Day Three - Shigatse to Sakya
A more leisurely start afforded us somewhat of a lie-in, but I slept terribly all the same. Wracked with nightmares involving failing a maths degree, I woke up groggy and irritable. My mood improved somewhat when Kate managed to break the toilet lid whilst 'trying to reach the wet clothes' - her words, not mine - but then devolved again when I discovered we'd be charged for the damage.
We travelled along quite happily, a stopped at a small tourist shop in the middle of a small valley. The route from the coach to the shop was literally lined with small children, hands cupped and all chanting 'fud'. It was the first time we'd seen organised, mass begging in Tibet and was quite shocking. The kids were all dressed in fitting, if dusty, clothing and none of them looked to be starving, so I can only assume that the children are used to subsidise the wages of the people from the nearby village. With no money forthcoming, we offered them a game of 'It' instead which went down famously - Al, especially, was a hit with the gang. It all stopped abruptly when a kindly Chinese tourist foolishly gave one of the children a couple of coins. She was immediately mobbed by the rest and they nearly dragged her to the floor before she could scramble back onto her bus.
We arrived in Sakya just before lunch to find that the Chinese Government had evicted us from our hotel, the only one in town. Apparently the civil service were performing some kind of audit and used their beaurocratic privileges to takeover the whole place, presumably lest they had to share breathing space with the peons they were here to investigate. We made our way around to a nearby guesthouse, which seemed pleasant but very crude, and the girls were less than pleased with the toilet arrangements - one going as far as to say that 'there wasn't enough hand sanitiser in the world' to allow her to use them.
Sakya itself is perhaps the most traditionally Tibetan of all the towns we've visited so far. The low, slanted walls of the vernacular buildings predominate, with a sprinkling of modern buildings trying not to look out of place. The roads are rough and in a constant war with the people trying to repair them; it looks like the roads are winning. The whole place is built around the monastery, which would be our next stop.
We were also introduced to our new local guide, who'd be tagging along with us to Nepal, a young fellow by the name of Dor-Ge (Door Gee - or Geoffrey as Gil insisted upon calling him). He was pleasant and polite, but had a... phasic grasp of the English language, that would swing in and out of comprehensibility seemingly at random making his guided tour of the nearby Sakya Monastery nearly impossible to make sense of.
I settled for reading the information leaflet and some plaques along the way, and using them to interpolate what Dor-Ge was saying. It seems Sakya is home to the Grey Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the most powerful sects after the Yellow Sect - that of the Dalai Lama. The artistry is much richer here, colourful murals explaining the history of the sect's bodhisattvas and intermingling with Hindu iconography. It was refreshing to see a different take on Buddhism, one that was stricter but took much more joy in explaining the cultural history of the religion. It was also nice to see the monks were modern enough to keep up with their fire drills, and made me chuckle to boot.
After we left the monastery and Drujal said we'd be visiting a nunnery of the Grey Sect, set high in the nearby mountain, but Ria and Sander, now joined by Ors, wanted another go at mountaineering. I was feeling tired and a little under the weather after yesterday, so I didn't join and set out for the nunnery. But my foolish pride, spurred on by Al's taunts, meant that ten minutes later I was jogging up the approach after the trio. I was shattered by the time I caught up, but managed to catch up and we walked over the rolling hills towards the peak.
The going was much tougher here, more vertical and looser under foot, and I was struggling. By the time we reached the halfway point, the lack of sleep and the severity of the climb had left me at the end of my tether. I reluctantly told the others to carry on without me and they, rather less reluctantly unfortunately, did. I sat on a rock and took in the view, drank some water and made my way down. I managed to take a different way back, through some ruined temple buildings which were made all the prettier in the dying sunlight.
By the time I reached the guesthouse, I was done. I made my way to bed and collapsed. Tomorrow will be our earliest start so far as we make our way towards Mount Everest and the top of the world.