Last Updated on March 5, 2021 by Natalie Rabinowitz
Tibet is a unique experience. You will meet genuine, friendly, and smiling Tibetans in awe of Western foreigners because of our appearance. Humble and living in poverty, yet true to their history and culture, I was honoured to be surrounded by Tibetans.
I had attempted to visit Tibet in 2004. Unfortunately, political turmoil cancelled the trip at the last minute. I quickly changed my trip to Bhutan; to be reminisced about at another time. The second time around, I was in luck. However, I was not 100% certain until I was on the plane, leaving Chengdu, China and could see Mt. Everest approaching that I was finally on my way to experience Tibet.
It is essential to know that you cannot just go to Tibet and wander. A guide is required. There are permits and visa preparation, along with documentation needed and plenty of military checkpoints once you arrive. As a tour is needed, I worked with local tour operator Explore Tibet. Highly recommend them as they are a local Tibetan outfitter.
I planned my trip for the October off-season as I wanted to avoid the mass amount of climbers and congestion at Base Camp Everest. The process to get visas and documentation with all the red tape was gruelling. A mind-bending process that leaves you scratching your head. (Feel free to message me if you are looking to go to Tibet and need insight into the process).
Know Before you Go
Tibet is not for the light-hearted. The terrain is rugged, and accommodations can be rustic. Expect to stay in lodgings where there is no central heat. Sometimes, hot water bottles for warmth when you crawl into bed fully clothed. The hotels we did stay in (built for the Western traveller) did have ensuite bathrooms and heat when working. At the same time, we did experience some blackouts.
Outside of hotels, dwellings have no conventional plumbing and toilets are a hole dug in the ground. Regardless, the best was outside, behind an outhouse, overlooking the expanse mountain range of Mount Everest.
Tibet is at a high altitude elevation of about 14,370 feet (4,380 meters) above sea level. Unless you have high altitude medication, you will be dealing with constant throbbing migraines. You will also need tablets for motion sickness as there are many switchbacks as the roads weave quite a bit.
To support the local Tibetans, we only shopped and ate in locally run Tibetan businesses. Filling meals cost under £8/day. Usually consisted of egg fried rice, noodles, veggies (also eaten at breakfast), mutton or yak served with veggies or soup. Popular is the salty Yak butter tea. A little intense and overwhelming for my taste.
We visited an abundance of temples, historical sites, and landscapes throughout the country. The highlight for me was Potala Palace, one of the most remarkable architectural landmarks to see up close and personal. We were fortunate to be granted access after waiting for our allotted slot.
OM at Base Camp Everest
Our group did not climb Everest and had no interest, even though I am a hiker. We stayed at the Rongbuk Monastery 2.5 miles (4 km) south of Base Camp Everest because it was off-season. About a thirty-minute drive took us two hours to walk, with the altitude being 16,404 feet (5,000 meters). Unbelievable experience.
There were nine of us in a tight room. No heat and piles and piles of heavy wool blankets. No running water. Our heat was hot water-filled into water bottles and stuffed into our sleeping bags when ready for bed. The only thing I removed before crawling into my sleeping bag where my boots! It was cold! A blistering one degrees Fahrenheit cold! (-17.2 Celcius) and worth the experience, yes! It is amazing how we take everything for granted, while this is every day typical for Tibetans.
So Long, Farewell
I could say so much more but prefer to keep particular views to myself and shared privately amongst friends. Be prepared for many security checkpoints as movement is restricted. But you can freely walk around Llasa and other villages such as Kyirong. Be ready to meet some of the humblest Tibetans, and please support local Tibetan businesses if you go.
The trip ended at the border Sumo-Nepal Friendship Bridge. We had to apply for a Nepalese visa, which seemed like a shady deal but all legit. We then rented a jeep with a driver that cost $250, which we paid in four currencies. It took 8 hours to drive 81 miles (130 km) due to the archaic roads or lack of a decent road! Another good reason to travel off-season as I could not imagine the horrific traffic. The road was so bumpy that my FitBit calculated 27,270 steps! The temperature changed to a balmy mid-70s degree, and we could hear crickets. With many security yet friendly checkpoints along the way, we arrived in Kathmandu.
Would I recommend going to Tibet? Absolutely! It humbles you and opens up your eyes to gratitude.