Fiona here, now back in Kathmandu after our short but fantastic trip through Tibet.
As this trip was not planned, we hadn’t done any research on what Tibet would be like and so didn’t really know what to expect. I won’t bore you with all the details of the trip but there were many highlights and many unexpected moments.
We were in a tour with 20 or so people – spread across two mini-buses. The group was a mixed bunch from the UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, South Africa, Israel, Japan, Canada and Australia (others aside from us). Over the 7 days we got to know most of them pretty well and thoroughly enjoyed discovering the sights of Tibet with them and particularly sharing some great evenings together. We were also pleased to have a Tibetan guide.
Mount Everest Views
Seeing Mt Everest from the North side as we drove and also from the flight back from Lhasa today was obviously of great interest to both of us. Paul had his nose pinned up against the window during most of the flight waiting to spot it and we were pleased to find that we flew relatively close to it. Even from the sky, it looks massive and clearly stands above all the other surrounding mountains. Looking at it like this, neither of can really believe that we we’ve been lucky enough to stand on the summit.
The Tibetan Landscape
The countryside of Tibet was also amazing. Mostly the areas we saw were mountainous and very dry. For a few hours we even found ourselves bouncing through sand dunes that could have been in the Sahara. Just as we started marveling at how a mini-bus could avoid getting stuck in the sand, the inevitable happened and we hit a deep spot and found ourselves bogged. After a fair bit of digging and the force of most of us pushing from the front as the driver attempted to reverse, we managed to back up and take another approach. This happened a couple of times but all were in good spirits and it didn’t take too long to get ourselves moving again.
The next day some of the group were leaving for an extended tour and the rest of us were now traveling in one mini-bus and one 4WD. Paul and I ended up in the 4WD but after lunch, we had another unexpected wait. First the driver stopped in town to make and then wait for a phone call, and then it turned out that the 4WD and guide was needed back with the other group so we turned around and drove until we met the other mini-bus met us and we all jumped out, moved our bags and started back in our original direction. This seems to be the Tibetan way and I think it was good that we went into the trip without too many expectations.
The Tibetan Culture
During our stay, we stopped along the way at many tiny villages where the people live an extremely simple life. Most of the areas we saw were farmed but a lot of Tibetans also lead a nomadic life style – moving sheep and goats around with the seasons. While we were there it was very mild, but in winter it would be bitterly cold as its quite high in elevation (3000 – 5000 metres in most parts).
We visited several large and important monasteries, as well as the Polatala Palace in Lhasa, where the Dalai Lama used to reside. We tried our best to understand how the various Buddas, gods, lamas, kings, advisors, and various other mystical figures fit together but the relationships seem extremely complex. Despite having a Tibetan guide (the new guide was also Tibetan), often the language barrier prevented us from getting a thorough understanding of the Tibetan background. In the Potala Palace we saw amazing statues, some adorned with over three and a half tons of gold.
Everywhere we went we were pushed aside by locals clambering to get close to the various images and monuments so that they could pour additional yak milk butter into the candle lanterns and press their money into the enclosure. Several times we saw the monks literally sweeping the money up with a broom. These people are so poor, yet they clearly donate so much money to the monastaries. Outside the monasteries we always saw lots of people walking clockwise around them (completing a kora) or prostrating (a form of prayer which involves repeatedly lying face-down either in front of the monastery, or very slowly making your way around it). For the most part the people, and especially the monks, all appear to be very happy, friendly people.
We found it interesting as well that the time zone is 2 hours and 15 minutes ahead of that of Nepal, despite being roughly the same longitude. This means that it doesn’t get dark until around 9pm and people seem to eat dinner around then, and rise quite late.
There’s lots more I could write but I guess these were our most striking impressions. All in all it was a great trip and we were very glad to get a glimpse of this unique place.
While we’ve enjoyed our extended stay, we’re happy to say that we finally fly out of here tomorrow and are scheduled to land back home in Melbourne around midday on Monday. For those of you back at home, we’re very much looking forward to seeing you sometime soon.
All the best,