Sunday, 31 May 2015

7 days in Tibet

Tibet was certainly one of the amazing trips that I’d gone on to. There were many down sides of this seven days trip but I guess seeing the Tibet, Himalayas and viewing Everest at 5200 meter above sea level made it all worth it. I wouldn't recommend for the shoestring travelers to take on this route because it was simply expensive even with the cheaper deals. It is cheaper if you start your trip from Nepal and towards Tiber rather than the China side. Tibet is an autonomous region within China. They had a long and complicated history together and the last conflict happened in 2008 when the Tibetans did some rioting, which made it more complicated for the foreign travelers to get in. And the complicated it gets between Tibet and China, the more tedious the process for foreign travelers to get in unless you have a big chunk of money lying around. For foreign travelers, we need permits to enter Tibet and we have to go with a tour guide – and all of that cost money. I found the cheapest package but there’s always a catch in spending more money and you would end up saving only a little bit. I was lucky to find another two travelers that were going the same way. The more in a group – the cheaper it is. I guess this trip had cost me about 700 – 800 USD for nine days trip including the two days train ride from Chengdu to Lhasa.

I felt a strange headache when I arrived in Lhasa and I assumed it was the elevation difference or altitude sickness as they call it. And I wasn't fully cured from sore throat and minor cough, which I got in Chengdu. I wasn't in my best condition. I was almost 3500m above sea level and the beauty of Lhasa distracted me from all these sickness. Lhasa is a city and administrative capital of Tibet Autonomous Regions of the People’s Republic of China. It is one of the highest cities in the world. The city has been the religious and administrative capital of Tibet since the mid-17th Century. It contains many culturally significant Tibetan Buddhist sites such as the Potala Palace, Jokhang temple and Norbulingka palaces. I knew nothing about the political side of Tibet when I arrived – the Dalai Lama’s. So I had to learn quickly. On my arrival, the police checked my permits and there was someone waiting for me with my name on the card since I went under a tour. The other two travelers from my tour group arrived this morning by plane. It took a while for the driver to find my reserved hostel – and somehow I had to pay for the driver to my place of stay for 150 Yuan, which was compulsory for the tour. While looking for the place – I had a little view of Tibet but the headache kept on bugging me and it kinda turned off my mood. I checked in my hostel, which was about 2 years old, and I was like the second foreigner to ever check in the hostel. And it was also my first dorm throughout my whole trip. There were only the two of us in a 6-bed dorm. There is a stretch of Halal restaurants nearby, where I had my evening lunch. Tibet has the Muslims Hui for these restaurants.  I just had some little walks and I guess what made the first day interesting was the hostel that I stayed in. They have a great place to hangout at the lobby with big TV set, a pool table and also the typical karaoke room and I just had to mingle around & I end up singing in the karaoke. The Chinese travelers were great fantastic, as they came from all over China for their getaway. My first night in Tibet was a terrible. I was coughing badly throughout my sleep. There were two other people in my room and I guess I kinda annoyed them as I coughed every now and again. I didn't had a good sleep. I also realize that you get tired easily in Tibet. Just by going on a one floor staircase would really took your breath away. I felt tired and my first night kinda sucks in Tibet.

I woke up in high spirit of seeing the better side of Tibet. I had to walk 30 minutes to the hostel of the other two travelers in my tour group. And there I met Mary our tour guide for the next two days and the other two travelers Albert from Catalonia and Martyna from Poland. They were a couple traveling the world and on their six months now. Mary is a local Tibetan from the village area somewhere in Shigatse. Our first tour was towards the Barkhour Square towards the Jongkang temple.  For most Tibetans it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. It is in some regards pan-sectarian, but is controlled by the Gelug School. It was my first time walking among the monks of Tibet’s. You can see them praying on the floor. And it was like a pilgrimage center for most Tibetans. So seeing this was interesting as you can see some similarities of the movement prayer to the Islamic Salah prayer. After that we went for the Potala Palace where the Dalai Lama’s had been living all these years. It was certainly beautiful to see the palace with the backdrop of the wonderful sky behind it. The Potala Palace is quite high and to walk up the stairs at this elevation surely in need of break in between. The view from the top was just mesmerizing. Inside the temple– there were many sections that explained on how the ruling works during the Dalai Lama’s era. We didn't had a good explanation from our guide and I’m still trying to understand what’s it all about. After the Potala palace, we went for the Sera monastery, which was a little bit far off, and we had to take the bus to go there. We had our Tibetan lunch first and later went into the temple. Inside the temples are the places where they pray to the past Dalai Lama’s and they have many of these within the temples. What’s interesting for me was the section outside where all the monks gather to have discussion and it was an attraction for the tourists. It was a debate, which was done in a unique way amongst them. By nighttime, it’s more about mingling with the people in my hostel and somehow I ended up wearing a Tibetan costume on the second night along with the other two Chinese tourist. It is weird how I used to travel in hostel and would find people from all around the world would meet up but in this hostel it’s people from all around china meeting up, like it was a foreign land to them. These are the friendliest random Chinese I’d ever met so far during my trip. On my third day in Lhasa, I didn't join the tour-guiding thing because my body felt a little bit off and I just wanted to chill out but it went differently when I had my lunch at the Hui restaurant. A group of people just opposite my table were interested in me. Two guys and a lady. Only one of them can speak minor English and somehow we managed to communicate and I end up following them. They brought me to a guesthouse a bit far off from the center and I found out that the lady was the owner and the two guys were her guests. And they were a band from somewhere in China and looking for a place to perform in Tibet. They had their guitars with them and another guest joins us with his Tabla. We had a great jamming session despite having communication problems. I guess when it comes to music it was just one language. And I end up singing again – that's the only thing I can offer in ‘lost in translation’ world. That evening, the lady in red brought me to see some sightseeing. She drove me to the bridge and hill overseeing Lhasa. I didn't plan to climb the hill but I guess she was so enthusiastic on climbing and I was too ego to back away. And of course it was just tiring to climb at this elevation but simply worth the try. The view of Lhasa was just great. She didn't speak a word of English at all but I guess she was a very delightful person. She brought me to the park and sat down with the locals. She also showed me the Lhasa Bridge before sending me off to my hostel. I love mixing with the Chinese in this hostel especially when there is a person who can communicate a little bit of English and becomes a translator as well. We had some laughs trying to exchange our stories. It was the best night in Lhasa and it was sad that I had to leave the next day. I don't even know their names and they just didn't know that I’m leaving the next morning. They were travelers and that's why they were fun.

My next destinations in Tibet were mostly spent in the car during the day because of the distance that we have to cover to get to our next destinations. It was really touristy long draggy drive within the land of Tibet. There was the guide, the driver, Martyna, Albert and I. This part of the trip kinda sucks actually but the view was mesmerizing. From now onwards, our days would start around 9am and we will drive all the way to the next destination until late evening with only some stops at touristic places for photos and for food. There were even time limits within the so many military checkpoints that we went through. We couldn't simply go too fast because we will end up getting a fine. And the speed limit was really slow. We would stop at some Tibetan temples in Ghatse and some of the roads were just long stretched boring ones. And we were stuck in our seat; only the views of Himalayan Mountains made it better. We arrived in Shigatse about 6pm. We had a bad experience eating at Hui restaurant, which I think they overcharged us. In Shigatse – they also have the 2nd Potala temple, which was the exact replica of the first one, but now it is just like an abandon building. Shigatse was kinda an ugly town and there wasn't much to do there and I guess I just cant wait to go for the base camp the next day.

The trip to the Everest base camp was much interesting but another very long drive during the day with so many irritating checkpoints. Sometimes we have to stop because we were too fast on reaching to the next military checkpoint. This is what you get for the cheapest tour – Long day drive. The drive to the Everest base camp was challenging because we were going further up the hill. The landscape changes from dry mountains to snowy ones. We would drive round and round the mountain and stop at places with beautiful view for great photos. The Yamdron Lake was by far the best lake I’ve ever encountered. The water was just so blue and there were Yaks everywhere. The two cute famous animals here are the mountain dogs and the Yaks. Martyna had these obsession of Yaks she would just simply point out to Yaks whenever she sees one. Sometimes we would stop on each highest peak at every place or mountain and they have some sort of landmark like a bridge or an arch. And these landmarks would be covered with the beautiful colours of Tibetan flags. What keep us going with the long trip was the Himalayan Mountains, which gets closer and closer. There was another artificial lake that we had stop by which almost looked like the Yamdron Lake. When we reached at the foot of the mountain, we had to take another route because the normal route was under construction. We had to take an off-road going up the hills. This was like going through the sandy rocky bumpy ride for more than two hours. It gets tough going on a 4wd but we just had to face it to get there before sunset. We arrived at the base camp just before sunset and there it was – the base camps for the tourists. It was like big tent that can accommodate 8-10 people and they had all these hotel names on them. They were about more than 50 camps all together. The Everest was in sight and it was just simply amazing for me. I was high on life - like 5000 meters high on life. The best view of the Mount Everest is here. The Tibetans called it the Chomolungma (Goddest mountain of moutains). We just had to wander off and feel the Everest within our sight. It was just amazing wonderful experience. The air was really thin and you have to really control your breathing. The weather was cold as we were surrounded with snowy mountains but it was ok – somehow I became energertic just being here. The tents that we stayed – they would cook us food and had like a fireplace in the middle to keep us warn. The were no heaters but we had many layers of thick yak made blankets for sleeping. The next morning, after breakfast – we head in further with a tour bus towards the climbers base camp and it was the furthest that we can go with our permits. Yaks were all over the place and we had to climb the little hill to see the best view of the Everest – the closest that I will ever get to the mountain for now. On the other side of the hill was the climbers base camp. I would estimate about a hundred of them waiting for their turn to climb the highest peak in the world. Everest was just spectacular and it was highest point I had ever been in my life. We had about an hour at the 5200meter peak before we leave for the border town. Before we left the base camp, we visited the temple at the entrance of the base camp and then it was just plain boring drives downhill through the snowy - Rocky Mountains. By this time, it was kinda sad to leave the mountain but in a way it was a relief that the trip was coming to an end because of the fast pace tourist expensive trip. We would spend most of the day traveling and we will reach our destinations just before sunset. Sometimes the view was just too much – maybe it was because we could only see through our windows of our long journey on the 4wd instead of spending time to wonder amongst the Himalayans. The road towards the China border town Zhangmu was really far and long stretched ones. The Himalayas slowly fades away from our sight. We had one last stop for the fantastic view of the Himalaya Mountains. After a 7 hours drive we were almost at the border town destination. The road to Zhangmu was kinda dangerous as it was on the side of the hills. Zhangmu town is unique. This border town is located on the side of the hill and there’s only one-way in and out. Zhangmu has mild and humid subtropical climate, which is a rarity for Tibet. Chinese trucks traveling on the Tibet-Nepal Friendship Highway offload goods at Zhangmu and transfer them to Nepalese trucks. Because it was one way in and out of the town – it would create a massive traffic when someone makes a havoc on the road. Again, it was evening when we reached there and somehow we went through some bad traffic as assumed. There were many lorries coming in from Nepal and we felt the Nepalese vibe somehow. It was nighttime by the time we checked in our hostel and we had our dinner at nearby restaurant. We didn't get to explore the town but I there wasn't much too explore. The next morning we head off early to avoid the traffic towards the border, which was about 30 minutes away. We had to wait until 9am for the immigration office to open. My tourist guide had never been to Nepal before even though she had been sending travellers to the border so many times. We can literally see Nepal from the China side immigration office. According to her, it was just hard for Tibetans to get Chinese passports. In a way, we were happy to leave China because it was just expensive for a shoestring travelers. The political scenario between Tibet and China was always complicated and the Tibetans would always avoid these topics whenever we brought it up. Seeing the Everest base camp was one of the best moments in my life but the permitted tour in Tibet was to quick for a wanderer and how I wished I had more time just to relax while viewing the Himalayan Mountains

1 comment:

  1. Yeah! Albert from Catalonia! good job my friend! hugs!