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TIBET – adventure on the top of the world (part 1/5)

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Wouldn’t it be so cool to travel to Tibet in March, right on my birthday? That’s what I asked myself one day. And I slept on this idea for some time, until, one day, in the last possible moment, I decided to buy the tickets. However I did not get to enjoy the tickets I had bought that the bomb dropped: TIBET IS CLOSED for tourists for the entire month of March. What ?! Just like that ! Closed, locked on the door, barriers down, no entrance sign, all that. What’s not to understand?

I read the Internet up and down, left to right 100 times, maybe, just maybe I can find a hitch. Nothing. Closed. Bye-bye! The only month of the entire year when no tourist is let in is, what do you know, March! The Tibetan New Year, that would be the reason. (I found out later there were other reasons too… I will tell you about them) So my birthday in China, and no Tibet? No way!

I moved the return home three days later to be able to see Tibet at the beginning of April, when they open the gates. Then I applied for the permit given by the Governmental Tourism Bureau. And then I wait. And I wait… I get the permit only two days before my flight to Lhasa, while in China, with the entire trip paid in advance.

(To be perfectly honest: the books you see here I have bought after my return from Tibet and I haven't yet read them all…)
(To be perfectly honest: the books you see here I have bought after my return from Tibet and I haven’t yet read them all…)

The emotion of the trip to Tibet started long before leaving. I had found out from various sources what awaits me there: lack of oxygen, mountain sickness, something I hear for the first time exists (it only appears at altitudes over 3,000 meters), headaches, nausea, vomiting your stomach out, increased heart rhythm, shaking, being like a cloth basically, the risk to develop pulmonary edema, cerebral edema, the risk to die… My God, enough with the good news !

I get a guideline for Tibet. I read that I don’t have to have a huge practice to get there, but I should have climbed the national mountains a few times, in order to get used to the altitude, I should have been a regular at the gym… I am not it ! I am no good ! But I have already made the decision.

I found out that there is only one medicine good for the altitude sickness and I start looking for it in the Romanian pharmacies. I find something different, with the same active substance, I take two boxes and I think I am ok. A pharmacist with experience in climbing on the mountains tells me to buy glucose from the supermarket… You know, the very firm one, that could break your head ! I take three, to be on the safe side.

USEFUL ADVICE AND INTERDICTIONS!

The Travel Guideline gives me a lot of good information about Tibet, what to do, things to do, tips and tricks: from what clothes to pack, to how much money I can get from the ATM machine one day, from the traditional food to – Mladin, take your solar protection cream, because the radiations are very strong there (the city is also called Sunlight City), from how I should behave to how to respect the Tibetans customs and traditions.

Cautions! I am not allowed to debate and political matters with the guide or with people there, because the guide could lose his job and his agency can be closed if I do so. I am not to hug or kiss anyone in public places, I am not to pat children on their heads, I am not to point the finger at anything, I can only point… my entire hand. And some other things like that.

With fear (even panic sometimes), here I go! The adventure “Tibet on my birthday” starts, with a delay… The first day I can go into Tibet: April 1st.

SOME DATA ABOUT MY JOURNEY:

  • my route: Bucharest-Doha-Beijing. With qatarairways, round trip ticket about 500 euros. Mini-vacation in Beijing, then the route Beijing-Shanghai in a high-speed train. Mini-vacation in Shanghai. Then Shanghai-Lhasa, with a change of planes halfway (two flights of about 2 and a half hours each). This ticket is expensive, man, about 1,000 Euros! Bought last minute, that is true.
  • 5-day trip to Tibet, with private guide – $ 1,175.

On the way to Tibet, I am a blonde ET in a plane full of Chinese people. I am like the black sheep… Sorry, the blonde one ! I am trying to control my chronic fear of flying. Don’t these people ever switch off the seatbelt sign ? You are not allowed to stand in the lane. You can only take things from your bag or go to the toilet. That’s it!

Suddenly they tell us that we are entering a turbulence area. I am in panic, like always. And, like always, I am trying to catch the eye of a flight attendant, to calm down. But… I am in shock! The flight attendants SLEEP! What??? Yeap, the sleep in their seats on a less than three hours flight. I look in front and towards the back. The both flight attendants I see sleep. Without any shame! Neither the signal for the announcement, not the announcement itself wake them up.

The strangest sensation ever! We land in Lhasa, I take my backpack and I get off the plane. I hardy make two steps on the corridor between the plane and the airport and I feel dizzy. In a second I am dizzy. I feel weak in my knees and I realize I have to take it slowly. I walk very slow… I am afraid. Other tourists tell me they feel the same. The cause? The sudden lack of oxygen. We took off at sea level and we landed at 3,700 meters.

Terribly tired after a sleepless night and two flights, I get out of the airport and I look at the perfectly aligned line of guides awaiting for their clients. I see my name on the card of a young man. We say “hello” to one another and he puts a white scarf on my neck. Then he says: “Dashi Delek!”

Later, I asked him about this, as I saw it everywhere, especially in temples. This is their way of saying “Hello!”, “Good luck!”, to give offerings in a temple, this is a wedding greeting and so on. It is sort of a proof that their soul is open, clean, full of good intentions and with all the best thoughts towards you. That is why it is white. (There are other which are colored, but those carry a religious significance, as far as I understood. My guide, who is a Tibetan heart and soul, is a bit angry at the Chinese guides who give the tourists yellow scarves, simply because they look colorful and happy…)

I get to the most colorful and rigged out hotel I have ever stayed in! I smell that will accompany me for the next five days in Tibet greets me here. It is different from that of the incense burners in the temples in Beijing and Shanghai. It is a smell of burned aromatic herbs that is impregnated in the entire city…

I usually don’t drink water. Yes, I know this is not ok. But I don’t… Believe me, here I drank plenty of water OUT OF FEAR! They told me that dehydration increases the risk of altitude sickness, so I have to drink water. I drank more water the first day here than during an entire month elsewhere! I remembered the glucose from Romania. So, first some water, then some glucose, just to make sure I won’t faint. But this is the sensation one has…

OUT IN THE WORLD – LHASA…

Landing suddenly at such an altitude (Lhasa is at 3,600 meters and the airport is even higher!), the body reacts in a strange way and the brains is in panic… I am told that I have to walk very slowly. I walk in slow motion, really… You cannot do it any other way. You get tired instantly.

Step by step, slowly, I start walking around the hotel, on the main street in the old town. Low buildings with strange windows, horns everywhere, warehouses like in a very poor market area back home, that is covers an entire street, interesting people that I try to photograph discreetly and me… a kind of Vader, the one who can hardly breathe. 🙂

I am out hunting Tibetans. 🙂

I am fascinated by the way they look and dress.

I see them in a second, they are completely different from the Chinese people. Do you know what they look like to me? Native Americans.

Tibet has a population of 6 million people, out of which only 3 million live here, as the others have run away… (I was told that in Europe there are a lot of Tibetan masters).

I admire the very long hair of some of them adorned with spectacular beads jewelry, I see tens of people with masks on their mouths and noses and I will only understand later that these people don’t have any cold… I notice some very strange clothes, cut on an angle, so that one arm stays out. I ask about the “fashion”. It has a practical purpose: they need freedom of movement, so that they can work with that hand in the household or tending the animals…

The Tibetan architecture… In the old town, on one of their most important streets, always full of pilgrims – Barkhor.

On the buildings I see two types of flags: the Tibetan ones, for prayer, on the roof, and the Chinese ones on the lower side… I will find out very interesting things about the prayer flags!

The fact that they wash the Pampers and let it dry in order to use it again I think says a lot about the standard of living here. 

TIMES SQUARE in Tibet! It really exists! With a kind of a mall where not all Tibetans can go. (I went in for just a minute. It was full of Chinese people.) My guide shows me the balcony over the entrance and tells me that there is where the rich people drink coffee and do business… For him the place is pure luxury.

Believe me, this sign is just for fun. On all the streets in Lhasa everybody uses the horn a lot!!! It’s unimaginable! Not one second passes without a horn being heard. These people honk when it is the red light, when it turns green, when they turn left or right, when they pass another car, they honk at all the crosswalks and, by the way, here, you don’t have priority as a pedestrian!!! Never mind there is a panda crossing there, you have to learn how to cross the street avoiding cars, trucks, rickshaws and bicycles. It is total madness…

I have never anywhere in the world seen as many policemen as here! In the squares, at each street corner, even in the middle of a boulevard, there’s a small police post, with a pole on which is written 110,  their emergency number.

I was not allowed to photograph this. It is forbidden to photograph military men, policemen, police posts and so on. I was told from the very beginning. However I took a picture, because I found out a funny story: a policeman who was on duty near a crosswalk, where he was supposed to organize the crossing of the street at a rush hour, was permanently pushed by the masses of people in the middle of the street. The poor people were in a hurry and they just wanted to cross the street sooner. The policeman sent in front of the cars by the crowd tells them nervously: “Stop it, stop pushing me ! I don’t want to cross the street !”

TIBETAN FOOD – LET US EAT SOMETHING…

I repeat to myself and try to apply the advise I got: eat slowly, don’t eat meat, walk very slowly, drink lots of water, plenty of rest, use more pillows that usual, so that the head is way above the rest of the body and don’t take a hot shower in order not to dehydrate. What ? After 12 hours of flying?

I drink this warm concoction and I really try not to think about the cold shower…

This is the place of my first lunch in Tibet. It’s in a shady restaurant where I would have never stopped by myself out of fear. This is sort of a pub where the local people eat, the so called Tea House. The guide took me there. It is a worn out place, with a view to an interior yard where poverty is hanging on the ropes, with a suspect smell BUT with a very good food !!! And with thermos bottles full of a tea that is always present on the table of the Tibetans – sweet tea – milk + black tea + sugar.

I trusted the guide’s choices, so I got a plate full of boiled rice over which there are some very soft fries and green onion and for this I get some cutlery – a teaspoon ! And next to the plate there’s a bowl with chili in case I really want my mouth to catch fire. You might laugh, however the combination way tasty.

After such a lunch… nature calls☺))

What can you do when you go into a toilet that has two open places?? That is two persons can use the toilet at the same time, in an area without any doors??

I was lucky nobody came when I was there. I had the privacy of a toilet in which I could barely stay and where there was no toilet paper whatsoever!

In another toilet like this, from a different place, I literally thought I would fall into a ravine, as the hole was huge. Really! Not even in the countryside, in my grandmother’s house, I haven’t seen such a hole…

But this is nothing compared to what I am about to find out during one of the trips in the program.

By myself in a restaurant recommended by the lady at the reception, I try, apart from a tomato soup with a very Indian taste, two traditional dishes: yak momos (some sort of donuts filled with yak meat) and a butter tea. It is a tea made of butter, tea leaves and salt.

In the evening, by the Potala Palace, in a square in which there is a huge Chinese flag, I remember something cool… China is so wide, that they should have 5 or even 6 time zones. But because there would have been very difficult with 6 different time zones in one country, they decided that everybody will have the Beijing time. At least officially.

I go by Beijing time and go to sleep… I ask myself how the hell can I be sure I will be able to breathe the entire night? 🙂

What if I don’t have oxygen all of a sudden? Right… How can I sleep after having just thought that?

TIBET – ADVENTURE ON THE TOP OF THE WORLD

PART 1/5

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