It seemed innocent enough—two monks talking and laughing with an Asian foreigner, asking questions in broken English about me and the U.S. However, the tone quickly changed as they exchanged some furtive glances and motioned for me to follow them. We found ourselves in a side street off the main road through Lhasa, sitting on some steps in front of what appeared to be an older abandoned residence constructed in the Tibetan style. Satisfied with my answers about the U.S. and that I wasn’t a Chinese spy, they proceeded to ask me about news of the Dalai Lama. Since I hadn’t been keeping up on his whereabouts, I told them he had written some books while in exile in India and then reached into my daypack and pulled out photos of him. Their smiles quickly changed as they looked around wondering if they might be watched, slipped the photos into their burgundy robes, and thanked me profusely. One of the monks reached into his man-purse and offered me a blessing wrapped in a prayer flag. Accepting with both hands, I bowed slightly out of respect. He saw the journal I was holding, pulled out a pen and motioned to see it. Handing it to him, he wrote a street address in both Chinese and English. I wrote my email address on another slip of paper and gave it to him. We never contacted each other again even though I considered it many times. I snapped a picture of the two of them, exchanged goodbyes, and went our separate directions. The entire interaction took less than 15 minutes, but the experience still stays with me nearly 16 years later. That was Tibet in 2000, decades after the Chinese occupation, but before the revolts in 2009. Some things such as the spying on the Tibetan people haven’t changed. Many other aspects have changed dramatically. Continue reading
The bunk was about a meter wide, and true to its name it was a hard sleeper with very little padding. My head hurt from the high altitude of the Tibetan plateau and my back was aching from sleeping so much, but I was also fighting a cold and there wasn’t much else to do for 48 hours. The scenery did little to help pass the time. Hills became mountains and the vegetation grew sparse and brown. The occasional town or scenic lake could distract us from our misery for a minute, but eventually seeing our own reflection staring back at us in the window quickly reminded us of where we were for the next day and a half: a cramped little bunk in a rolling tin can. There were six of these bunks in our little shared compartment. The uppermost bunk required gymnastics to reach and later dismount. The top and middle bunks didn’t have enough headroom for me to sit up without hunching over. Even Sheri couldn’t sit up straight. Never have I felt more like cattle packed into a livestock car. Continue reading
If you’ve ever wanted to visit Tibet, Bhutan or Nepal, here’s your chance. We are organizing a trip of a lifetime and we’re inviting you to join us as we explore this fascinating area. The tour is 16 days from April 5, 2016 to April 20, 2016 and is timed to coincide with the Rhododendron Festival in Thimphu, Bhutan from April 18 to 20.
You can join us for the entire tour, just Tibet, or just Bhutan. You can also extend your trip on either end with a tour of Beijing, extra days in Shanghai, or a tour of other areas of Nepal. Our plan is to arrive in Shanghai a couple of days prior to the train departure to see the city. Flights are available from Shanghai or Beijing to Lhasa, but we recommend the train to see some of the spectacular scenery along the way and for additional time to gradually acclimate to the altitude. The train is also about half the cost of a flight.
We are using a very reputable Nepal-based tour company that I have used before. I’ve been negotiating with them and have managed to get the cost down substantially from my first estimate. The current estimated cost of this entire tour is about US$159/day/person or US$2,550 per person for the entire land portion only based on double occupancy. Your final cost will depend on how many people we will have, how much of the itinerary you include, and any extensions you might make. You’ll also need to arrange the follow transportation:
- Shanghai to Lhasa train trip, about US$250/person
- Roundtrip air to Paro, Bhutan, about US$450/person
- Open-jawed airfare from your U.S. city to Shanghai or Beijing and from Kathmandu back to the U.S., about US$1,500/person.
Our tour company may be able to help with the train and flight to Paro. If you can use award travel for the airfare, now would be a good time to use it. The entire trip paid without using award mileage, will be about US$4930/person, including your Chinese and Nepali visa, not including incidentals and tips. If you’re interested in joining us, check out our itinerary and get in touch with us soon, as we need to finalize our arrangements. Continue reading
Imagine my surprise when the tour company sent me an email where the first sentence began with, “Tibet is closed…” My first thought was scam, but I decided to do a little research and to my relief and disbelief, Tibet is indeed closed to foreign travelers EVERY year for the months of February and March. Really. This closure isn’t advertised, nor can you find it on any official websites. In fact, if you call and talk with someone at the Tibet Tourism Bureau, they’ll tell you that Tibet has never been closed to visitors.
A little background: The closure is a result of civil unrest that occurred in March 2008 when certain sensitive anniversaries are recognized. Specifically, Tibet Uprising Day occurs on March 10th to commemorate the armed uprising that occurred in March 1959. The uprising resulted in a violent crackdown in Lhasa and the Dalai Lama fleeing to India on March 30, 1959, where he has been in exile ever since. Because of these anniversaries, the Chinese government closes Tibet and I’m sure the official reason is for public safety. However, I suspect the government is also trying to give Tibetans less of an audience by keeping out anyone with a camera. Continue reading