Tibet, China : April 25-May 3, 2005
Tashi Delek from Tibet, China.  From the same company that we purchased our Annapurna trek(First
Environmental Trekking), we also have purchased a Tibetan tour package.  Our trek through Annapurna
was a professionally prepared trip.  Virtually every contingency was covered by trekking company and
our guide. Stomach flus aside, Annapurna was an adventure that will be remembered for years.  And be
revisited again in the future.  

Comparatively, our tour to Tibet seemed an exercise in monastic endurance and meditation.  The trip
starts out by having the tour company inform us that departure time has changed from 5:30am to
8:45am.  We like our sleep, so figure that everything is OK, but just running a little late.  You get used to
this kind of delay frequently in Nepal.  Our first surprise of many was when one of the tour agents walked
to our hotel and had us carry our luggage for a kilometer.  We were told that we'd have a pickup; so,
planned on carrying all of our luggage (comparatively, we packed light for Annapurna and were able to
fit all our needs into one backpack per person).  After an exhausting kilometer, we then sat around and
waited another hour for everybody to arrive.  We finally hit the road, but had to make a stop at the
Kathmandu Airport.  Seems that the tour company still needed to have a couple more Tibetan visas
before starting.  We paid for this tour 3 weeks prior and had just received our visas the prior evening.  
The tour guide told us that China likes to intimidate travelers from Nepal this way.  I suspect that Nepali
travel companies are less than organized.  We lost another hour of travel time because we needed to
top for the Tibetan visas.

Not knowing the road ahead of us, I figured that we'd spend 4 hours driving to the Tibetan border,
another hour passing thru immigration, then another 4 hours of driving in Tibet to our hotel.  Guess
what! All of China (including Tibet) is on Beijing time; so the border crossing into Tibet is 2 hours 15
minutes ahead of Kathmandu.  No big deal you think.  It is a big deal when the border crossing closes at
6:30pm!  

We arrive at the Tibetan border around 3pm Nepali time, and need to schlep our bags for another hour
thru immigration and customs thru drizzling rain and crowded muddy streets.  Yours truly was nearly run
over by a semi tractor because the streets are too narrow.  We finally arrive at passport control at
6:35pm Tibetan time.  This means that we spend the evening at a dank and dirty hotel to wait until 9am
the next morning to stamp our passports.  Had we arrived just one half hour earlier, we could have
continued further into Tibet and found better lodging.  

More broken promises.  We were told that we'd be riding in a 4x4 vehicle.  And many Toyota
Landcruisers could been seen parked at the border.  Instead, the tour company packed us all into a
bus.  A standard bus, but not a vehicle designed for 300 kilometers of dirt roads.  Basically, a slower
vehicle that fully transmits every bump in the road, and is cramped.  I find the seats too small and cannot
rest my head on the seatback.  My knees won't let me scrunch down, and the seatbacks are too low for
my head.  I can only rest my head on the seat in front of us.  A painful experience whenever the bus hits
a bump in the road(about once every two minutes).

The next day, we are told that we will need to make up time and spend 8-9 hours driving until our next
location.  The scenery for this day and the next 4 days will be small farms that have cow dung as their
major crop or just rocks.  Everyone steels themselves for 8-9 hours of driving, but we didn't factor in 2
flat tires that day(adding about 1 hour of travel time).  Nor did we think that the guide would heavily
underestimate real travel time(guide argued that Tibetan roads are constantly under construction; so,
are hard to accurately estimate).  Arrival time: midnight.

Another nameless hotel, then another 8 hours of driving the next day.  Do not talk to me about farms or
rocks.

The next day is the highlight of our overland ride.  Two monasteries.  The first in the morning, the other
in the afternoon.  We even find a place that serves edible food. We wonder if this is a true reprieve from
Hell.  

The last leg of our drive is to Lhasa.  7-8 hours the guide tells us.  Then amends the time to 8-9 hours.
Of the 3 roads leading to Lhasa, two are closed for construction, then third is also under repair, and had
extensive detours.  Bad food has given two people stomach problems, another person is coming down
with the flu, and an older Korean lady is struggling with altitude sickness.  The older Korean lady is
sucking down canisters of oxygen as if she were trying to breath underwater.  No one believes the
guides travel time estimate.  I was guessing 11 hours, but guesses of up to 15 hours were common.  
Road time: 12 hours.

Although Lhasa is a small backward city of 200,000 people, we all call it paradise.  We get excited when
we find our hotel room has an attached bathroom.  And a Western toilet.  With toilet paper too!  
Annapurna was less rugged than our drive through Tibet.

We are conflicted on whether to hunt for dinner or internet access.  We settle on food since we cannot
find a cybercafe. We settle on a restaurant that has only the name "Restaurant" on the front of the
building.  The clientel look upscale and touristy; so, we take a table and gamble with our stomachs
again. Evelyn is happy as a clam with her soup.  I take a bite of my burger and wonder: cow? ,yak?, or
street meat?  Where are the stray dogs when you need them.  I take a small taste and declare the
burger unfit for consumption.  But I do make room for six french fries in my stomach before calling an
end to my meal.  Between the juice I had for breakfast, the bowl of white rice for lunch and my
sumptuous dinner, I figure my daily calorie consumption is less the 500 calories per day.  I have been
struggling to lose even a single pound over the last few years.  Since arriving in Nepal 4 weeks earlier, I
am 3 belt notches thinner.  Am thinking of writing a book entitled: "The Nepalese/Tibetan rapid weight
loss technique".  And yes, we were able to find internet access that evening.  We were on top of the
world, or at least 3600 meters in altitude in Lhasa.

The next two days in Lhasa are spent visiting the many wonderful monasteries. These days go by
quickly.  

On May 2nd, we have invited everyone from the bus tour to celebrate Evelyn's BD.  We've organized
dinner at Tashi 1.  The Lonely Planet Tibet book gives the restaurant a good recommendation, and the
location is near everyone's hotel.  I even find a bakery that will make a BD cake.  The evening gives us
an opportunity to chat about the sites in Lhasa, our trip from Nepal, and where everyone is travelling to
next.  A French couple and a Brit are also doing RTW tours, and we find ourselves bonding over cheap
beer Bobi's and Tibetan BD cake.  And are promising each other to visit each other's country in the near
future.  

May 3rd we fly back to Kathmandu. The distance travelled by bus in 5 days is covered in just over an
hour by plane.  We have now sworn off bus transportation for the rest of this RTW trip.


TALL WORLD TALES