Road to Lhasa

Road trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa and visit to Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, winter 2010.

Nov 21 2010 — Bus trip to Tibet started yesterday at 5.30am in Kathmandu, and by noon we had reached the Nepal-China border. Driving serpentine roads on incredibly steep, majestic Himalayan mountains was an experience. Sometimes felt better just to close my eyes, cross fingers and toes… Road had suffered from land slides during monsoon season, it was usable but very slow at parts. Border ordeal in Chinese side was also unique of a kind. Two baggage x-rays, full hand check for all bags and staring contest with immigration officer was on the program. Tibet is special region in China, foreigners need special permit to enter country, and are allowed to travel only in guided groups. Border personnel were especially curious about Lonely Planets and other travel guides, checking them thoroughly. Maps or flags of Tibet and Taiwan, or photos of Buddhist monks could not pass the screening. Monks are only intelligentsia Tibet has, and thus considered a threat to central government in Beijing.

After border, there was still good while of driving before day was complete. Chinese built road in Tibetan side was far better than Nepalese. We finally arrived guest house in Nyalam (@3600 meters) around 6.30pm. Accommodation was very basic, outside it was around -5 Celsius and our rooms had no heating. Blankets were plenty and warm. Am having soft spot to such rough and utilitarian accommodation, sleep in isolated mountain village, dogs barking in dim, cold and smoky streets outside. @ bus from Nyalam to Xigatse

Nov 22 2010 — Xigatse (@ 3800 meters) is Tibet’s second city after Lhasa, and location of large Buddhist monastery of TashiLumpo. Visit was fascinating experience, Xigatse’s history as religious center dates back least 1000 years, and its been seat of Panchen Lamas almost as long (Panchen Lama is second rank after Dalai Lama). Nights again, very cold. @ Xigatse

Nov 24 2010 — Arrived to Tibetan capital today around 6pm after drive from Gyantse, another small town on our way. Sights during drive across Himalayas have been breath taking all the way from Kathmandu. Scenes look sometimes like from Mars, everything is barren and brown. Topaz blue lake, undeveloped shores, no sign of habitation anywhere only few yak’s searching for food in distance. Snow copped Himalayas surrounding the horizon in every direction! Summertime valleys are green and lush, different scene witnessed by us.

Lhasa is undergoing rapid development. Railroad to Beijing has been recently completed, and Chinese government is attracting workers and companies with lucrative tax breaks. Over 75% of city population is Chinese. @ Lhasa

Nov 26 2010 — Two days in Tibetan capital is over, and am only wishing having couple days more. Most of time was used on planned visits to monasteries etc. but there was also little time to just idle and watch the Tibetan life go by. Potala Palace tour was controlled walk through, cameras weren’t allowed inside. But building, rooms and items had original character and feeling in them. Little seem to have changed since Potala was seat of Dalai Lama’s who were ruling the country (current 14th Dalai Lama exiled to Dharamsala, India in 1950’s).

Tibetans are people with rich and ancient culture. They are positive and strait-forward people, got only good impressions during my visit. Exchanged many smiles, hello’s (tashi delek), and curious looks while walking at streets of Xigatse, Gyantse and Lhasa. My faith is on them. Like so often in history, iron fists cannot hold grip forever. @ Lhasa