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<A> Leaving Tibet: An Overland Exit
Tips for Tibet:
How to get there:
By Air: From Chengdu two daily flights go to Lhasa on Air China. You can book a ticket through a guesthouse (I went through Sim's Cozy GH) for about 1900 Yuan ($240) one-way including a ride to the airport. This price includes the air ticket of 1550Yuan and the permit fee, which costs around Y300. Leaving Tibet is Y1550($195) to Chengdu.
By Bus: There are buses to Golmud($28), Xining and Chegdu, but they all go through Golmud so you can transfer to comfortable trains in Golmud to eliminate bus time. It is more difficult and very expensive to legally enter Tibet by bus, though leaving cheap and very easy.
-Winter is cold but there are very few tourists, some guesthouses and restaurants are closed for the winter.
-Find some foreigners in Lhasa to share the cost of hiring a car to see outlying areas. Bus is only legal for foreigners officially to Shigatse, though it is not too hard to go a few other places by bus.
-Samye Monastery is a great rustic side trip where there are picturesque sand dunes and a nearby gorgeous lake.
-There are tons of beggars in Lhasa, and in surrounding cities and towns, especially children. Go prepared to fend them off or to give out constantly.
-Drink a lot of fluids and stay in Lhasa a few days to acclimatize. The altitude should not be a problem if you take your time to adjust.
Leaving Tibet: An Overland Exit
By: Cameron Platt
February 16th, early morning: my I Pod alarm jingles, but fails to wake me. One hour later I look at my watch, 8:45. Panicked, I jump out of bed, put on the clothes I haven't washed in weeks and think: how am I going to do it? I have until 10:00AM to say goodbye to the Barkhor circuit, visit the Jokhang Temple one more time, and grab a quick breakfast of dumplings and rice porridge. My last day in Lhasa: it's cold, it's dark, and I don't want to leave.
The Bakhor circuit is a path around the Jokhang Temple in the center of Tibetan Lhasa. I must have walked this path a dozen times in the three weeks I spent touring Tibet. The religious and cultural center of Lhasa, the Barkhor is a truly magical experience. To just wander the streets and circle the Jokhang on its pilgrim circuit is amazing. Traditional Tibetan costume is worn predominantly. During the time of Losar Festival the outfits are the families' finest. Some women complimented their ensemble with designer-like sunglasses and their long hair was done up beautifully. I imagined them walking the catwalks of New York and Milan introducing the new fashion trend: Tibetan nouveau. A constant mumble of prayers, and the spinning of personal prayer wheels, engulfs you. The smoke from the flames of the enormous incense urns creates an almost surreal atmosphere. Sets of golden prayer wheels line the temple walls; with each spin of the wheel, there is a calming click. Merchants fill the narrow alleys packed with pilgrims and locals. With the sun emerging from behind the barren mountains on that cold morning of the 16th, I took in the beauty of Lhasa, its surrounding area, and with sadness remembered I just had one hour left. I was excited for the transition out of constant travel, but looking around the streets of Lhasa for the last time I felt a sense of connection and belonging.
I arrived in Tibet three weeks before, slightly disenchanted. After exiting the airplane into a very modern airport and the first ten minutes of the drive through Lhasa brought familiar sights of what I had seen so many times before in other typical Chinese provincial capitals. After three weeks, those impressions were long gone; Lhasa is not just another city, and Tibet is not just another Chinese province.
I was headed for Suzhou on the 16th. Near the Pacific Coast an hour from Shanghai, Suzhou would be a long trip from Lhasa. I would end my three months of travel around Southeast Asia and China to live and teach English at Suzhou Number 1 School. Flying into Tibet via Chengdu, I was determined to exit overland, both to see the landscape and to save some money. From Lhasa it's a 24-hour bus ride to Golmud. From Golmud it would be a long train journey across much of China. A bit nervous about ticket availability and the sheer distance of my trip I was nonetheless excited.
After I finally pried myself off the pilgrim circuit, I took a cab to the long distance bus station nestled in the far end of the Chinese part of Lhasa. Being over six feet tall, the sleeper bed on the bus could have been a few feet longer. I was comforted to eavesdrop on the Chinese conversations going on around me. I felt a bit guilty I had neglected my Chinese over the past few weeks to listen to Tibetan language instead of Mandarin. We rolled out an hour late to the disgust of many passengers. We passed the Potala Palace, went by the stupa below it, and onto to the outskirts of Lhasa- it was goodbye.
The beautiful plateau stretched in all directions, mountains with reflections mirrored in an expansive body of water jutted abruptly from the flat land. Clusters of the prevalent white mud and stone dwellings with chimney-like sticks laced with prayer flags dotted the landscape. Small groups of yaks milled about. I could not imagine how any group of people would decide to settle here, in such harsh weather and in a completely barren dessert.
I thought about the time I spent touring Tibet. One of my favorite memories was in Sakye. Though I had a permit to travel in the Shigatse prefecture I apparently was not allowed to use public transportation. I snuck past a ticket counter, bribed a bus driver and hid from the Chinese police to finally find myself in a sizeable town nestled up against some bare hills not far from the Himalayas. Sakye had ruins from the Cultural Revolution- an ominous reminder perched on the hills above the town. I climbed up to the ruins in hopes to see what was on the other side of the hills. The altitude being so high, the hills so steep and much larger than I estimated from the bottom, I gave up and sat under the warm sun looking over Sakye and out to the snowy mountains opposite me. The silence interrupted only by the whipping wind gave me an intense sense of solitude. I thought to myself, 19 years old, sitting atop a gorgeous hill in Tibet, how did I get so lucky?
"Qingwen, qingwen," I was awoken from my thoughts to the Chinese words, excuse me, excuse me. The child whose bed was the aisle level with my bed, was throwing up, she wanted me to throw the bag out my window... Gross. The hours slipped by, along with the scenery and it was dark again. A few hours later the bus went over a pass at 5,200 meters. It was the highest I had ever been in my life. Some Tibetans nearby cracked open the window and threw out a bundle of prayer papers, soon after I saw a big cluster of prayer flags outside. Do people live up here, I wondered? Outside it was hard to see anything but the complete whiteness of snow and the storm that blocked the night view.
I awoke the next morning to a completely iced over window. After scraping it away with my credit card I was rewarded with the most spectacular views. The land and mountains were completely white with snow; there was nothing in sight but a few yaks and the daunting construction project of the Golmud-Lhasa train line. This was my first look at Qinghai province- its blue skies and seemingly endless road through enormous white mountains was inviting. I had left Tibet.
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