Tibet, the not so forbidden kingdom

You’re thinking of taking a trip, but where to go, so many choices. I guess it all depends on your funds, your options maybe endless or if you’re like me, your option might be the bus ride from Glebe to the city; I exaggerate of course, once I got as far as Coogee.


So if you are in the process of taking a trip in the future and you are not too sure where; may I suggest The Kingdom of Tibet.

It’s a nation nestled in the Himalayas, the mountain range that are home to the world’s tallest mountain Everest. It is also a place which for a long time was shrouded in mystery; it is famous for the Dalai Lama and concerts asking for a Free Tibet. For a long time it was cut off from the countries around it, due to the fact that getting there was a pain in the ass and once you were there, you would be politely told with Buddhist reverence, to leave. However, things changed after China took over, for a long time they kept people out, eventually the Chinese government opened Tibet to the rest of the world. But getting there is not that easy.

You need a visa to get to China and then you need to get a permit to get into Tibet, the permit is essentially another way to get money. You have two ways of getting there; you can get in through Nepal or through China proper itself. One of the problems about going through Nepal is you have to be two people on the visa. No visas are issued to individuals. This means you have to find someone, if you are traveling alone, to accept you as a ‘visa buddy’, you then have to enter Tibet together and leave together.

If you are coming in through China, you can take the newly opened railway, from Golmud in Qinghai province, China, to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The line which was opened in 2006 is one of the highest railways in the world and offers the traveler majestic views of the mountains.

Lhasa is dominated by Potala Palace which was home to the Dalai Lama and is now just a UNESCO heritage site and museum. The capital is also a place where Tibetan culture meets with that of the rest of the world. However, interaction with the Tibertans is very much restricted due to the fact that they do not speak English and are generally worried about getting into trouble.

That being said, many businesses are run by them and you would need to interact with them to get by and if they know you came through India they will more than likely ask for news on the Dalai Lama who is there leader. But you have to be careful as carrying pictures, DVDs and videos of his Holiness is illegal and can get you in trouble. There have been reports of people being tricked into showing pictures that they have brought with them to give to the Tibetans, by Chinese undercover detectives posing as monks. This is an extreme, but better be safe than sorry.

Also, traveling in Tibet is hard; its tourism sector is still growing and has a long way to go. It is very dirty and should you go to the base camp of Everest or be traveling through the countryside, be prepared to use the great outdoors as your toilet. The upside of this is that you will have a great view. The downside is to make sure that you don’t walk over the edge of a cliff at night.

To get around Tibet you need to rent a Landcruiser and unless you have the money its best to do it with other travelers. This is the best way to see the country and although, it is rather expensive it is also an opportunity to interact with the locals, well one local, your driver

So if you are thinking of going to Tibet you have choices and it’s also a good idea to read up as much as possible on the place. Remember the political situation so you don’t make any faux pas.

Words: Ben Narayanen

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