Alison takes us back to her very first trip in her ’40 countries in my 40s challenge’. She posted it on her new blog ’40countriesinmy40s.home.blog’ and we wanted to also post it on here as a lot of you have followed the journeys she shared on here already. We hope you enjoy it.
Tibet is a country I had wanted to visit for years, however as the years went by and I still hadn’t had the money or time to go, I realised I had to set it as a landmark trip in order to make sure I would go. So, it became my 40th birthday treat to myself and also marked my 40 countries in my 40s challenge in a big way. Tibet was everything I thought it would be and much much more and I certainly fell in love with it during the time I had there.
When I talked about Tibet in the past, people would always ask me ‘why Tibet?’ and to be honest I can’t remember what first attracted me to the country or even how or when I first heard about it. Perhaps it was Buddhism which introduced me to it, or a film or a book or its proximity to the Himalayas and Mount Everest. Even 5 years on, I have no idea what got me wanting to go there, I’m just grateful something did and I started a journey which still effects my life today.
In order to go to Tibet, it is necessary to find a time when China hasn’t closed its doors which happens at certain times as their way of restricting protests about their invasion. Whilst I was in Nepal in 2011 for 2 months, Tibet was open during those 2 months but soon closed to visitors of certain nationalities on my return to the UK and I kicked myself for not going during those 2 months. Rather than dampen my desire to visit, these closures made me want to go more as Tibet became more of a mystical country to me.
In 2014, I found myself checking out the possible ways into Tibet and I couldn’t let it go. Not being a fan of China, it was difficult to accept that it would be necessary to travel to and through China to get to Tibet. 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 finding out that the only way to get to Tibet would be to get through on a group visa so I would have to travel with other people and it was easier to do that by signing up to an official tour. As I was determined to go, 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.
The tours offered me were one which would have me travel on the fast train from Beijing to Lhasa. This appealed and sounded very adventurous, however I heeded the advice to perhaps think of a more reasonable way of increasing the altitude bit by bit rather than arriving too quickly in Lhasa and be ill from altitude sickness. The tour would also take tourists into Nepal which certainly appealed as it would mean I could be in Nepal again and visit friends and those who had become family to me during 2011 and 2013. In the end, I decided that as I had just left Nepal in January 2014 after having spent a year there, it didn’t feel right to spend money on places I had already visited at no doubt a much cheaper price during 2013.
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 mean spending time in China with an increase in altitude at every stop so that my body could 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 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. After having been to base camp in the day, as I lay my head on the pillow that night, 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 completely blew me away in its 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 as they have been exiled and still can’t return.
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. I haven’t been back yet, however it is still a wish of mine to return and walk around Mount Kailash which I know attracts many who wish to cleanse themselves of any negativity and go 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 although I have no idea if it still exists in the same format or if it has become a different trip. I went with a Wendy Wu tour as it was my present to myself for my 40th birthday so I wanted it to be special. It started from Kunming through, Dali, Lijiang, Zhongdian, lhasa, Shigatse, New Tingri, we went to Mount Everest base camp, 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.