Woke up after nearly ten hours of sleep feeling fantastic. Had a huge breakfast - but now everyone else is starting to feel a little off. Drove out through some cultivated land and then through some of the most desolate land I have ever seen. Stopped for a few minutes at Tso-la Pass, at 14,822 feet, the highest pass for today. Just yesterday morning that would have been higher than I had ever been, but after Tong-la Pass it just didn't seem that impressive. We got to Shigatse, the traditional capitol of Tsang, around noon.
After marveling at the incredible hotel we've been checked in to (it's actually very rundown, but they have hot water and flushing toilets!) I set out to explore. Corinne (the Swiss woman on my tour) asked if she could join me and we set off for the market. We walked through a couple blocks of the Chinese built new town (ugly nondescript block buildings) to the old town and found a great little market. There was a bit of everything but it mostly seemed to be focused on tourist souvenirs - odd since there really didn't seem to be any other tourists around. The prices were outrageous - usually ten or more times what the same item would cost in Katmandu. They would of course bargain, but I just couldn't be bothered. When we got to the meat section of the market we decided to continue exploring elsewhere. We tried to find the path up to the ruins of the Shigatse Dzong - the Shigatse Palace, which was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. We could see the trail up the mountain side, but all the roads in that direction dead ended. We walked further in to the old town walking around the hill which the ruins sat. The street got smaller and smaller and eventually ended. At that point we were on the other side of the ruins and the hill didn't look so steep so we decided to try to climb to it. The rock was very rough so the walk was actually pretty easy. Near the top of the climb we intersected a path and the rest of the hike was simple.
There really wasn't very much to see ruin wise at Shigatse Dzong - just a few walls. The highlight for me was the amazing number of prayer flags and the views down in to the village were pretty nice as well. From above we could see that there was a large market square quite near the hotel that we had missed, so I tried to memorize where it was. We were supposed to meet the others at 3:30 to go see the monastery and I wanted to take a shower first (hot water!) so a little before three we followed the path down. The path took us into an amazing maze of small foot paths then alleys between some absolutely beautiful old houses. Eventually we managed to find our way back to one of the main streets, and from there back to the hotel where I had an amazing hot shower.
We drove to the Tashilhunpo Monastery - one of the largest in Tibet. I found the flashy golden roofs a little much, but from the front the huge monastery definitely had a powerful and even aesthetic presence. We spent a couple hours wandering around the monastery complex - a collection of old chapels going back to the fifteenth century combined with newer building built when the monastery was being restored in the 1980s and 90s. Tahilhunpo contains the tombs of Genden Drup (who was retroactively named the first Dali Lama) and most of the Panchen Lamas (a rank equal to the Dali Lama). Visitors are not allowed to visit the chapel containing the Dali Lama, but we did visit the tombs of the fourth, fifth through ninth (in one chapel), and tenth Panchen Lama. The large Chapel of Maitreya is completely hollow and holds an 85 foot (26 meter) tall gold plated image of Maitreya, the future Buddha. The last Panchen Lama was the tenth, there is a successor - actually two. Both the Chinese government and the Dali Lama in exile have chosen a successor! The Chinese successor is the one pictured all over the place, but he is kept in Beijing to be educated.
The entire monastery complex is huge and could take days to explore - we had two hours, which was actually enough because by then I was really starting to feel the altitude and all the hiking I'd already done. Back in the hotel I relaxed and went through some of the digital photos I took for about half an hour. I then joined the girls to go explore the market square. I don't think the others were all that impressed but I loved it - besides the ugly nylon clothing and plastic ware stalls there were tons of hardware, house ware, sweets, and dried fruit stalls. I bought some sweets - interesting making a choice when you have no idea what anything is, I just bought a selection of everything (some were great, some were hideous, and most were ok). In the middle of the square there were fifteen to twenty pool tables set up out in the open - an open air pool hall. We decided to have a cultural experience and hired one of the for a game. The table had lots of obstacles so our game took a while (also might have been partially due to lack of talent), but it was fun. Predictably, by the end of the game we had a huge crowd of locals watching (and laughing at) us. The others headed over to the souvenir market while I stayed to explore some more.
After I'd gone over the entire market I head out to find the others. On the way I went by a man selling religious paraphernalia on the sidewalk and ended up buying a set of prayer flags (more expensive than in Thamel, but also nicer), and a traditional cloth door (no idea what I'll do with it, but I like it). I found the others as they were finishing up and started to walk back to the hotel with them. I ended up swinging through the market square again on my own to take some photos. Back at the hotel I dropped off my gear and went with the others for diner. We picked a random restaurant around the corner and had a great time trying to decipher the menu which was supposed to be in English. Diner ended up being very good even if it wasn't quite what we had ordered, and we even had a few beers with it (Lhasa Beer - nothing exciting, but still quite drinkable and with the slogan "Beer from the roof of the world"). Back at the hotel I worked on my journal and sorted photos before hitting the bed.