Travelling the Tibetan Plateau.
by Keven Osborne
Tibet! I chose an arduous but incredible overland journey from the Baltic States in Eastern Europe. Covering a total of 8.775km in plats kart (3rd class) on the Trans-Siberian Railway from St. Petersburg to Beijing; then 2 months across China, 10.061km to be precise, on hard seat (4th class) which certainly firmed up my bottom!
Getting a Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) permit isn’t easy. It took a week in the remote Western Chinese city of Xining on the foothills of the Tibetan Plateau. Since the Lhasa uprising riots in 2008, to enter the Tibetan Autonomous Region foreigners have to be part of a booked tour group in order to apply for a TTB permit. Without the permit, Chinese authorities will not let you in. The rules became much stricter again in 2012: Tibet permits will only be issued to a group with a minimum 5, even 6, travellers with the same nationality. You must do some preparation before even entering the region...
The effort will be well worth it however! Entering the region on the world’s highest railway line at 5.072m, Tibet immediately feels very different to the rest of China. Tibetans are highly distinctive in appearance - an almost hybrid of Mongolian and rosy cheeked Andeans but with East Asian eyes. They are a kind, modest, deeply religious Buddhist race.
One of the highlights of any trip to Tibet is Potala Palace in Lhasa. Built under the guidance of the 5th Dalai Lama it really is a magical example of 17th century architecture. Shrouded by Lhasa and Tibet’s fragile and turbulent political and religious past with China, combined with the mystical images we see past and present, creates powerful and highly evocative emotions on first sight of the palace.
Tibet’s Everest Base Camp is just 14km from the north face of the world’s tallest mountain. At 5.150m it offers excellent views along the Rongphu Valley to Mount Everest’s soaring 8.848m peak. Driving in a 4x4 along the Friendship Highway across Tibet towards Nepal you pass remarkable high passes adorned with colourful prayer flags and vast spectacular Himalayan landscapes. If you ever get the chance, or wondered what yak-butter tea tastes like, go!
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