|Lhasa, TIBET: Sacred, religious, spiritual. That's Tibet, a once forbidden country now the rage for travelers longing for the extraordinary. A place where people are distinct from their neighbors, Tibetans have their own language, culture, history and religion. And they're friendly.
Himalayas tinged with snow
| No matter where you travel in the country, they'll wave at you as they plough the fields with their yaks, and "kowtow" as they pray approaching the holy sites. If you're asking about what to take on this journey, how to adjust to the altitude, what medicines will you need, read these tips on enjoying "The Rooftop of the World!"
Tibetan lady with yak
|(Tip #1) Forget all the "Hello, Dalai!" jokes. Tibetans are supremely ethereal, and I wouldn't ask them what they think of Richard Gere's relationship with the Dalai Lama. To anyone who has been there, Tibet is no laughing matter. It's more a spiritual pilgrimage to a gentle, remote land where you'll watch the constant spinning of prayer wheels, the yaks prancing in the meadows, and hear the ringing of cowbells in the countryside.
|(Tip #2) Don't plan on dropping in or sneaking by without a visa, or you'll be asked to leave and perhaps not politely. Bordering Nepal, India, Bhutan, Burma and China, Tibet lies in the center of Asia and remains one of the most inaccessible countries in the world. Maybe that's part of its lure for the peripatetic adventurer, but it's safer and smarter to be part of a tour whose company has a track record to safeguard against unanticipated incidents.
Tashilumpo Monastery Buddha
Tibetan prayer wheels
|(Tip #3) Third world tourism these days dictates never leaving home without your supply of prescriptions, vitamins, and especially antibiotics. It you've been at the higher altitudes, it will take time adjusting to Tibet's elevation averaging 13,000 feet. A day before arrival, begin taking an altitude sickness pill such as Diamox. Taking this medication daily, I never experienced even a headache, but I did have frequent pit stops.
(Tip #4) Put away your walking shoes especially on the first day, or you'll find yourself huffing and puffing for air. Entering Lhasa, the national's capital, you'll be at 12,500 feet. At this point you'll be just in time for an "oxygen pillow." Hotels will provide the pick-me-ups for free or will charge a small fee. Splurge! You'll find a renewal of energy plus a good night's sleep.
(Tip #5) Don't settle on seeing only Lhasa. Sitting in the Hard Yak Café of the Lhasa Hotel, I was amazed to find tourists who signed up to spend only two days in the country! They reasoned they could cover the capital's famed Potala Place, the revered Jokhang Temple and the Marketplace all in one day. Think again. How could anyone miss trekking through the Himalayas and arriving at sunset to capture Mt. Everest. Also, you've come too long a way not to visit Gyantze with its spectacular scenery including Lake Yumzhou Hum surrounded by snowcapped peaks. There's also Shigatse, traditional home of the Panchen Lama and the Tashilumpo Monastery. This remote region opens up an opportunity to view nomadic Tibetans herding yak along the main street.
(Tip #6) Choose a reputable tour company. Unlike America where even the most modest hotel chains can provide clean, adequate accommodations, it's critical that in Tibet you have good hotels and food, plus a knowledgeable Tibetan guide who can communicate in English. That's why I chose Cameron Tours out of McLean, Virginia (1-800-648-4635), a business that's been in operation to Tibet and Asia for twenty years, has been recommended by Fodor's Guide, and can provide every aspect of travel to "The Rooftop Of The World."
(Tip #7) You can never have too much film or too many spare batteries. Stuff your camera bag so you can take pictures of those vibrant prayer flags fluttering in the breeze along the backdrop of the clear blue, unpolluted sky. The scenery is so spectacular that you'll even want to film the mist that cloaks the mountains. The children are especially friendly and will always pose for you. They'll expect a tip, but will smile endlessly if you give them some chewing gum and ballpoint pens for souvenirs.
(Tip #8) Do not travel to Tibet if you feel resentful politically. This is one land where you may be chastised if you try to make trouble over the Chinese takeover which began in 1959 where they banned worship, demolished monasteries, and killed thousands of Tibetans who resisted China's way of life. Listen closely and you'll hear the Tibetan response - the chanting of "O-ma-nee-beh-me-hom" a prayer to the compassionate Buddha, and steady reminder to their enemies that Tibetans remain firmly devoted to the ancient Buddhist tradition. While the Chinese government has tried to permeate their thoughts, they've been unsuccessful in reaching their hearts.
(Tip #9) Travel with a sturdy bag as there are no real roads once you leave Lhasa. Carry only those items that can be washed and dried overnight. The streets are all dusty which means your clothing will be caked in debris. For hiking, wear heavy wool socks and try out your walking shoes long before arrival. Note that sneakers will not shield you from coolness or discomfort. Bring along a hat, sunglasses, lip gloss, toilet paper and wet wipes (and not just for your hands).
(Tip #10) It's not everyday you can wake up and say that you're going to see Mt. Everest or trek through the Himalayas! Once you take in the monuments and unique vistas, you'll want to bring something home that's purely Tibetan. In Lhasa's Marketplace, you'll find the most variety and can bargain for inexpensive but lovely souvenirs ranging from a yak necklace to portable shrines, Thangkas (scroll paintings), and spinning prayer wheels. There are also Sherpa paintings that reflect the daily life of the mountain people. Tibetan carpets are among the best find and cost about $200. The catch? Be prepared to pay in cash as credit cards are unheard of. Now… what are you waiting for?
HOW TO GET THERE: From American gateways, take Japan Airlines to Hong Kong and overnight at The Regent. This will be your last look at a five star hotel. Enjoy a half-day tour and also overcome your jet lag. China Southwest Airlines connects to Chengdu, home of the Panda Breeding Center. Once you arrive in Lhasa, the accommodations at the Lhasa Hotel are above par.
6249 North Kensington Street
- Phone: 1-800-648-4635 - Web: http://www.camerontours.com
The next Tibetan tour departs from New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles on September 14-30, 2000 with stops in Hong Kong, Chendu, Lhasa and the Friendship Road, Kathmandu and Bangkok.
Jin Jiang Hotel
80, 2nd Section
Renmin South Avenue
Phone: (028) 5582222 - Email: email@example.com
1 Minzu Road
Phone: (0891) 6832221 - Fax: (0891) 6830499
The official currency is the RMB (Renminbi) or Yuan. American dollars are accepted in Lhasa, but as you venture into other Tibetan towns, they will prefer the Yuan. Travelers checks and credit cards are rarely accepted.
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