Escaping Lhasa, the end of my journey?

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ March 15th, 2008. Updated on August 27th, 2010. Published in: Travel blog » Tibet.

Travel Journal Overview: The riots were still ongoing, but the Chinese troops were there en masse. What’s worse, was my whole journey was about to be shut down not by Tibetans, nor the Chinese, but by tourists.

Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet (click to enlarge)

Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet (click to enlarge)

It was past 1pm when our bus escorted us though Lhasa. We were heading in the opposite direction of the Jokhang temple so the there was little to see in terms of burnt out buildings like there had been from our hotel. In fact it was now our turn to be stared at. We were a group of foreigners squashed into a mini bus with our bags crammed everywhere staring out into a combat zone.

Anil was standing in the center aisle by the front doors. He was nervously looking around and continuously pleaded with us not to even take a camera out. He made mention of how the camera would be taken away by the army, and how he would be punished. This was the first time Anil openly admitted he was scared of the Chinese. It wasn’t a tactic either, the man looked at us as if his life depended on us doing as he asked.

Ordinary Tibetans on the street peered up at us with sadden eyes. Most likely for their own suffering, but maybe also for seeing their former country be displayed like this to strangers. Some looked almost embarrassed by the whole thing.

The army types stationed at regular intervals along the road also stared. For the first time I actually caught a little emotion in their faces. Their eyes darted along the buses windows as they too started at the evacuating faces. Some had a look of confusion, others just scowled.

Passing by the Potala Palace was a little eerie. The large white temple grounds were surrounded by tanks. At least 15 of them were dispersed throughout the parking area and road surrounding the temple. Almost like a coup force surrounding a presidential palace.

Our escort stopped briefly at a junction before letting us head off alone into the suburbs of Lhasa. Anil continued to pleas with us not to take our cameras out. The suburbs looked peaceful. Showing no signs of damage from the riots. It was obvious some shops were shut up when normally they would be open, but surprisingly every thing looked quite normal.

One of the Australians asked what we were all thinking. “Where are we going?”

Anil looked perplexed as he answered back, “We just need to get you out of the center.”

“Are we going to another hotel?” Asked someone else.

Anil paused this time, before answering back, “Your safety is our main concern. We are going to arrange for you to get back to Kathmandu.”

No fucking way! My blood pressure rose and I felt an immediate reaction to escape from the bus. There was not way in hell I was going back to Kathmandu. I was one hundred per cent sure that the Chinese would seal of the borders to Tibet after such an event. I would never be able to complete my overland journey.

My mind raced through the vision of arriving back at the guest house in Kathmandu, and then planning a reverse trip back though India, Pakistan and then into China through the Karakorum Highway. It was the wrong time of year though, the highway would be blocked for months. Heck to get into China I would nearly have to double back into central Asia and then into Russia. It would be a disaster.

Tibetan Monk getting his head shaved

Tibetan Monk getting his head shaved

“No way Anil, I am not going back!” I stated loudly.

Ignoring my statement Anil tried again, “We will arrange the Landcrusiers to pick us up and we will be back in 3 days.”

There were murmurs of positive reaction from behind me. I looked at Quinnell beside me as he shook his head, he had wanted to move into china too. Though I did not know how seriously he would try. I had to move fast to get support.

“Anil, I cannot go back. It’s not possible,” I said with force. “I have a plane ticket for Shanghai. I spent 8 years planning this. I am not going back.”

It was a weak argument. I failed to engage the others emotionally in their own trips.

Anil shook his head, “We need to take you back. We are in trouble with the Chinese. If we do not look after you we will go to jail. And the trip to Kathmandu will be free of charge.

A free trip back sent another ripple of interested murmurs though the bus. It meant nothing to me though.

I tried again. This time looking at Stefan and Quinnell as examples. “I understand. But some of us here have plans. The riot is over. It’s safe. We just want to go to the train station.”

“Yes”, confirmed Quinnell at last, “I wish to go to Chengdu. I cannot go back. I ‘ave my ticket already.”

The Australians objected loudly, “No way mate. We want to go back. This guy’s life is in danger here if we don’t.”

My blood boiled, this was coming from the guy who spent most of last night making plans to publish his videos on-line and contacting the media with his footage. He had promised to blank out people’s faces but the mere idea of using Anil’s life as an excuse enraged me.

“No!” I barked, “His life is not endanger. It’s over already. Now we continue on as we were meant to.”

“It is our job to protect you.” said Anil trying once again to confirm his intentions. “We must see you safely out of Tibet. Otherwise they can put us in Jail.”

Waving my hand in protest I sat up high in my chair, “No it’s not! Your contract was to give us a tour, not to see us out of Tibet.”

Stefan nodded in agreement.

“This is China, not your country.” replied Anil with authority.

“It may be china,” I replied but I know a contract. “Our contract technically finished with you today. After that it states we are free to do as we please.”

My argument was too aggressive, Anil reacted with authority as he left the bus. “No. We go back. That is the end.”

Some related links on this website that  you might like: (including a lot more photographs from Tibet)

Stories: Surviving the Riots in Tibet

Stories: Watching the Chinese Army Move into Lhasa

Resources: All about getting a Tibet Permit / Visa

Resources: How to Guide – Nepal to Tibet Overland

Tibet Travel Guide

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