Tibet – An Unforgettable Eight Days

Tibet was everything we had imagined it to be. In fact it was so much more than the expected yaks, spinning prayer wheels and robed monks. We witnessed rich cultures steeped in tradition, colour and ritual, a religion steadfast in its belief, enchanting temples and a traditional rural way of life that was under threat from modern economic development.  It was the weather-beaten faces of the elderly that told a thousand stories of a troubled past, the random conversations with the smiling locals and the awe-inspiring geography of a land that was slowly but surely being hacked away. Lhasa with its numerous police checkpoints felt as if it had lost its previous innocence. Gone was the nostalgia. No longer would it be regarded as a place that only a few brave travellers searching for adventure would venture to. The presence of the Han Chinese was everywhere; flags defiantly sat on Tibetan monasteries and the intimidating numbers of Chinese police gave Lhasa a feeling of being under siege.

Burgers were pushing Tibetan Thakpa out of the way.

The elephant in the room was staying put.

Our eight-day tour in Tibet was a monumental experience! We travelled hundreds of miles through sensational landscapes, visited what seemed like every Buddhist monastery known to man and met some amazing people – all in a rickety bus!

I grew to love that bus.

We started in Lhasa and ended our trip at Everest Base Camp, finally walking across the Friendship Bridge into Nepal where we had started our travels all those many months before. We had come full circle. I can still remember what I was thinking when I crossed that bridge. It was a sense of achievement coupled with sadness that our travels had come to an end. At the same time it felt like we had come home. I knew Asad felt the same. Nepal would always feels like home – we had grown to love the country. There was something cathartic about physically walking across the border back into Nepal having had all those experiences behind us. Crossing from one country into another in a matter minutes was so much better than just clinically flying over. We had ended our travels at the point of origin, only to begin another journey – this time back to London.

Tibet was an epic ending to a truly epic journey!

Highlights:

Lhasa – Loved getting lost in the alleyways of Lhasa, soaking up the spirituality, people watching, browsing shops for Tibetan souvenirs and randomly bumping into travellers we had met on the Qinghai – Tibet train.

Favourite Temples – They were all amazing but the most visually memorable and interesting were Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery where we watched fascinating debates taking place between monks and the terracotta alleyways of Tashilunpo Monastery. Potala Palace was definitely impressive and the cave temple of Guru Rinpoche at EBC felt like we’d stumbled upon on unknown discovery!

Favourite Food – Apart from Tibetan Thakpa I fell in love with eggs and tomatoes! Don’t ask me why but I couldn’t get enough of this simple dish. The tomatoes were the sweetest I’d ever tasted.

Most inspiring, jaw-dropping sights – Casting your eyes over landscapes that range from grasslands and desert to fertile pastures, brought to life by the earthy pigmented colour of Buddhist gompas was a joy. However the view of Mount Everest has to top everything! We were so lucky to witness the clouds unveil such a beautiful site. Nothing will ever beat that view. Yamdruk lake was stunningly picturesque and exactly how I imagined it.  Nyalam Tong la Pass was a mountain pass we went through on route to the Nepalese border. At an altitude of 5150 metres, the views of the Himalayas from here were just mesmerising. Entering the border town of Zhangmu – the landscape changed from barren to lush, emerald greenery characteristic of Nepal. Sitting in the bus, driving along cliff side roads through huge ravines was just amazing!

Wish I could have stayed longer – Apart from the fear of facing the toilets which gave Everest a run for its money, I could have happily stayed at the Base Camp for an extra day or two. It was a great place for peace and solitude. Sleeping in a tent under Yak skins was a novelty and it was surprisingly warm. If it wasn’t for the massive rat that scared the hell out of me, I would have had a better nights sleep! However, I could easily have just kicked back and spent some time enjoying nature there. I would have loved to have stayed in Lhasa a day longer to just really discover more of the hidden pathways and   indulge in watching the various tribes and nomads of Tibet go about their daily lives. It was like going back in time.  Nyalam Tong La Pass was heavenly. Just fifteen minutes longer would have secured some sensational pictures.

My most spiritual experience – It has to EBC. Sat by a stupa in the glorious sunshine, yaks grazing in the distance, watching prayer flags fluttering in the wind and catching fleeting glimpses of Everest through the most beautiful cloud formations I’d ever seen. I often revisit that memory. I keep it close to my heart.

Shocked by – Being told off by the police for not walking on the pavement on arrival at Lhasa station! Also shocked by the heavy presence of the military in Lhasa along with fast food joints and burger bars! The horror of it!

Day 1: Arrival In Lhasa

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Lhasa Train Station

Day 2: Barkhor Square – Jokhang Temple – Potala Palace

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A view of Barkhor Square from Jokhang Temple
Buddhists pray in front of Jokhang Temple
Buddhists prostrate  in front of Jokhang Temple in what felt like a mass Yogic sun salutation
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The divine Jokhang Temple
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Previously the seat of the 14th Dalai Lama, Potala Palace is built at an altitude of 3700 metres on top of the Red Mountain

Day 3: Drepung Monastery – Sera Monastery

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Drepung Monastery – a university monastery dedicated to the yellow hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism
Me and our guide Choedren at Drepung Monastery
Me and our guide Choedren at Drepung Monastery
The iconic image of Golden Deer either side of the Dharmic Wheel
The iconic image of Golden Deer either side of the Dharmic Wheel
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Sera Monastery – Through a fascinating series of hand slapping gestures, senior monks grill junior monks on Buddhist doctrine

Day 4:  Yamdruk Lake – Karola Glacier – Kumpa Stupa (20th June)

Stunning views of Yamdruk Lake
Stunning views of Yamdruk Lake
Asad with Charles at the shoreline of Yamdruk Lake
Asad with Charles who was part of our tour group at the shores of Yamdruk Lake
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Karola Glacier
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One of the many lakes we encountered
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Another milestone!
Kumpa Stupa
Kumpa Stupa

Day 5: Tashilunpo Monastery – 318 highway – Qomolongma National Park – Dzong Monastery

Asad at Tashilunpo Monastery
Asad at Tashilunpo Monastery
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Charles, Alicia, Ariel and Asad in the driving seat  – on the 318 highway
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Hillside Dzong Monastery

Day 6 – Old Tingri – Rongpu Monastery – EBC 1

Rongpu Monastary - the highest monastery on the planet!
Rongpu monastery – the highest  on the planet!
Our home for the night - Base Camp
Our home for the night – Base Camp
Prayer flags fluttering in the wind
Prayer flags fluttering in the wind
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The monastery of Guru Rinpoche
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Look what we found! Inside the cave of Rongpu Monastery

Day 7 – EBC 2 – Nyalam Tong La Pass – Zhangmu

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From Left to Right – Asad, Kathryn, Amber, Charles, Ariel, Emily, Choedren, Alicia and me!
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My favourite picture of me!
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A dream – come true!
Nyalam Tong La Pass
Nyalam Tong La Pass – simply breathtaking!

Day 8 – Cross the Friendship Bridge at the Zhangmu border to Nepal

The Friendship Bridge connecting Tibet and Nepal
The Friendship Bridge connecting Tibet and Nepal

Our tour was arranged by Budget Tibet Tour. The driver was brilliant and Choedren the guide, was informative and attentive. I would definitely travel with them again!

Have you ever been Tibet? Let us know about your amazing journey!