In 1994 My ex- wife Elizabeth and I booked a trip to Tibet from Katmandu, Nepal. We joined a group of eight other men and women and had two vehicles, a ten-seater bus and a very rugged large lorry with all the chains and ropes and equipment that one would need for a tough overland journey.
The first day was an exciting trip climbing up through gentle hill sides of Nepal with the high mountains of Tibet always in view ahead. Climbing from 4000 to 14000 feet in a day proved to be quite challenging and when we arrived at New Tingri we were breathless, nervous and nauseous. Our spirits were initially lifted by the magnificent view of a snow-covered Everest on the horizon.
We quickly became aware of the Chinese army station nearby and the ghastly conditions of our accommodation. It was a crude mud walled building in a farmyard with piles of yak dung around us. The rooms were communal and the beds simple iron bedsteads with very thin mattresses. I felt too unwell to sleep and spent much of the night watching the rats run around the room. Getting to the toilets was a massive challenge in the moonlight and boots were essential. It was not my first experience of altitude sickness, but it made for a very unpleasant sleepless night.
The feeling of breathlessness stayed with us for several days with a sick giddiness, but the exhilaration of travelling over the Tibetan plateau made it worthwhile and meeting the local population and monks in the Shekar Chode Gompa in Tingri chanting the puja of Manushri. The next few days were filled with sightseeing, first the cave of the sage Milerepa and some of the local mud built Tibetan houses. We were taken aback by the small boy who came up to us on one of our stops, whose eyes were filled with maggots, apparently a way of helping things heal.
Tashi Lumpo monastery was strangely intact and fascinating with its many shrines and monastery building. Perhaps it was saved from the cultural revolution because it was the home of the Panchen Lama.
Gyantse was a great disappointment to see that only one of the fifteen Stupas had survived. The empty site that had once been a busy sacred crowded monastery a shocking reminder of the devastation that had taken place.
Shigatse had the same reminder of history with the smashed castle on the hillside over the city, but the market was thriving with every sort of Tibetan craft; weaving, necklaces, coral beads, metal artefacts and good luck amulets. The meat stalls seamed very unhygienic and dried Yaks meat and tsampa offered without protection from flies and the heat.