On the top of the world – Part two “A Mission to Tibet”
2015 Finally I’m traveling to Tibet! And this time 3 great friends of mine are joining.
I wanted to design this trip in order to allow my friends to see and enjoy places I have already seen before. I contacted my friend in Katmandu (same I did for the trip to Ladakh and Nepal) to help with the planning. Apparently to arrange the permit to travel to Tibet is not straight forward if you are not Chinese or traveling with a Chinese travel agent.
We all flew to Shanghai. I traveled to China 7 year before already but Shanghai was still under renovation for the coming International Expo, so I wanted to come back.
After few great days of shopping and food, we flew to Xining, where the the initial train station of Qinghai-Tibet train is located. Xining is in a rural area of the country and it is not a popular spot for foreigners but it is where many pilgrims starts their ascend to the Tibetan plateau by train.
The train trip from Xining to Lhasa took 24 hours. The journey reached the pick at 5072m and 86% of the railway runs over 4000m across sublime Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Of course it is the world’s highest, safest and most reliable alternative then a flight to Tibet.
The train is also equipped with oxygen masks, food is good and the coaches also very comfortable.
The big advantage of going up by train is that you acclimatize better and your body gets used to the altitude more gently, compared to flying straight from China or Nepal.
If you are looking to travel to Tibet I would say this is the most fascinating way to get there. The landscape is impressive and you really feel that you are getting closer to a special place.
There wasn’t any foreigner on the train except us since the majority of the people prefers to fly.
Once we arrived our guide was ready to pick us up. We got to the hotel and the recommendation was to get as much rest as we could. But who can rest again after having spent 1 day on a train and being in one of the most holy and admired towns in the world?
We decided to go out to have a first impressions. The town was packed with pilgrims! The majority of them coming from nearby mountains regions and wearing local clothes. It was very surreal as first impression. Everywhere there is a strong smell of incense, people doing thousand of prostrations around the main square and the Potala Palace as the background scenario.
I was not expecting the town to be so crowded. I was comparing this with the quietness of Leh (Ladakh) and I kind of missed that.
At the end of the day the headache was too strong. We got some food (see food blog page) and we tried to sleep early and get ready for the start of our Tibetan adventure.
The first day we visited the main temples and monastery in and around Lhasa. Still the Potala Palace is one of the most majestic building I have ever seen and it was so great to have a guide that could explain the current situation of the country and the relation between religion and politics.
(you know that I have been traveling a lot and I love to be independent, to follow my instinct and to find places by my own, BUT I think that in some specific cases it is crucial to have a local guide or you will be missing a lot; Tibet is one of this special places)
The day after we started our overland journey from Lhasa down till Kathmandu.
We stopped first night in Gyantse and the second night in Shigatse. Despite the monasteries we visited, much more quiet than Lhasa, the landscape was absolutely stunning. The Himalaya chain as background and the lakes which colors were surreal.
After few days and a long drive we finally got to one of the highlight of the trip the Mt. Everest Base Camp. We overnight in a tent at the camp. We were so lucky that day the sky was clear! We enjoyed the sunset and a bright full moon until late in the night.
The tent was very warm and we slept wrapped up in some heavy blankets. Early morning we got up to admire the sunrise and the pink shape on the mount, before to head to the starting point of the trek to the summit. Of course we didn’t plan to climb this time (I will probably do it later) but already being so close it was so impressive!
After we left the camp we started our descend to the valley where the border to Nepal is located.
On our way we got informed from my friend in Kathmandu that the road from the border was destroyed due to the heavy rains and that there was a big landslide that involved many villages.
Thankfully I could rely on my contact there to find a solution. He proposed us to drive back to Lhasa (at least 2 days trip) or to get an helicopter ride from the border till Kathmandu. To be honest I was very skeptical about the helicopter but we got convinced by the fact that it was an emergency service offered by the militaries and it would have taken us 20 minutes only!
So we did it! It was our first time on an helicopter ever! I still remember I couldn’t breath at the beginning because of the tension. I could relax a bit when I saw the amazing landscape and when I realized that people pays a lot of money for something that was offered to us almost for free!!!
Finally we landed somewhere in the countryside where we got picked up and where we spend the last few days of this MISSION!