Tibet

Tibet

Tibet is a dream for many to visit. Despite my trip there in 2010 it still remains a dream and a mystery for me. It is also so far one of my biggest adventure.

The idea to take this trip came to me spontaneously when I have learned that I needed to be in Chengdu (China, Sichuan province) for business. From Internet forums I figured that Chengdu is the stating point for all travelers to Tibet and it is pretty easy “just” to fly to Lhasa and take it from there. That’s how I thought. The only problem was to get the entrance permit. I contacted CITS office and asked whether they can take care of all the required papers.

On the D-day and H-Hour, I took the plane from Chengdu to Lhasa. Lhasa is one of the highest city on this planet and sits on 3500m above the sea level. Those who are crazy enough to think that they can do 3000m elevation in 3 h, should think again. I was rather naive and very sick the rest of the trip.

All the guides recommend to spent at least a day in Lhasa to acclimatize to the altitude, which means to get in your hotel, lay down and don’t move. My curiosity, of course, overpowered all the precautions. Big mistake!

My travel mates were coming by train from Beijing (what a clever decision!) and that made it easier for them to acclimatize. They felt definitely better during the entire trip but they certainly missed the views of the Tibetan valleys that you can see from the plane.

The day after the group arrive we had the tour to the Potala Palace — the residence of Dalai Lama before he fled to India, truly a spectacular place. Turned out that buddhist leaders like to live in a spacious apartments (is there any who doesn’t?).

Get up early, be there at 7:00 and be prepared to line up and then climb many stairs. Luckily, we had an assistant that was keeping the line for us, so we could arrive later and wait our turn under the shadow. Shadow was helpful. Sun is so strong that even with the sunscreen of 50 you burn till your bones.

Drepung Monastery – this is where a typical buddhist monk life can be observed. Everything is pretty simple. From time to time monks get out of their small huts and debate. You need to know this special move (as on the picture) and the shout that they make when someone is right… or wrong. I understood, that I will never be a monk, as I could never make the sound right, neither the move. Meditation however would not be a problem, as I was already in the unconscious condition because of the altitude.

Barkhor Street and Jokhang Temple – you will not miss this one for sure! It is the central place of Lhasa, full of little souvenir stalls. Bargain hard! Chinese law applies here as well: divide the price by 4, negotiate and pay 1/3. They still will be happy, even little bit upset.

Jokhang Temple — is the most sacral place in Tibet. Don’t get confused and always move clock-wise. Even around the temple. Go with the flow. On the top of the temple, you may see the most creative way to handle the most boring job on the Earth.. or on the roof.

Chinese occupation is quite a sensitive issue. Do not chat with people about it (another guide’s recommendation) unless you want more adventures and spend a night or few in the cell. Lots of military on the streets. Make sure they don’t see you taking pictures of them. If they see it – goodbye your camera! Seriously!! I must not be thinking straight already when I was taking pictures of them from under the cover 😉

In Lhasa we stayed at the Kailash Hotel. Good place. Changed my room 3 times and then gave up.

Then we moved to Shigatse via Yamdrotso Lake. Incredible views! (Thats all what I care about). On the way to Shigatse we passed Nagatse village, where we had lunch in a place where you normally wouldn’t go unless you are starving. And we WERE starving!

We passed Gyanse fortress and local watermill where you can try barley. Somehow it was my favorite food of the trip… or maybe I was still hungry?

Khumbula stupa — the hall of 10 000 buddhas. I was very interested, but no, I didn’t count them all. It would be actually a good idea: to count all the buddhas in Tibet.

This is not Dalai Lama palace, but a beautiful family hotel with a lot of charm and great sense of hospitality. Really enjoyed it! Tsang Family Inn, 18 Renbu road, Shigatse (tel: 0892-825999)

I remember myself wondering how buddhist monks survive drinking tea alone. No wonder, my dear! This tea is actually yak butter with salt. Yes, they add tea too. I thought that you could add grains in it and drink your sandwich.

Housekeeping is busy

Next day we took off finally to the Everest basecamp passing the Kharola Glacier at 5560 m.

The road to the Everest called 108 turns. Guess why? Right, because it is not very straight.

In combination with the developing mountain sickness with terrible headache and constantly bleeding nose, it was a very exhausting exercise. In one of those turns we saw cyclists pedaling up to the mountain. We saw the super-human.

It took us almost entire day (with a stop for lunch) to get to the Everest basecamp at 5364m. As we arrived, sun was going down. It must have been very beautiful. All what I remember: me with the oxygen mask in the tent calling my boyfriend that I’m still alive thinking that it would be actually cool to die at the Everest. My journey could have been over. The mountain sickness became even worse.

Oxygen, however, did its excellent job. Next morning I was high (in all the meanings of it) and we hiked closer to the Everest to enjoy the view and to visit the highest monastery on earth (Rongphu Monastery).

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As I write about monasteries – There are TONS of them, all of the them smell burned yak butter candels and some specific tibetan scents. At the end you barely can remember the names and locations. Some little differences here and there, but if you are not a Buddhist, it is difficult to get all the details of 29 Buddha enlightenments. A monk would slap me in my face.

Later on we departed back to Shigatse taking the same 108-turns road (why didn’t I die at the basecamp?)

When back in Lhasa, I went to Norbulingka – another palace, another temple.

All my travel mates left a day earlier and the guide kindly agreed to show a bit more and tell me stories. I must say I wanted to cut my ears and his tongue as I knew that the guide was not supposed to tell me the things he was saying. Both him and I were potentially in danger (well, I wasn’t particularly safe all the way) but he wanted to share with me about the destiny of the people and the way chinese authorities are violently exterminate the Buddhist traditions of this peaceful piece of land. I particularly was fascinated by him sharing that chinese authorities recruit tibetan tourist guides as spies. Who they would be spying on? Tourists. Just in case someone would like to learn a bit more about Tibet. For the first time I felt my hair moving. When you hear stories like this and you still have the cultural shock from learning about water and sky burial (google it if you are interested), you incline to believe that anything is possible and you may just disappear without anyone noticing it. Oops. Gone.

If you travel to Tibet, you will probably notice that you will have a tibetan guide and chinese driver (or both guide and driver chinese). Tibetan will share more with you, of course, when chinese does not hear and when they know that you are not a threat for them. Chinese guides and drivers are “specially” trained not only to guide you, but also to watch you and the guide. So be careful what kind of questions you are asking as you may have troubles with the authorities. Do not insist on answers.

And we also went to Tibetan Pharma Factory to buy some Tibetan medicine. It was my personal wish and the guide agreed to accompany me.

My trip was about to end and the guide and I were waiting for the car to the airport. I was not even surprised when I saw a black-black old Volvo with black-black windows and black-black driver (no, the driver was yellow and actually I couldn’t see him until I got into the car). We headed towards the airport. I felt quite uncomfortable when the driver pulled over from the highway to a tiny pathway. The guide had no idea where the hell we were going. The chinese driver was speaking chinese only – how helpful it was?! Our guessing was not long and in about short 15 minutes of extensive praying we appeared in front of the military base. What happened next is only history now. It was long and painful, they tortured us, beat us, but we stayed strong. No, I’m kidding! The driver just tanked the car and we continued our way to the airport. This is what military base for, right? A tank station! No pictures there.

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Tibet

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Tibet is a dream for many to visit. Despite my trip there in 2010 it still remains a dream and a mystery for me. It is also so far one of my biggest adventure. The idea to take this trip came to me spontaneously when I have learned that I […]

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