Colorful prayer flags. Centuries-old monasteries. Gigantic mountains. Himalayas. Mt. Everest. Religious indigenous folks. Monks. Secluded terrains. Vast amount of land. Intense sun. Chilling weather. High altitude sickness.
This is how I would summarize Tibet as – a place where you can see monasteries dating back to the 7th century, religious Tibetan Buddhists worshiping and chanting prayers, curious-looking kids with extremely rosy cheeks, yaks (Tibetan cows), furry street dogs and endless sights of beautiful Tibetan plateau.
Tibet has been in my travel bucket list for many years when I saw a couple of my Chinese friends went there. I did an inquiry to a tour agent then. Unfortunately, at that time, due to travel restriction by the PRC government, I needed to have at least 5 people from the same nationality travelling in the same tour. I had no choice but to give up. Somehow for some reason, I did another inquiry to a few tour agents this year and all of them said there is no more such restriction! So it happened, my long- awaited travel destination.
There are still some restrictions when it comes to travelling in Tibet. You need to apply for a Tibet permit through a registered tour agency at Tibet Tourism Board and you must sign up for a tour with a local guide (meaning no backpacking on your own). So I signed up for an 8-day Mount Everest Base Camp Tour with Tibet Vista (www.tibettravel.org). I would not write extensively about the detailed itinerary. You can see the summary of the itinerary in this link:
Here, I would like to share some of the highlights from the trip and reasons why you should travel to Tibet.
First, from 3600m to 5248m, you get to see a land that is so vast, so plain with very few inhabitants. Speaking of people, Tibet only has slightly more than 3million population in their 1.2 million sqkm, naturally because most of their terrains are rugged and harsh. It made me wonder how the native people traveled in such difficulty in ancient times. It might have taken months and years to go across numerous mountains.
Second, you get to witness well-preserved traditions of Buddhism and some of the unique practices at the monasteries, such as pilgrims prostrating on the floor to worship, offering butter in the temples and monks debating.
What’s more, admire Mt Everest – from near and afar! And the rest of the Himalaya mountains of course.
We had a far view of Mt Everest at one of the viewpoints. There was a long windy road up to a mountain that was about 5200m high. It is amazing how these roads are constructed extensively to connect from place to place, which are by no means anywhere near each other.
Words can’t describe how beautiful it is at the top, looking back down at these snake-like roads against the backdrop of countless mountains in the vista.
After we passed the uphill slope to the topmost point and started going downhill on the other side of the mountain, a breathtaking view of white Himalayas mountains appeared. It almost felt unbelievable, to witness these beautiful mountains standing tall and magnificent on this part of the earth. They were simply gorgeous.
After a really long ride, we arrived at the Mt Everest Base Camp. The weather was extreme; the temperature dropped below zero, the wind was stormy strong and the whole sky was dark and foggy. Regardless, we did what we had to do; take photos!
Even though there is Mt Everest right in front of us at that point, we could not see a thing due to the bad weather. We stayed at a guesthouse for the night which had minimal facility and made me shiver to bones. At about 9pm when the sun had completely set and the weather became clearer, we got a glimpse of Mt Everest from our guesthouse canteen! It would have been perfect if it were in the day time because we could see the formidable Everest real close even from the guesthouse. We also dropped by at the highest monastery in the world!
You will also have a chance to experience high altitude sickness. Almost everyone would get it more or less but it’s not so bad, really. For me personally, I had a bit of difficulty sleeping in the first few nights but I was fine throughout the day. The most disastrous of my sleep was at the Mt Everest Base Camp (5100m) where I could only sleep for about 3 hours and I ended up using the Oxygen tank every 20 minutes as I felt suffocated in the room and it was too cold to get out. The temperature was -6C which felt like -13C due to the wind.
Lastly, depending on the season of your travel, you may get to enjoy the beauty of an all-white mountainous scenery in Tibet. We were just a lucky bunch of travelers. Though we did not get to see a close view of Mt Everest due to snow, the weather in the next day was extremely wonderful! We dropped by at the Manla Reservoir which I must say was one of the most scenic spots in Tibet, the turquoise color Yamdrok Lake which stretches over 72km and the Karola Glacier which was all covered in snow at that time to add to its serene beauty.
I did not have much knowledge about Tibet before this trip. Even as a Buddhist who is already familiar with the religion, it was intriguing to learn about the Tibetan Buddhism, monasteries, Dalai Lama reincarnation as well as get to know its culture and local people. Lastly, I’m glad I’ve taken the chance to cherish the exclusive wonders of nature Tibet has to offer.