The next day I walked out of Gyantse in the direction of Lhasa. After a few hours I came across a scruffy old bus that was full of Tibetans and parked by the roadside. I stuck my head in the door, pointed eastwards and said Lhasa. They nodded and so I climbed aboard. The Chinese driver demanded twenty yuan and I grudgingly paid, assuming this would get me all the way to Lhasa. Later on we pulled in at a run-down concrete truck stop at the side of a lake and trooped inside to get some food. The place was in uproar. There was a shouting match going on between the Chinese cooks and the Tibetan clientele. My fellow passengers immediately joined in the fray and the noise increased. I sat down and waited, wondering what all the fuss was about. When things had calmed down I went into the kitchen, ordered some food and was given what looked like grass fried in grease. It was disgusting, inedible, and I too became an angry supplicant, demanding my money back. Back at the bus the driver refused to let me back on board. My rucksack had been flung into the dust and he was preparing to leave. There was nothing I could do, nothing I could say. I’d been ripped off and this made me even more furious. I wandered back to the truck stop, feeling lost, angry and demotivated. Hmm, they have rooms here, I thought. I will get myself a little room and read from my book Siddartha. That should be relaxing.
Later on that evening I wrote a letter to Bettina in Vienna: Tibet is too hard. I want to come home. See you soon. I was feeling lonely and miserable and sorry for myself. Time to go for a walk, through this village with no name and maybe up a hill. I passed an official building with a huge red banner showing stylised images of the revolution: sunrise, stars, tractors, abundant harvest, strong handsome peasants and a feeling of hope. I walked up the nearest hill and found a curious network of sticks at the top, each one adorned with scores of little flags with strange symbols on them. I remembered the annoying Englishman from the truck telling me that the Tibetans put their prayers into little flags, place them in a windy place, usually on top of hills and mountains, and believe the winds carry the prayers up to heaven. That made sense, as much sense as believing in an old man with a white beard living in the clouds.
The view from the top was stunning – a long and thin turquoise lake out of which steep mountains rose, topped by dark pointed peaks. Huge black crows were circling above ominously. I could feel my anger and frustration and loneliness being lifted up and carried away by the wind.
This is an extract from 9 Months in Tibet — the eBook — which will be published soon. If you’d like to reserve a copy just email me at email@example.com (or post a short comment under this article).