Escaping Lhasa, fighting for my life’s dream

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

Travel Journal Overview: Our bus was escaping Lhasa. The guides and most of the people on board wanted to return to Nepal. My journey was disappearing before my eyes. I was about to fight for my dreams.

Small Tibetan boy wearing a hat (click to enlarge)

Small Tibetan boy wearing a hat (click to enlarge)

Anil left the bus as a car pulled up beside us with the travel companies name on it. Inside the bus the Australians behind me chipped in again.

“Listen mate, this guy’s life is endanger. We should do as he tells us and go back.”

I looked around and glared at the sunglasses wearing twenty something. In truth I never felt like smashing my fist into someone’s face to shut them up more than I did then. IT would solve nothing though, and I knew that. Still I was angry, and it showed.

“His life is not in Danger.” I snarled back. “His contracts up with us. I did not come all this way just to go back now!”

The back seat occupants mumbled to each other. They saw my rage and were unsure how to respond. Anil’s last words were they were going back, so that’s what they settled on by themselves.

Quinnell began to show his frustration to as he started out the bus window. “Dis is not good. I don’t want to go back either,” he stood up to follow Anil outside, “I will talk to them.”

As I stood up to follow, and possibly make a run for it a clam, unexpected hand touched mine. It was the German lady with an obsession with her guidebook.

“You need to remain calm,” she said in a hushed manner. “Think about approach him about all of us, and not just about you.”

At the time I thought she meant to help me. Encouraging me to fight for what I wanted my making it sound like a group thing. But in hindsight I think she was telling me to shut up. She wanted to head back to Kathmandu after all. But telling me to calm down and approach things from a different angle did help me rethink my strategy.

By the time I got out of the bus Quinnell was already approaching Anil in a calm manner asking about alternatives. Anil had been joined by a lady holding a clip board with all our names and seemed to be listening, though perhaps not agreeing.

“We ‘ave the train tickets ‘ere.” stated Quinnell calmly, “all we need to do is get to the train station.”

I interjected with an easy thinking fact, “He’s right. And the train station is not far from here.”

Anil looked in thought as the Australian duo came out of the bus behind Stefan. I immediately positioned myself in front of their path to Anil to prevent any interruptions. I was sensing we were getting somewhere.

“There’s no harm in trying.”Added Stefan.

“And its better than waiting around here on the street,” I added.

Looking around Anil listened as lady beside him nodded. He agreed to take us to the train station.

We had won a moral victory. We had bought some time to think. My worst fear was that if the train station was closed, which was a strong factor considering the last twenty four hours, we were screwed. It all hinged on the station being open, and in the military letting us through.

The bus headed off slowly. We stopped twice en route to the train station on the cities outskirts for a brief military inspection. Then on bridge, within sight of the station, we were boarded by an army officer. Strangely he looked none of us in the eye. Instead he had Anil ask if we were carrying and large knives over 6 inches. I had the feeling her had not been briefed, or rather programmed, to deal with potential riot escapees. Either that or he felt it necessary to say something relative to security.

The train station was a large stark and bland open area. It was empty bar for a few cars. But the neon train timetable outside was still working, it gave me hope. Refusing to let us check for ourselves Anil headed inside to check if trains were still running. He asked for out tickets. I had hoped that he would never mention that we had been due to leave at 9am this morning, but he never said anything. Instead he headed off to find out what our fate would be.

Trusting Anil was a no go option. At lest that was my call. He could have come back and said anything he wanted. He would have failed in making me beleive there were no trains running. This was confirmed as a group of four American tourists now showed up in a taxi. They’d been here earlier and had left to confirm with the rest of their group about what trains they wanted to take. I didn’t have much to do with them, but Mara told me later that they had had there cameras confiscated my the military the day before. Again I thought of the Italian in our group, his memory card uncomfortably positioned in a rubber sheath nestled into his posterior.

Anil appeared and as he walked towards us he let loose his first smile of the day. Trains were running. We needed to pay a little more, put even our old tickets could be reimbursed for new ones the following day. We had succeeded in getting a way out of Tibet.

The mood changed instantly within the group. Anil’s boss turned out to be the lady with the clip board, and she confirmed that they would now offer anyone wanting to go to Kathmandu the option of doing so with their Landcrusiers, and those going to mainland China could get the train to Xi’an with the rest of us.

Everyone was happy bar for two New Zealanders. They had remained quiet during all of this. But seeing their opportunity no embarked on a triad of demands upon the tour boss. They wanted a flight to Chengdu instead. I have no idea how they comprehended how a flight to another part of China was going to happen for them. But they were determined in their argument. Unfortunately snap comments and nasty remarks from the soon austrisized them from the rest of the group.

During the last 36 hours I had learned a lot about peoples reactions under different life threatening situations. From all out panic, to follow the crowd mentality. To selfish actions to self sacrifice to help others. Humankind is very diverse in its personality’s. Putting a diverse group together in a situation like this was almost like pealing away personalities, leaving behind just raw emotion and basic wants.

We each saw what we can be like in a potentially life threatening situation we were not trained or experienced in. It was a unique moment in time that would live with us all forever. The faces, the events, the feelings, the experience.

Anil emerged with our tickets. HE also seemed very relieved about the situation. His next course of action was to try and get us accommodation for the night. Our own situation taken care of, I took the opportunity to ask him about his own situation now.

He was fine, he lived outside Lhasa and his family were safe. With the two Australians in the background mentioning the media again a thought crossed my mind and I asked Anil about the amount of Video and photographs we had taken over past few days.

He looked at me with humiliation, “I cannot make a comment on this.”

He meant that if he told us not to use the photographs of his people during the riots, then he too would be in trouble. It was a serous point that meant life and death to those involved. Anil and his team had helped us. And although I am not sure of what would have happened if any of us had gone missing or had died. I was sure that photographs and video showing the faces of Tibetans would surely be picked up by the Chinese police.

Speaking with Mara I asked if she could make sure the two Australians understood the consequences of releasing unedited footage of the riots. She had a good relationship with the two young men. And, after my snarling at them earlier I figure she was the best one to talk with them.

We ended up at another fairly plush hotel on the outskirts of the city that night. It had internet and the true scale of the riots finally came in light. As did the selfish side of people appear. The American’s Chris and his mother Valerie had a laptop, and dissipated to their room without a word when we could not get the public computers downstairs to work. When they did work Karla and her friend immediately set out to work on spending the rest of the day and night contacting the Swedish press. Even Stefan ended up with a press call.

It was the sending of photos that hit me hard. As I looked at some news footage on-line one of the landcrusier drivers came up behind me in a rush.

“Is that me?!” he exclaimed, pointing at a blurry closed up of Beijing Xilu Road.

It didn’t look like his face. “No, it’s not you I don’t think.”

He looked at me with wide eyes, “But it’s the same coat I have.”

That was true. But then again most Tibetan men had a partiality towards dark coats. He continued looking at the news photographs. They were sparse, but each one was discussed in local Tibetan. An occasional hand would point out someone they might have recognized. Across on an other computer Karla plugged her camera in as the Landcrusiers headed back to Kathmandu with the rest of the group.

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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2 Great responses to Escaping Lhasa, fighting for my life’s dream

  1. flip says:

    what would happen to the local people that will appear in the pictures of this riot? will they go to jail?