In the travel world, to get where you want to go, sometimes tours are the only option.
There are places that simply don’t allow solo travel, Saudi Arabia is one of those places, Bhutan is one of those places, Tibet is one of those places.
Ours is a group of 20, its also the last group that is allowed in region for the next month. The Chinese government doesn’t want any foreigners to witness its 60 year celebration of Communist Rule. Up until 10pm the night before none of us knew if we were actually departing the next day, all waiting for the embassy to allow the travel permit.
It eventually comes through and everyone is siked.
Day one is a long shitty bus ride to the boarder, Nepal just doesn’t seem to have any highway. Its all back streets and local roads, getting stuck behind school buses and herds of Yaks.
The group seems to be more frustrated by the driving conditions than the driver, he takes it with a grain of salt and eventually in the late noon we arrive at the border.
Operating on ‘Beijing time’ Tibet must be the only place in the world where you cross a 2.25hr time zone land border. On Nepal side of the river its 2pm, on the Tibet side its 4.15pm, which means border formalities are stressed as the gates close at 5pm.
Not waiting for us on the other side was our transport, a traffic jam of miles prevented making it on time, but “it will be here in the morning when we wake up” says our new Tibetan guide. We need to get to the next town to sleep tho, the senior of the group get shoved into a little van and the youth walk it out.
In the morning a convey of 5 Land Cruises awaits, initially curious why we needed Land Cruisers (but not complaining) Team A. Youth pounce on the coolest looking driver (a Tibetan wearing a cowboy hat) who also had the newest looking Land Cruiser.
Within the first hour the reason for 4WD’s presents itself and all of a sudden we’re off road driving over landslides and through rivers that have cut they’re way across the road.
It is fun as shit and we all have huge grins on our faces.
The following days are spent driving through the most amazing scenery, desolate landscapes and miles of nothingness, there are parts that almost feel like your on the moon, and others where it snows.
The road is perfect tarmac with barriers on all corners, its almost surreal and you cant picture how it was ever made.
We are on the highest plateau in the world, and can see 3 of the worlds 14 mountains over 8000m high.
Part of the group starts to get Altitude Sickness, at 5200m we’ve risen rapidly with no acclimatisation days. Team A. Youth have all trekked Everest already though and ‘have the good blood’ so our driver tells us. We feel fine and thats all that matters to us.
We stop in one-street-towns for lunch and stay in poky little make shift hotels.
Everywhere we go locals are buzzed to see us, and all spit out their best English ‘HELLO!”
School kids maul me wherever I sit, mostly just happy to be there and stare at me while I eat an ice-cream, and Monks pull the blond hairs on my arms as they walk past like I’m some type of God (or Freak?).
For the first time in a month I’m not getting hassled to buy something every 30 seconds, no Tiger Balm salesman up in my grill, no ad-hock dealers trying to sell me Weed, no Rickshaw drivers trying to take me to ‘Boom boom jiggy jig’, Tibet is AWESOME!
We visit our fair share of Monasteries and Palaces, after a couple they loose their appeal to me and all smell like rancid butter (thanks to all the butter candles).
Some of the Monks are funny though, one particular Monk who was wasted, alternating between banging a huge Gong with his stick, to banging the stick on his head. In between prayer and drinking he would mutter photos are 10 Yuan. Everyone’s an entrepreneur here.
Driver: “Stop for photo yes”
Eventually we start getting closer to civilization, the hotels start have showers and electricity, and by the time we reach Lhasa we’re staying in full blown luxury.
Lhasa is a complete cosmopolitan capital, it was amazing to think little desert kids were begging at the car door in the morning, then we’re drinking Espresso in the evening.
There’s just no transition between social classes here, your either pretty damn poor living out in the countryside, or your eating take-out and shopping at the Adidas store.
Potala Palace sits 100m higher than the highest point in Lhasa, and is also the Dali Lama’s HQ (though he doesn’t live there right now). For the next few hours we’re dragged around the mammoth 1000 room place and when we finally get to the one room I wanted to see (Dali’s bedroom) the doors locked!
We speculate that he’s got a Plasma TV in there.
Our days in Lhasa come to an end, the buffet breakfast runs out and the espresso machine dry.
We take the most expensive 1hr flight (thanks Air China) that any of us have ever taken, though some would argue that buzzing past Everest was worth it. I swear the plane tilted when everyone rushed to right windows to see it.
We dread being back in the chaos that is Kathmandu, but as we’re hustled into a shitty Taxi it feels like home (and everyone is siked to go to the Israeli place for dinner).
Tujechhe Tibet! I had an awesome time.