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Himalaya

Day 63: Rongbuk to Shigatse

Rongbuk, Tibet 
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The children of the plateau are weathered by a cruel combination of glaring sun and dust from the relentless wind. There is little water for washing so the dirt becomes ingrained.
Michael Palin - HimalayaWe run down into the valley, stacked high with glacial rubble, then climb up through a landscape of bare, brown, undulating hills, over a couple of spectacular passes and down through villages with snooker tables in the streets and horses tethered up outside front doors. We've almost 200 miles (320 km) to go before Shigatse, Tibet's second biggest city.

By the time we've passed through the town of Lhatse we've dropped down to 13,500 feet (4110 m) and are running past ploughed fields. There's not much traffic on the Friendship Highway: a few trucks lumbering along, a lot of horse and carts but hardly a private vehicle to be seen. As dusk falls we're in wide, desolate country, with dust blowing and the setting sun catching the tops of the smooth, brown hills and turning them a rich, mournful maroon. As we get closer to Shigatse we pass brand new electric pylons, at first lying in the fields awaiting construction, then, a little later, upright but unconnected and finally cabled up and striding over the last hilltops into the city.

It's a major culture shock after Rongbuk. I really feel as if we've come in from the outback. With its red lanterns and gold and stainless steel trim, the Shigatse Hotel, in the heart of the Chinese-built new town, gleams and glitters like a Las Vegas gambling joint. As we wait to check in, three girls in white coats emerge from a door off the lobby, marked, in English, 'Beauty and Massage', and ask us, quite ingenuously, which one we would like to choose.

This is all too much for us to get our heads round and we politely decline their services and, joy of joys, are taken up to rooms with carpets, lights, double beds, hot running water, no dogs and, luxury of luxuries, a bedside table.

This has to be better than sex. Sorry, Beauty and Massage.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 63: Rongbuk to Shigatse
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Shigatse
  • Book page no: 153

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