My altimeter said we were at 5500m, 18000ft, although one bought on eBay for £30 was likely to be highly suspect. However, it excited me having these sorts of gadgets, paper maps, compass, medium format camera with slide film, and a twine bound leather journal. I felt like a real adventurer. My altimeter was however completely pointless because it wasn’t as if Maritz (my friend and room-mate from London) and I were doing any serious mountaineering, just trekking, and now at 5500m we were in the back of a battered old Landcruiser driving the Friendship Highway from Kathmandu to Lhasa. My head felt like it was about to burst out my skull with every heartbeat as I stared out the window at Everest far away in the distance. The Tibetan plateau was barren and beautiful. I loved it.
We eventually reached Lhasa and had a few days to relax and explore the city. The first thing on my priority list was to somehow acquire a Tibetan monks robe. These seemed like a fairy obvious trinket to take back home with me, however Maritz thought it was a stupid idea. Nevertheless, he came with me as we were directed to a market in the oldtown. We perused the stalls where quiet contended sellers just sat swinging prayer wheels, not trying to force you to buy something, a nice change from the bombardment of Kathmandu. I eventually came to the stall where they sold the robes. There was no price but I was told they were the equivalents of £10 for one of the winter robes, the ones that just drape over your shoulders with orange fluffy velvet on the inside. It would make the perfect Sunday lounge suit I thought to myself. The haggling began soon after and within minutes there was a huge crowd of people, laughing at the ginger kid trying to get a better price. Eventually we settled on £6 and as I paid the money the crowd cheered. I’m not sure if they were happy for me getting a good bargain, or the seller making a killing. Anyway, as I left with my prize position someone came over to shake my hand. I did so and the person behind followed him to shake it too. Then within about 5 seconds everyone had formed some sort of queue to shake my hand. What was happening? I shook another 10 people’s hands before I saw almost everyone in the square starting to join the queue. It would take hours to shake everyone’s hand so I just put my arms in the air, laughed and waved at everyone. They all laughed and waved back understanding the predicament I was in.
That night excited by my new purchase we read about a bar called ‘The Book Bar’, a library by day and a bar by night. On the way there I found a hat in the gutter, a bit torn up and tattered but it looked cool so I wore it. Turns out it was a police hat and over the next mile everyone I passed would look, point, and salute while shouting ‘China Police’
We eventually arrived at the bar. It was small, sort of independent book shop size. There was one group of about 8 people at the main table. We (Myself, Maritz and 4 other travellers who came to Tibet with us) went and sat in the corner by ourselves and ordered a Lhasa Beer which came in 75cl bottles. After that first round someone from the main table invited us over to join them. He was Mongolian and could speak some English and had a moustache exactly like Salvador Dali. This turned out to be because he was apparently the world’s biggest Dali fan. A second round of Lhasa beer came and we soon discovered we were drinking the beer all wrong. You’re meant to have a double shot glass, pour the beer into the glass and then down that. We chatted about where we were from before a game began, a drinking game no doubt. Rock, paper, scissors, which in Tibetan or Mongolian, we never found out, was ‘Kai, yamma, heh’. It was a free for all, anyone could call out anyone else for a game. This just involved pointing at them and the game started immediately. It was fast, intense and multiple games were all happening at once, most of which were directed at us of course. The looser had to down his shot of beer. During this both Maritz and I were asked if we wanted to marry one of the two girls at the table. Fast thinking I moved a thumb ring I used to wear to my wedding finger under the table and then proclaimed that I would have loved to but I was in fact married already. The general consensus was that I was missing out big time but fair enough, I was a taken man and off limits. An hour went by when another kid joined the table. He was 19 years old, sporting a guitar and was also Mongolian. He was soon singing Mongolian throat music while I tried miserably to play the Tabla (drums) still wearing my china police hat. All I can remember was thinking that he was going to lose his voice by thirty. He basically sounded like a digeridoo. It was beautiful though.
By the end of the evening, at around 2am, we decided to call it a night. We got the bill and everything apart from the first round we ordered was crossed off. Mr Dali was covering it for us. What a kind gesture. We staggered home to our hotel, brimming with joy. As far as days in your life goes, this had been quite a memorable one indeed and Maritz and I still message each other every now and then saying ‘Remember that night in the book bar?’
That was 12 years ago and I still have my Tibetan monks robe, but sadly I’ve since lost my China Police hat.