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Northern Capital Revisited

Beijing, China

I left Lhasa by plane (from here on out, no more train rides for the remainder of my journey), headed back to Beijing with a quick stop in Chonqing. The airport in Lhasa is quite unique - it's about 65km from Lhasa and sits by itself with nary a thing around it except some dormitory-looking buildings around the airport. The airport is probably 1/10 the size of John Wayne, but seemed to handle the volume of traffic just fine.

I usually take the aisle seat and go straight to sleep when I fly, but I couldn't miss the opportunity to see Tibet from above, and I highly recommend flying out of Lhasa if you ever visit Tibet. From the sky, it's quite clear why Tibet has the reputation of being the rooftop of the world. Its accessibility (rather, inaccessibility) can only be appreciated from above.

The flight took off heading northeasterly initially. I was hoping to fly over Lhasa, but overheard that Lhasa airspace is restricted out of respect for its religious importance (I should have known since I never saw a plane in the sky while I was in Lhasa). The plane climbed to about 20,000 feet and offered a clear view of the rugged mountain ranges stretching as far as eyes can see, and what little spaces existed in the valleys formed villages, sometimes numbering no more than a few buildings. One dusty dirt road connects these villages with each other and with the outside world. It's easy to imagine the road being used a thousand years ago by wary travellers on yaks instead of motorcars.

The mountain ranges seemed to grow taller still as we continued our flight westward, with endless peaks overlapping peaks. The plane struggled to climb over them, and a bit hairy trying to fly above the weather system and the turbulance. I finally understood why Lhasa is so dry despite its altitude; the mountains, now snow capped, blocks any weather system carrying moisture from all directions. Once we're over the 30k altitude the landscape below was nothing short of astonishing: snow covered most of the mountain tops, with huge glaciers crisscrossing each other like giant highways. Even from above, I could see clearly what seemed like tracks (or lanes) in the glacier created by giant ice debris. They look just like the photos of K2 in National Geographics, except numbering in the hundreds.

The second half of the 2.5 hour flight was uneventful after we left Tibet airspace and flying above the weather below. Well, at least I thought it was the weather. Someone I met on the train had told me that you can't see the sun in Chonqing because of the haze, and he was absolutely right! The plane started to descend and yet I saw nothing but hazy clouds. I thought it was the rain clouds until, at about 2,000 feet, all of a sudden I saw shapes resembling buildings and roads. Much respect to the pilot for landing us safely.

When the door of the planed opened, I expected a bucket of sweat to pour over me immediately. After the good weather in Xinjiang and the dry weather in Tibet, I was not looking forward to getting back in humidity. The stop in Chonqing was a quick one, and we were sent back on the plane in about 15 minutes. Then we sat on the plane waiting for the green light to take off. There was massive delay in Beijing due to the record hot weather, so we waited on the tarmac for 90 minutes, enough time to serve us meal and finish a movie (Blind Side). During the delay the old man sitting next to me kept clearing his throat; I swear I thought I was either 1) going to catch TB, or 2) he was going to spit out the biggest loogie ever on my shoe. However, after the 56 hour trip to Lhasa, I can handle a 90 minute delay standing on my head, with one hand tied behind my back. The only problem with the delay was that I didn't get to Beijing until nearly 11pm, and all public transportation stop services at around the same time, so I had to split a cab to get to my hostel, only to find out they gave my room to someone else because of my late arrival, so I had to bunk with 3 other people for the first night before moving into my private room (that's right, I travel in style!).

I had no plans in Beijing, which was just fine. After nearly 3 weeks of traveling in some of the most remote areas of the world, it was nice to get back to a modern city. I took naps in air conditioned room, and had my best night of sleep last night (didn't wake up until 10:15, can't remember the last time I did that). The weather co-operated on my last day in Beijing, so I decided to rent a bike and make like the character in the award-winning movie 'Beijing Bicycle', with my iPod on and laughing all the way as I passed the bunion-suffering tourists on foot and herd-like tour buses. It took me just several hours in the afternoon to see most of the historic Beijing, including maze-like old hu-tongs and around numerous lake-parks where peddle-boats were available for rent and rickshaws taking tourists around the lakesides dotted with modern cafes (with outdoor seatings furnished with IKEA-like modern furnitures). I gotta say it's the best way to see Beijing (if you don't want to go in any of the 'touristy' destinations and just admire them from outside). It was a perfect primer to learn the lay of the land for my next in-depth visit of this grand city.

My journey is drawing to an end and I'm not sure how I feel; I've had a great time traveling, meeting new people, and generally not carrying what's happened back home. On the other hand, I do miss my friends back at home, and it's perhaps time to start thinking about the new path I want to take with my life. Decisions, decisions...I think I'll go take another nap.

One more day in Beijing to rest up before the grand finale - Mongolia!

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permalink written by  Chihyau on July 9, 2010 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Backpacking in China
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photos! we want photos!! national geographic-award-winning-awesome-once-in-a-lifetime-unforgetable photos!!! (no pressure) :-)

permalink written by  MAY CHAN on July 8, 2010

I know, I know...I've exceeded my monthly quota of storage on Flickr. As soon as I get back home I'll organize the photos and post them for all to enjoy. Meanwhile, here is the link to what I've already posted.


permalink written by  Chihyau on July 9, 2010

hey no rush getting back here! nothings really changed!! lol

Besides your having an amazing adventure!!! keep on traveling!! maybe this will be end being your new vocation! That would be AWSOME!!!

permalink written by  Robert on July 12, 2010

chihyah...where are you? have you found bliss in Mongolia? ...and no internet?

permalink written by  MAY on July 17, 2010

Me think Michael is lost somewhere in Mongolia.

permalink written by  mikesu on July 21, 2010

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Chihyau Chihyau
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Welcome to my blog!

Many of you have heard me wax poetic about the open plains and the nomadic life of Mongolia. Well, I'm finally getting off the couch and trekking to the edge of the world in search of my private Shangri-la.

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