If one wanted to re-live even a paragraph from its rich cultural narrative, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is what is available today to a traveler, that too in parts. And while traditionally its inhabitants were the ethnic Tibetan people, today there are many Han Chinese who reside there too. Besides its heritage, the benevolence of its natural landscape is rooted in its waters. Some of the most important rivers that feed other countries have their source in Tibet. The Indus, Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) & Mekong River to name a few.
For me though, while curiosity fed a decade of waiting to even get to Tibet, seeing the Himalayas in a yet untouched, more pristine form was the biggest tug. It had to be a road trip, nothing else. To the Southern part of Tibet. You don’t do justice to the land if you aren’t breathing the fresh air en route, experiencing the hospitality and finding joy in halting at small roadside stalls for some awesome noodle soup & jasmine tea. Yes Tibet could seem daunting for a vegetarian. But it was easily the one place that took me by surprise
(Red dotted line is the route I took for the road trip from Lhasa to Mt. Everest)
11 DAYS IN TIBET. GETTING THERE
You have a choice to reach Tibet from Kathmandu or fly into Chengdu/Beijing/Shanghai & plan your onward journey. I chose Nepal. Which meant a stopover of 1 day to arrange for the visa papers. To do a Tibet trip you have to plan atleast 30 days in advance. As the Chinese officials require a detailed itinerary & the use of a local tour company. It’s a rule. I was also told I couldn’t travel solo & needed to go there as a couple or a group (this rule keeps changing). So my brother & I took this journey. I have to admit, traveling with an older sibling is cool. Especially as he is around, but just lets you be too. Kind of, going duet but doing solo.
Once I figured it was a road trip, selected the trail, the sights, sounds & experiences I wanted to have, I worked with a local tour company to make it a reality. The journey (roundtrip approx. 1600 km) was:
KATHMANDU. THE SAFE HAVEN
I must admit, I didn’t do justice to Kathmandu. But the 1-½ days we spent there clearly gave me a hint that I had to do an encore. We did short trips to the temples, Stupas, shopped for Tibetan paintings as we were advised that it’s much more affordable in Nepal. I remember we got all excited about the journey while having a meal in a terrace restaurant opp. the Boudhnath Stupa. While simply listening to melodious Buddhist chants that were playing. It deserves a separate chapter and I’ll try & do justice to it there. But it’s a stop over that gets you all ready and waiting with bated breath.
(Post the Nepal Earthquake 2015, not much is left of the 300 yr old Patan Durbar Square)
HIMALAYAN PEAKS AT 35,000 FT
The flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa that I took was the one managed by Air China. They were amazingly sweet to upgrade me on my return journey. But do make it a point when flying inward into Lhasa to sit on the left side & when returning to Kathmandu to sit on the right side seat. On a good day, you will see the tallest Himalayan peaks. And not one of us who saw it could keep our eyes off it for the next 30 mins. If you have soaked into the narrative that brings these glorious mountains alive, get ready to feel its wave of spirituality. Divine & calming.
Well the journey had just begun, but the excitement wouldn’t abate even 2 months after our return. 11 days had already started to feel too short, to truly relish the land.
Flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa: Operated by Air China & Sichuan Airlines
Tibet Travel Permit, Local Driver & Guide, Tibet Group Visa: If you are traveling into Tibet from Nepal all 3 are required. Some other permits are required if you are traveling closer to the borders. All of this can be handled by the local tour agency. But keep a lead time of 30 days minimum. This is specific to my journey to South Tibet (Route Map shared above)
No Tibet Permit Required: In Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu & Yunnan Provinces, some of which are on the Tibetan Plateau but are outside TAR
Tibet Tour Agency: I have covered that in detail in my final post on Tibet.