September 29, 2022 2 min read
Back in 2004, After ascending Thorong La (certainly one of my personal highlights) and travelling back to Kathmandu, I then joined with others on what I termed ‘the united nations of countries on a coach’ to travel to the border with Tibet.
Five of us joined together, we seemed to gel immediately; Pablo from Guatemala, Isabelle and Charlie from Canada and Rachel from New York. Rachel and I are still friends and indeed she came to our wedding.
Whilst driving over the plains of Tibet with our charming driver Wang, we visited
such places as Gyantse and Shigatse, eventually reaching Lhasa. I was beyond excited. But it was during a visit to Shigatse that ‘my epiphany’ took place as a reporter who was writing a piece about me and the charity once said.
Whilst ascending the many, many steps to the Gumpa one couldn’t help noticing the steps were lined with people of all ages from small children to the elderly. The sky was clear blue, the sun was shining and yet the sadness was palpable. They were all begging for whatever we as tourists could give them.
My epiphany came when I noticed a small boy with his baby sister, he was sobbing and rocking back and forth, his collecting bowl in front of him. I said ‘that’s it, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m going to do something’ to which Isabelle replied, ‘don’t let it get to you, they do it on purpose’. I replied ‘maybe, but a child of that age should not know such pain and suffering’. Seeing first hand throughout our trip to Lhasa what was happening to the people of Tibet was heartbreaking; still to this day I remember how I felt then and still do now. Wading almost calf and knee deep in dust from where the Tibetans were having to take down their own owns, sleeping outside because their rooms were disappearing, eliminating their identity and history and replacing with square, nondescript concrete buildings bereft of any decoration or sense of home.
Reaching Lhasa, Rachel and I visited the Potala Palace, the Jokhang and others places of interest to us. We wandered around the street markets, trying on the Yak skin coats and hats worn by the locals and at one point, we needed to ‘spend a penny’. We found the lavatories - a concrete building, concrete inside with two holes in the ground separated by shoulder high concrete walls.
Whilst we were going about our business I looked up to see the walls were lined with ladies who were inquisitive and were watching Rachel and I! She and I laughed with each other and with the ladies and it still brings happy memories and laughter when we reminisce. Sadly, Lhasa had many monitoring cameras and our time in Lhasa was marred when even just wandering about the streets and attempting to chat to the locals, would within a short time bring the ‘secret police’ to our sides.
Sadly, it was time to leave and we all flew back to Kathmandu. After a short time back in Nepal, for me it was time to leave.
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