Monday we spent mostly at the garage. While the mechanics were messing about with the carbs we made some alterations to the inside and fixed the busted wing mirror. The alternator was replaced (complete with a Heath Robinson type bracket mounting as my old boss would say) as ours was slowly failing. It still gave out power but at a vastly reduced rate. We worked on the Eberspacher heater and determined that the pump which gives it fuel from the tank wasn’t working. In the evening we explored Lhasa – what there is of it. We were back on the bikes which made a tour quick but even without them you could explore the Tibetan bit of Lhaza on foot within an hour or two. There are a couple of blocks of Tibetan style architecture where the locals ply their trades, the Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace. That’s it. The Tibetan part of town is remarkably small and surrounded by the large architecture of a modern Chinese city. Muttering Tibetans walk around various circuits of the town spinning prayer wheels and clutching beads in an attempt to acquire merit.
Tuesday we returned to the garage to find that the starter motor had burned out. They had got the engine running though so there was the possibility of leaving soon using the old pushing and stopping on hills method. We took the opportunity to visit the Jokhang temple. This temple is one of the most revered by Tibetan Buddhists and lies in the centre of the city surrounded by Barkhor square. Unfortunately, it is also surrounded by the most amazing array of tat stalls that I have ever had cause to witness. While marveling at these, we came across a man muttering to himself, walking 1 step, lying down, crawling forward an inch, standing back up, walking 1 step etc. Some people will do anything to try to acquire merit. It was going to take him a long time to get to the entrance. For us though, it was quicker and after paying the 5 quid fee we were in. The place was deserted except for the odd other tourist and the monk who had his own tat stall on the roof next to the tea house. The vivid colours and intricate wood carvings and paintings on the outside of the temple were interesting. However, in the main hall, the holiest place, were an array of statues and images of various multi-armed gods, goddesses and buddhas. Surrounding these was a series of very small chapels which contained more of the same. The huge number of different gods, manifestations, reincarnations and Bodhisattvas left us bewildered and with a strong suspicion that most of this was just made up.
Underwhelmed, we headed out to try some local delicacies. Yak meat is excellent but the sheep’s lung that Richard had was in a word – minging. Momo’s (little dough balls with meat and veg inside) are excellent too but it seems to take an age to make them. Can’t understand why because they are afterall just little dough balls with meat and veg inside.
The next day we visited the Potala Palace as the mechanics were still messing around with the engine. It seems nothing gets done quickly here. The Potala Palace is the iconic image of Tibet that features on every postcard. The former home of the Dalai Lama, this opulent palace was constructed between 1645 and 1694 and contains many treasures. Amoung the innumerable images of various supernatural being are the tombs of eight former Dalai Lamas. These massive structures are covered with hundreds of kilograms of gold and studded with countless precious stones - a sharp contrast to the fortunes of the devout Tibetans who prostrate themselves outside its walls. The building is an impressive structure – a huge, impregnable fortress filled with gold and jewels. It’s amazing its still there. However, when faced with the conditions that most Tibetans live in, enduring the harsh environment of the plateau, its opulence offends more than it delights.
Thursday we were keen to get moving as our permits were due to run out on the 7th. The garage claimed they had sorted the engine problem so we agreed to try to make it out of Tibet into China by push starting. Unfortunately, after a short distance of driving it was clear that the problem was not sorted at all. The engine stalled every few minutes and it was only the fact that we didn’t have a starter motor that got it started again. It sounded terrible and the performance was awful. We returned to break the good news.
Fridays investigations revealed that only 4 cylinders were working properly although strangely they were on both sides of the engine. It couldn’t be a carb problem so it had to be an ignition problem. The insertion of a high energy ignitor into the distributor got all 8 cylinders running again for which there was much rejoicing. Also, it was the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival so the mechanics stuffed mooncakes into us and took us out for a slap up meal in the town. Quality. Beer flowed to shouts of Gambe! (down in one) and the food was mountainous. We were looking forward to getting going again in the morning.
Saturday. Tibet strikes again. It was back to 4 cylinders. The theory was that the part they used wasn’t great quality so must have burned out. They tried a Toyota part but to no avail. It seems we had no option but to put the Landy on a truck to China and fly out. So on Sunday we got a flight to Zhongdian, just outside of Tibet. The plan was to travel down to Tiger Leaping Gorge and other sights in the Yunnan province and meet up with the Landy in Kunming in 6 days. Also, we needed to get visa extensions as ours were due to run out on the 13th.
The flight over the Tibetan Himalayan mountain range was spectacular and getting a bus to Qiaotou proved no problem. In the morning we were going to attempt to walk the Tiger Leaping Gorge in one day – a feat that Lonely Planet described as maniacal.