Picture of the day

Breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, dinner in Girona

View over Girona from the city walls
Two and a half weeks before Easter, I found out about an event that was being held over the Easter weekend, in Santa Coloma de Farners, Girona, Spain. After deciding I wanted to go to it, I consulted the excellent site at http://www.seat61.com/. This is very reliable source of information about train travel. He suggested a train journey that allowed one to breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, and dine in Barcelona. This looked pretty good, so I booked up all the tickets. 

The journey was made up of three rail journeys: from Milton Keynes to London by Virgin Pendelino train; Eurostar from London to Paris; and then TGV from Paris to Girona. A bit unusual to have Virgin the slowest, and shortest train. The journey was planned to be 11 1/2 hours, but was delayed in the south of France, and into Spain. As a result it was was about 12 1/4 hours, plus one hour change in time zone. Still the original idea of breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, and dinner in Girona held.

I had planned my journey so that I had most of the day after travelling in Girona. This is a city with a history stretching back to roman times, and a substantial surviving medieval area. The old town is surrounded by city walls. These provide a very interesting walk, with quite a lot of up. This was my main activity for the Thursday, apart from getting from Girona to Santa Coloma de Farners in the late afternoon.  Girona is a very pleasant place, with friendly people, and relaxed traffic. Throw in good weather while I was there - both before and after the retreat - meant it was a very relaxing and enjoyable place to be in.


I am now in the hills above Sils, about half an hours train ride from Girona, plus half an hours taxi ride. I am at the Kagyu Sayme Deshi Ling monastry for a short retreat.

This area is outstandingly beautiful. Flowers, trees, shrubs of all sorts all buzzing with life. This life ranges from bees the size of my thumb, to butterflies smaller than the nail on my little finger. And ants. And ants. And ants.....

The monastery itself is an exact equivalent of the UK version of the big house plus home farm (buildings, not (much) land), all repurposed now of course.

Tibet 2016 - Lhasa

2016-10-10 Lhasa, Sara monastery, elevation 3681m

Shrine at holy spring, Sara monastery kora

We visited Jokhang temple today. Very unusually it was closed to pilgrims. This meant that we could see what the inside of the temple was like. In the past it has been impossible to move inside the temple without elbows in every part of ones anatomy. The space and time available was unprecedented in the experience of those of us who had visited there before (including Jamin, our tour leader).

We went on to Zhanghung monastery, also in the old town of Lhasa. Like every nunnery I have encountered, the immediate sensation on walking into it was that of joy and quiet happiness. Most of the nuns we saw were writing prayers, and bundling already written prayers into prayer wheels. Being here provided a point of real stillness during the day. Thoroughly enjoyable.

This afternoon we are going to Sera. As I have visited Sera many times before, and have got multiple hundred photos of the debating there, I'm going to do kora round Sara. Jamin, the tour leader, has arranged for another guide for me. This guide, Jompa, proved to be a very good guide. I have only ever had one guide who was better - in Mongolia. Both shared some characteristics: female; young; very, very knowledgable about their subject; and able to cover ground, uphill and on the level, like a mountain goat. Jompa is very knowledgable about Buddhism. She showed me the holy spring at the back of the monastery. I made offerings at the spring. This was a bit of a complicated affair to get to the place where the water came out. I had to crawl under two very large, but very low branches of trees, and over slippery stones. Then it was quite an elaborate ritual of getting water from the spring; straining it into a container; then moving over to the little shrine (to one of the Taras); and putting some water into each of the offering bowls that were there; then washing face and hands; and having water poured over my head - and boy was it cold. It was very touching. It confirmed my view that Jamin had selected Jompa very well indeed. So we did kora and then she showed me into some parts of the monastery. These included some parts which were not part of the standard tour as I remember it. In talking about Buddhism, she reinforced my view that it is better to be selective about one chooses to believe in.

Tibet 2016 - Lhasa

2016-10-09 Lhasa elevation 3657m
Near the Barkhor, Lhasa
We flew to Lhasa this morning. Our hotel is in the centre of the old Tibetan quarter. It is close to the Barkhor and Joktang monastery. I am faily sure I have stayed here before, but if so it was a longish time ago. I haven't worked out exactly when that would have been. As usual on the first day in Lhasa, the program was very gentle. We sorted ourselves out at the hotel and then spent some time in the Barkhor. Then to dinner at a restaurant run by a Tibetan family. This is one of many Tibetan businesses that our tour leader (Jamin) has mentored and sponsored during his 15 years living in Tibet.  

All very nice to be back in Lhasa. It has grown substantially since I was last here. Then the Chinese part of the city was about half the size of the Tibetan area. Now they appear to be about the same size, and growing rapidly. 

Nobody seemed to be affected by the altitude, which is what I expected from a bunch of experienced trekkers. It did make a change from previous trips though.

Start of the trip

2016-10-08T11:11 Chengdu elevation 501m

I went back to the station for some photos that I forgot to take yesterday. Back to the hostel, and after a light meal, over to the hotel to meet the rest of the party. The hotel is very grand - five star plus. In some places, the design got in the way of function. It took me two or three minutes to work out which tap was which and a further two or three minutes to work out how to switch the water flow from the bath to the shower head. Apart from that, very good. Met up with the tour leader and much of the rest of the group at 16:30. We had a meet and greet session, introductions, and an initial talk on what we are going to do over the next month, then off to a meal in the hotel. I was in bed by 19:30 and asleep within about 10 minutes, which is unusual for me. I slept straight through until about 01:30, woke up, had something to drink, went back to bed, and then woke up intermitently up to 05:30, breakfast, and down to the bus to go to the airport.

Picture of the day

Gulls going everywhere

Back in China

2016-10-08T11:11 Chengdu 
Sim's hostel courtyard, Chengdu, Sichuan province, PRC
You may not realise it, but now is early October last year. These are details of my last trip to Tibet. It is four months later than the actual event, as I had multiple computer problems, and could not publish anything in the interval. Now everything is working, I am publishing my notes and photos taken during the trip.

I flew out to Chengdu a couple of days before I was due to meet the rest of the party. The flight itself was about as good as long haul flights can be. I had plenty of reading material - a stack of New Scientist, and Amateur Photographer, together with a mass of reading material on my Kindle. During the night though, my Kindle had a catastrophic encounter with the edge of a locker. It came out shaped like a pretzel. I had to junk it completely. 

In one way this is not a major problem. I can reproduce what was on the machine when I get back to the U.K. It rather dents my capacities over the next month. Even if I can get a replacement in China, I will not be able to use Facebook, Google or Amazon,all of which will be unavailable behind the Great Chinese Firewall. The one thing that I'm going to have to make some effort to reinstate, is all my Chinese language dictionaries, translator and character recognizer. As I'm on an organized tour, led by people who are English speakers this will not matter for the duration of the trip.

The really aggravating thing is that I was intending to use my Kindle as a half way stage in backing up my photos from my camera to portable hard disk. This is now impossible so I may just have to be careful to ensure that I've always got two copies of every photo on different storage media.

I got to Chengdu, took a taxi to Sim's, the hostel I'm staying at tonight. I then went for a walk to the main Chengdu railway station to pick up the tickets I'd ordered for use later on in the month. Then to the nearest Bank of China, to pick up a bit more money, and back to the hostel to flake out.

I had forgotten that 100% of the motor cycles and scooters, and about 20% of cars in Chengdu are electric. This means that they have, as if they needed it, an additional excuse to use their horns, but it also means they can creep up to within about 3" of you before using them. This makes crossing some of the road junctions very interesting, to put it mildly.

From the British Museum

Until Easter Monday, it was decades since I was last in the British Museum. It has been so long that I had not even seen the new roof. As always one thing in particular caught my eye - a bronze by Parviz Tanavoli called Heech in a Cage (2005). Pictures of the roof, the bronze, and the board giving details of the bronze.

The flowers of Samye Dzong

At Samye Dzong, they have opened up the courtyard and started populating it with plants. These are some of their flowers so far.