Day 3: Bumpari, the Offering Vases mountainNow I feel ready to attempt the ascent of Bumpari (14,250 ft, 2,250 ft above Lhasa), even though my guidebook recommends at least 3 days of acclimatization. I flag down a cycle taxi and ask the driver to take me over the river: he takes me to the Potala Palace. I ask him again to take me over the river: he takes me to the Barkhor and asks me to get out. I ask him again and he takes me to the near side of the bridge but absolutely refuses to cross it, leaving me to cross on foot under the eagle eye of an armed sentry on the far side. My guidebook mentions that the bridge guards sometimes refuse passage to Westerners, but the sentry just continues to stand there, a ramrod up his back, not acknowledging my presence even though his eyes have penetrated all the way to my spine.
This soldier is the only one I see in my entire time in Lhasa, nor do I see any police other than traffic cops. If this is an armed oppression, it's an extremely subtle one.
The slope faces South, it is two in the afternoon, and the sun's radiant heat is roasting me alive. I drink the liter of water I bought with me without even touching the surface of my thirst.
I struggle upward, hauling myself up with my hands. Every few yards I stop for a bout of agonized panting: these bouts become longer and longer the higher we climb. This six-year-old climbs at over five times my speed, but if he feels any contempt or pity for my weakness, he doesn't show it.
This time the scramble up is not as hard technically, but the altitude is really getting to me: I take over half an hour for the last 100 vertical feet. We see lammergyr vultures flying overhead: looking underfoot we see the corpse of a goat that has been dead for several weeks, much more attractive to the vultures than it is to us.
From the top we can see all of Lhasa, from the greenhouses on this side of the river to the rice-paddies(!) on the far side beneath the mountains.
At the ridgeline he leaves me to tend to his yaks, and I work my way down the cliffs, apprehensive and alone. The walk back to the main road seems without end, but finally I find a little store that sells me a soft drink and I wait for a bus into town.
The driver and the bus conductress are an item. At every stop she throws herself into his lap, takes hold of his hands and wraps them around her tummy and left breast, and kisses him passionately until all the passengers have boarded. Did she misread the job description as 'bus seductress'? Somehow this violation of professional boundaries seems so much more outrageous than if they were doctor and nurse, or lawyer and client, despite all the fun they're so obviously having.