The 'surcharge' was about $40.US- no winter rebates, sorry! She was very congenial- showing me photos of her doing the kora herself at Kailash (more about kora later) with her real family- the 'son' and 'husband' of before being her work partners. She also suggested a way to get to Kailash (as it turned out, the only way to get to Kailash, 330 kms to the southeast), about a day's travel.
The only viable way to travel in that sector of Tibet is by Post truck- canvas covered trucks that ply the 'roads'- I use that word VERY loosely- delivering supplies here and there, not to mention people. At the Post truck station, I make arrangements to leave the morning after next at 6 AM. I then try to gauge the amount of time left on my 30 day Visa in China, the minimal amount of time needed to do the portals around Beijing, and thus the amount of time I have to get to Kailash and get back.
I then go to the bus depot (read hole in the wall) and buy a return ticket to Lhasa 6 days hence. That should - read SHOULD- give me enough time to get to Kailash, do the three day kora. I had to do the kora to place one of the HHgs (the first one), walk to Selung Monastery the fourth day (place the second HHg), and get back to Ali. Very tight schedualing, but at least it was a plan.
(Just to backtrack a little: a kora is a circuit around a sacred site that pilgrims follow. Buddhist follow the kora clockwise, Bon (the original Tibetan religion) go anticlockwise. The kora at Kailash is a 52 kms (32 mile) circuit that goes all the way around the mountain through scenery that defies description. It is recommended that foreigners do the kora at Kailash in three days (Tibetans typically do it in one day).
Angela and I had dowsed in Halifax that two HHgs were needed at Kailash: the first on the kora itself to stop the energy drain and the second at Selung monastery to close the dimentional portal allowing the predators access to the energy.
Plans in place, I went to bed early with no further incident- that is apart from jumping about four feet out of bed when I heard scatchings at my door. It was a mouse, a distinctly Chinese mouse by the looks of it.
But then again, the Chinese military compound was barely a hundred feet down the road from the hotel.
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