Travel Journal Overview: Travel in Tibet was surreal. Vivid landscapes like nowhere else on earth. I was about to headed into something else as well. The infamous second uprising in Tibet. For those looking exact details and practical information on how to cross from Nepal into Tibet, then you should read my guide: How to Guide – Nepal to Tibet Overland
Tuesday March 11th – Day 4
We visited our first Monastery, Basophilic. Isolation was the key here. It was a brief but good stop,heightened by a good hotel and our first proper shower. Our days of spectacular mountain vistas were ending, now we were embarking on the cultural aspect of our tour.
The monastery itself was large and seemed set into the base of a large mountain. Anil deserted us here to Our guide left us
of us were able for a small look into Tibetan monks lives. A simple life to most, yet one caught up in ritual and devotion. It was a monastery styled city in its own right. Surrounded by hight grey stone walls it was broken into various temples, statues of Buddha and Thunkpa schools.
I diverted from the group with a 19 year old Swedish girl and we met with some locals who enjoyed telling us about the place. It was search of an Internet café in the town proper that I found Karl to be a strange case. She wasn’t the typical blond Swede I was accustomed to. She had light brown hair and a dislike to everyone on the tour. She also proclaimed her wallet just got stolen, without undue concern.
Walking her back to the hotel I quickly decided that Karla was a loose cannon and to be avoided. Stefan was getting a some beers so I joined in. The two Australians had managed to commender a couple of guitars and were once again trying to win the Slovenians hearts. Yes indeed, reality was coming back.
Wednesday March 12th – Day 5
We were on the way to Lhasa now. The mountain ranges still hung picturesquely in the backdrop of our views. The road was as near perfect as it got and were speeding up quite a bit. Headaches were all gone, and the group was getting excited to soon be in a true forbidden city.
We stopped along Yamdruk – Tso Lake, a bright turquoise colored lake that looked almost man made it’s quest for perfection. It would be our last stop for photo’s outside a town and city. Our tour still had three days left, but essentially it was over. We were now on the final road to capital of Tibet.
Almost as if expecting fortified walls, or a giant white stupa to be sense in the distant capital we drove along a quite highway. A few golden road markers dotted our path as we turned into more traffic. The buildings were not old, they were new concrete blocks set into the remain bright blue sky. Confirmation that no matter where its placed, communist block housing remains ugly.
There were no majestic temples, or old crumbling signs of the past. It was not ancient Nepal. It was not Tibet either. At least not the Tibet we had imagined. There were no monks walking along chanting. Instead there were men in suits, flashing neon signs and fast food restaurants.
We pulled up to a plush city center hotel. Inside Stefan and I were aghast at our luck. It was as close to a 5 star hotel as we could have expected. Teaming up we got a double room with a huge en suite, plasma TV, and a mini bar with plenty of choice. The tour operator could have easily dumped us at a local hostel, but instead had come up trumps.
AS we headed out that night to eat Anil mentioned that we were no longer able to visit a Monastery on our list due to a protest, so instead he would find us an alternative. We had little interest, we had arrived and were in slight shock at the modernness of this new Lhasa.
It was vastly more built up than all the other towns we had stayed in on our way there. We ate in plush restaurant with an American woman and son from the tour. She had been working in Iraq as a police trainer and was taking her college bound son on a tour of the ancient world. We looked out the window as night fell and neon lights came into full swing.
Thursday March 13th – Day 6
Anil was more worried than usual as he announced that the second monastery we were to visit had also been closed due to a protest. Quinnell, Stefan and myself were not so concerned. Lhasa was not doing it for us and we were already planning our individual travel plans out into mainland china. Though all heading in separate directions we needed to find out more about the trains leaving Tibet.
We followed the tour to the Potala Palace, the former winter residence of the Dali Lama. A striking white washed and gold peaked fortress like temple that rose 13 stories out of a redden hill. It contained many inner places and temples, all strewn with statues of Buddha alone incense filled and dark corridors.
Statues of Buddha never quite did it for me. The affluent gold body, the sometimes blue hair and the many different forms he took. While not being fully versed in Buddhism I found the lines of countless lifeless faces staring out from behind red painted railings in yak butter candlelight somewhat diluted the essence of the tour. I wanted explanation, but our guide had left us alone again. It let down the whole idea of a tour, as tours very often due. I wanted to know more about what I was looking at. Unless you spend a day making sure you are on the right spot, in the right room and staring at the correct statue the LP guide was useless.
Anil had arranged for the group to visit the Tibetan Museum that afternoon. We never went. Instead I headed with Stefan and Quinnell to the railways station on the outskirts of Lhasa. The railway station was new. A new building for the new rail route from Xi’an in in Central China to Lhasa, the highest railway in the world. So high that the trains had to be pumped full of oxygen to prevent people suffering from the the high altitude.
Quinnell had failed in his attempt to head east to Chengudu, there were no trains and something about obtaining a new pass for the territory he had to cross meant he had to head to Xi’an as well. So with that all three of us bought sleeper tickets for the 2 night trip to Xi’an in two days.
Our successful ticket run was something we discovered other members of the tour also wanted when we returned to the hotel that evening. All in all about 10 of us would be making the journey together, I would not be alone in Xi’an it seemed.
Friday March 14th – Day 7
In hindsight I should have seen something coming. There had been nothing on the internet as I booked my flights out of Shanghai. Anil had been canceling our mandatory trips due to protests, again we were caught up in getting our onward journeys sorted. Protests meant little to me, there had been one every other week in Nepal. What was so different here?
Some related links on this website that you might like: (including a lot more photographs from Tibet)
Stories: Surviving the Riots in Tibet
Resources: All about getting a Tibet Permit / Visa
Resources: How to Guide – Nepal to Tibet Overland
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