Every time I think about my trip in Tibet, I smile and my heart melts.
I call Tibet my beloved.
It is still one of my favourite places.
I flew from Chengdu to Tibet in 2005. It was the year before the Qinghai-Tibet railway started operating. I deliberately chose that year because I could imagine that after the railway was completed, Tibet would change and would be modernized. The original state of a place appeals to me more.
The mountains in Tibet were so high that it felt like the plane never landed. It almost felt like the plane could touch the mountains.
I took a public bus from the airport to Lhasa.
The air was so fresh.
I took a deep breath and inhaled the fresh air. That’s the high-altitude air exclusively available in Tibet. Lhasa is 3,656 metres high. I felt as if I had not left the plane even when I was standing on the ground.
My friends who had been to Tibet advised me not to take a shower, not to wash hair, and take a rest before walking around in the city so that I could acclimatize. And not to run nor shout. Basically, ‘take it slow’. I was very obedient so I stuck to all these rules.
I didn’t know how I would react to the high altitude so I decided not to make any travel plans. My motto emerged that year: ‘Having no plan is the best plan’. If you have heard anyone saying this, that person may have copied me. After all, it was 2005 when I developed this motto. 😛
I only booked my first night’s accommodation in Lhasa. I obediently took a nap for a while after I checked in before I walked around and stayed very calm, you know, not to get too excited about anything.
Everything in Lhasa was so new and charming to me. As I walked around, I took numerous photos.
As I walked around, I ran into the familiar YHA sign. YHA stands for Youth Hostel Association. It is part of HI hostels now. Prior to 2005, I stayed at YHA whenever I travelled. Back then, there weren’t as many choices as now. YHA still exists but I think it is not as popular as before. Some hostels changed their name to HI instead. Anyway, when I saw that sign, I walked in and talked to the receptionist and booked my bed for tomorrow. The receptionist suggested me to go to a tour company to find a tour to the base camp of Mt. Everest simply because it was October so some roads would be blocked because of the snow. Yes, in some areas in Tibet, it had started to snow. Also, it’d be quite hard for me to find any travel companions to share a 4-wheel drive to go there at this time of the year. He also recommended me to visit the one that was near the hostel.
I followed his instructions, found the tour company and put my name down. I was the only guest of their upcoming tour which would depart the day after tomorrow. ‘There may be two more guests joining you but we need to have a minimum of 4 people in our tour. Otherwise, you may need to pay more. You can come back again tomorrow to check the status.’
It was 2005. I was used to going around without being connected so no local phone card, no roaming, no data and needless to say, no Wifi at the hostels or restaurants and paper maps were one of the items in the survival kit but all these were ok for me. Were. Not now anymore. We rely on the internet so much nowadays, so much that we have almost lost our instincts.
I left and went to find a restaurant.
Another suggestion from one of my friends, ‘eat vegetables. Don’t eat meat in Tibet.’ OK. But actually, even if she had never given me that advice, I’d choose to be a vegetarian while I was in Tibet. When I was walking around in the streets, I could see some stalls selling meat on the sides of the roads. The meat was hung on the hooks and exposed to the air. Flies were flying around the meat. Nope, thank you.
I found a restaurant that served western food like spaghetti around that area. I was a bit dubious when I read the menu but I went in anyway. It looked quite clean. The décor was not too western at all. Religious paintings like the wheel of life could be found on the walls. It also served local food but I dared not try. It turned out this western restaurant was quite popular among the foreign tourists. It was owned by Dutch.
I finished my meal with a kind of tea that helped me to acclimatize. I brought some pills with me that I bought before this trip but I hadn’t taken any of them yet. I didn’t want to rely on them now when I still had access to medication or tea that could help me in Lhasa. Lhasa had (still has) the best hospital in treating altitude sickness. Those pills were reserved for emergency only. When you are travelling alone, you have to be fully responsible for yourself and your own being so you need to be very careful with the limited resources that you have and you need to consider various things including your current circumstances, your accessibility to medication, and so on. Safety is paramount. The pills turned out to be very helpful for my travel companion.
Listening to my friends’ advice and sticking to it did help me a lot.
Considering my situation, I felt ok to do more easy activities tomorrow which was to visit Potala Palace.
7 October 2005
P.S. When I check the photos of YHA in Lhasa now, it looks so new, modern and different. If I go there now, I may not be able to recognize it.