Is Tibet Worth Visiting?
For Alison Laycock, Tibet had always been a country she wanted to visit, however as with most things, time and money stood in her way. Alison made a resolution that if she had not visited before then it would be a present to herself for her 40th birthday. Here Alison shares her experience of why Tibet didn't disappoint and you will fall in love with Tibet.
Making the Decision to Visit Tibet
I can’t remember what first attracted me to Tibet all those years earlier. Perhaps it was the link with me having chosen Buddhism as my point of reference in life, was it in a film or a book I had heard of it, was it the pull of the Himalayas and the highest mountain, Mount Everest or the fact that it was one of those countries which seemed so far away and so different to life in other countries. Whatever the reason I always felt myself drawn to this mystical country.
I kept a close watch on the political state of affairs, were foreigners allowed in to Tibet and if so for how long and how would it be possible. Conditions changed so often and quickly that this close watch was definitely necessary as it had been known for permissions to be granted and then for them to be taken away just as quickly. I was right to keep a close eye as in 2011 when I was in Nepal for a 2 month experience, Tibet was open when I was there but on my return to the UK it was again closed to visitors of certain nationalities. I kicked myself for not having gone at that stage, however although Nepal borders Tibet, it is even more difficult to go from there than you would think.
Exploring Tibet is More Difficult Than You Might Think
In the year of my 40th birthday in 2014, I found myself checking out the possible ways into Tibet. Not being a fan of China, I found it difficult to accept that I would first have to go through China to get to Tibet, but needs must and looking back I know that on that trip I opened myself up to the beauty of China which I had previously not considered. Another disappointment was to find that I would have to go on a group tour of Tibet, again not my preferred way of travelling having spent previous holidays roaming solo. It is still a requirement that all visitors go to Tibet in a group tour and therefore you get a group visa. Still, needs must, I wanted to go so I needed to accept the travel conditions placed on tourists, especially as it had to be at that time for my 40th but also I wanted to go before the Chinese occupation changed Tibet so much that it was no longer a case of visiting Tibet but China.
There were options of getting in and out of Tibet in terms of which tour to do and although I had hoped to combine different possible tours, I found this difficult to do from outside of Tibet. I am still wondering if maybe I could have found different methods once in Tibet as I had been encouraged to do, although I think that was perhaps wishful thinking.
The tours offered me were one which would have me travel on the fast train from Beijing to Lhasa and as adventurous as this sounded I heeded the advice to perhaps think of a more reasonable way of increasing the altitude bit by bit rather than arrive too quickly in Lhasa and be ill from altitude sickness. With this tour, it would take tourists into Nepal which looked very appealing to be in Nepal gain, however after having just left Nepal in January 2014 after having spent a year there, I didn’t feel the need to spend money on places I had already visited at no doubt a much cheaper price.
The next tour I found and the one I finally booked lasted around 3 weeks from the departure from and the returning to the UK and would have us spending time in China with an increase in altitude at every stop so that our bodies would adapt slowly but surely to the increasing altitude. It also incorporated a trip to base camp at Everest which I imagine for most on the tour was the main highlight of the trip.
For me the main highlight was simply being in Tibet, soaking up the atmosphere, learning about the culture and being a part of it as much as you can be on a group tour and visiting the Buddhist monasteries and perhaps especially the Potala palace. Having said that though once I realised just how close we were to Mount Everest in the hotel we were staying at, I was pretty pleased and then the evening after having been to base camp I had the complete joy of turning my head to the left and seeing Mount Everest looming over me! I doubt I will ever have a better view than that to go to sleep to and if I do then I look forward to such a thing.
Lhasa as well as certain parts of China completely blew me away in their simplicity and beauty. This was especially true of all the devout Buddhists doing the kora around the palace and other monasteries on a daily basis. Going to the Dalai Lama’s residence was poignant but also heart-warming to see the Buddhists who remain in Tibet tending to the house ensuring that the butter lamps never go out as they believe that to be a sign of Buddha watching over them.
There was a strange feeling about this part of the tour as I walked around Norbulingka, the summer residence of the Dalai Lama imagining a younger Dalai Lama before his exile to India, playing in the grounds in the joyful and cheeky manner we have often heard about. There is also something about being able to walk freely around someone’s house when they themselves can’t.
The atmosphere was unbelievable and although I didn’t believe it to be possible I fell in love more and more with the country and its people to the extent that I already started planning my next visit on the flight home which I hope to be longer, on a different basis to a group tour and hopefully to incorporate Mount Kailash which I know attracts many who wish to walk around it and cleanse themselves of any negativity and going forward into a more positive life. I hope to be able to interact more with the Tibetan people who are tremendously curious and welcoming.
The tour I took and can certainly recommend was a Wendy Wu tour from Kunming through, Dali, Lijiang, Zhongdian, lhasa, Shigatse, New Tingri, Mt Everest, Old Tingri, Shigatse, Gyantse, Tdsedang, Lhasa and Chengdu before flights back via Hong Kong. I consider myself extremely lucky to be amongst those who have made it to this spectacular country and perhaps more lucky that I feel the calling to return once again soon.
By Alison Laycock