To me, every trip I take brings many surprises. Some good, some not so good. But each one is a chance to learn and to expand your horizons. Here are a few things that caught me by surprise during my trip to Tibet last year.
The Old and the New
Tibet it s real blend of the Old and the New. There are temples that date to the 14th Century, with paintings and statues as old as the temples, yak butter lamps. There are also monks reciting chants that are thousands of years old, whilst holding the latest mobile phones with a perfect 4G signal. One of the main reasons for this is the speed of development in Tibet. Everywhere we went, there we new roads, tunnels and railways. Towns – especially Lhasa are expanding at a rate of knots.
It surprised me to see how deeply religious the Tibet society was. Most people (in Lhasa at least), did a “Kora” or a circular walk around the temples everyday, sometimes more than once a day. We also saw many people prostrating themselves before some of the more sacred temples, and making a great effort with their offerings.
A word about Temples: There are lots of temples in Tibet, many of them centuries old. We were there for 5 days and visited a temple (some times 2 temples) every day. The temples do offer a great insight into Tibetan Buddhism and history, but if temples aren’t your thing, it could get monotonous; so consider this aspect carefully when planning your itinerary.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
Our first stop in Tibet was Lhasa. This was at an altitude of 3650 m, so Acute Mountain Sickness was to be expected. The symptoms set in a few hours after we had flown in from Chengdu. Headache, fatigue, being breathless after very little exercise and loss of appetite all became the norm for the next few days (although it did improve with time). What I hadn’t expected was that AMS would affect my sleep. Although we were tired after a packed schedule everyday, AMS made it difficult to sleep, which meant that the following day became even more arduous. Drinking a lot of ginger, lemon and honey tea helped a lot, but only so far.
All the research I did also said that the effects AMS did not depend on age, health or fitness. This proved to be 100% correct, as both my parents (touching 70 years) coped much better than I did with AMS.
Without a doubt, this was one of the biggest surprises of Tibet. I was all prepared for Acute Mountain Sickness, but what we hadn’t realise was that Tibet had a 7% humidity and it only rained in July and August. So dehydration starts to take effect as soon as you arrive, and dry nose and mouth, thumping headache, skin like tissue paper becomes the norm. To make matters worse, it also compounded the effects of AMS.
The scenery in Tibet no doubt was beautiful and un-spoilt. There were icy blue lakes, snow covered mountains and glaciers. There air was so crisp and clear that you could see for miles. However, I felt that the landscape was comparable to what you would see in the Swiss Alps or Canadian Rockies (and they are a lot easier to get to and you wouldn’t suffer from AMS or dehydration).
It’s not the best value for money
Accommodation and restaurants were not the best value for money compared to the rest of China. The hotels we stayed in a were comfortable enough, but rather run down. One possible reason for this is the lack of competition.
Tibet was one of the most remote places I have to been to anywhere, and certainly one of a kind. It was not the easiest of trips, for various reasons. Nevertheless, I loved the experience, and hope to return one day, and cover a bigger part of Tibet.
Have you been to Tibet? What did you think? Or would you like to go? Leave a comment below and let me know.