Tag Archive for: Tibet

We admired breathtaking landscapes and met beautiful people during the 30 days that we spent in China till the day when we reached the other end of the Himalayas. And everything was left behind us, as we passed through the customs control at the Gyrong border and made our first steps into Nepal.

The Nepalese Visa

The visa for Nepal, at the time when we were there, in May 2018, was 25 USD for 15 days. We planned a longer stay, so we paid 40 each for the one month visa. A passport size picture was required for the visa application form and needed to be prepared before the arrival in Nepal as there was no option to make one at the border.

While the visa procedure went quite fast and easy, the custom control on the Nepalese side took a while. The emigration officers weren’t using any technical equipment for checking the luggage, so the whole process was done in the traditional way and their fingers went through every small corner of our backpacks. After packing and unpacking everything three times in a row, our carefully organized luggage looked totally messed up. But other members of our group had an even unpleasant experience. Their nicely wrapped presents for the loved ones at home had to be carefully inspected as well.

The long drive to Kathmandu

Not just the custom control happened to be different, but also the landscape changed dramatically. We climbed down the white mountains in Tibet and continued driving through deep green valleys, during a 13 hours long ride that ended in Kathmandu. Gigme, our Tibetan guide, organized a jeep transfer for all of us and doing so was probably the best option as organizing a spontaneous transfer would have been an impossible task.

Nepal is well known for its poor infrastructure and the earthquake that struck the country in 2015 made things even more difficult. One of the two main access gates from Tibet into Nepal, Zhangmu Port, is still dangerous to travel through and the one that we arrived at, Gyirong Port (Rasuwa Port on the Nepal Side), reopened only in August 2017.



While driving through these valleys was indeed beautiful and fascinating, most sections of the road were quite crowded and dangerous to drive on. If you are an adrenaline junkie, this might be a destination for you. But there are of course many other reasons to visit Nepal. The kindness of the people here will make you feel welcomed and the food will excite any traveler in search of exquisite flavors.

It was already dark when we finally saw the lights of Kathmandu. Busy, crowded and dusty streets formed an image that would continuously repeat itself during our whole stay in the country. A warm “Namaste” from our host made us feel happy again, knowing that we could finally enjoy a warm meal and a comfortable bed.

We wanted to start our experience in Nepal with a deeper look into the local lifestyle, which brought us at the Sunrise Farm in the Kathmandu Valley, where we did our second Workaway project.

Lhasa felt like an incredible place to be in, which we always wanted to discover. But exploring the ancient capital of Tibet was not the only big wish of ours. There was much more that we wanted to see and Lhasa happened to be just the start of our adventure in the Himalayas.

We wanted to cross from Tibet into Nepal and the best way to do so was by going over the mountains, following the approximately 800 km long “Highway of Friendship” that connects the capital of Tibet with the Nepalese border.



We already spent almost four days exploring the streets of Lhasa and learning about local traditions and how Buddhism shaped people’s beliefs and influenced their history.

On the fifth day after our arrival in Lhasa, we went to find out and understand more of what life feels like when surrounded by the highest mountains in the world. We discovered impressive landscapes at our arrival in Tibet, but the journey across the Plateau was about to surprise us with even more spectacular views.

The Tibetan Plateau

Our group left Lhasa early in the morning and we drove over the Gangbala Pass (4790 m) to the Yamdrok Lake. We continued along the lake’s side and stopped for a picture of the beautiful Mt. Naiqinkangsang reflecting in the clear waters of the lake. During our stay in Lhasa, the weather still felt warm, but at this point in the trip, we could already feel the cold winds and touch the snow.



While the highway across Tibet is the result of modern engineering, traditions and religion are also present for as far as the road is stretching. Praying flags can be seen everywhere, making it obvious that people’s beliefs are strong and their spirit still rules over these lands.

Two hours later we reached another important point, the Korola Glacier which we could admire from the roadside. It isn’t a big glacier but still an impressive one to admire as it climbs down the mountain at 300 m close to the viewpoint. Its white peak against the blue sky, overlooking the small stupa at the bottom and the yaks that roam freely in the surrounding valley offer a beautiful and typical Himalayan landscape.


Shigatse, home of the Panchen Lama

The road led us to Gyantse, where we could admire the beautiful fortress that resembles a smaller version of the Potala Palace.



As we were getting closer to the end of the day, we rushed to Shigatse, where we were the last ones to enter the Tashilhunpo Monastery. We considered ourselves blessed for having the chance to witness the chanting of the monks. The experience was truly impressive and the joy of being part of that religious ceremony was beyond words, as tourists are usually not allowed inside the monastery during these rituals.



At the end of the day, we were rewarded with a delicious Tibetan dinner and a good sleep, before the start of our most exciting day in Tibet.

The Himalayan Mountains in Tibet

The following morning we continued our ascension towards the Tsola Pass(4600 m) and later to the Gyatsola Pass(5248 m), arriving in the afternoon at the Kyawula Pass(5180 m) where we were rewarded with the most impressive view over the Himalayan Mountains. The most extraordinary of all, the Everest (or Qomolangma, as it is known to the Tibetan people), was eclipsed by heavy clouds but later in the evening, we would be offered another chance to admire its imposing presence.



A zigzag road brought us to the Everest Base Camp, at 5200m altitude. We left our backpacks in the room of the Rongbu Monastery Guesthouse, where we would spend the night, and climbed the hill that was separating us from the Base Camp, from where we watched the heavy clouds revealing the peak of the highest of the mountains of the world, the Everest. It has been such a spectacle, waiting in the cold for the mountain to reveal itself while the sun went down, leaving behind golden light traces over the peak.


Later we found shelter in the cave of the Rongbu Monastery, the highest monastery in the world, where we’ve been welcomed by two monks that gave us their blessing, before returning to the guesthouse as the night took over the entire valley.



The room at our accommodation was simple. There was no running water, no toilet (except the traditional squat toilet found in most places in Tibet, which is usually just a hole in the ground), no heating system… but it featured a Wi-Fi connection. There are also tents available at the Base Camp, that are being put up from April to November.

We kept the warm jackets on that night, hiding from the cold under a thick quilt. Temperatures at the base of Everest can easily drop under zero degrees even in summer, so it is wise to keep extra warm layers close by.

In the following morning, we found frost flowers on the windows, through which we could admire once again the Everest that was silently looking over the valley. It has been an experience full of beautiful and overwhelming emotions that we find hard to describe.


Our journey through Tibet continued towards the Ghungtang Lhamo (5236 m), along the Pekutso Lake, with a short stop to admire the Shishapangma Mountain and ended later in the afternoon at the Kyirong border.



It was the end of our 7th day in Tibet. We had the last dinner with our guide Jigme and went early to sleep, as in the following morning we would cross the border into Nepal and continue our trip towards another ancient capital of the world, Kathmandu.

See more pictures of our journey in Tibet by clicking here.

It was late in the afternoon when we left Xining behind, embarking on a 20 hours train ride to Lhasa, through the spectacular and wild landscapes of the Tibetan plateau. During old times, traveling to the “Roof of the World” was always a long journey, but after communist China took over these lands a massive project started being implemented across the vast plateau, including the construction of a highway that stretches all the way through the Himalayan Mountains till the border with Nepal.



The most convenient option among foreign visitors that travel from mainland China to Lhasa is the train, which reserves also more chances to admire the beautiful landscape offered by the tall white peaks of the mountains.

Tibet Travel Permit

An important detail to mention about visiting Tibet is that foreign visitors are not allowed into the plateau if they are not part of a tour. Special permits have to be organized at least 20 days in advance by the mountaineering association in Tibet and a guide must accompany visitors in every day of their stay. For the ones that plan to visit only Lhasa, they can explore the streets of the city outside the tour’s schedule, as long as they don’t leave Lhasa.

We contacted a Tibetan agency right after our arrival in Hong Kong when we were told that our stay in China would be limited to 30 days. Being on the roof of the world was a dream that came true (and I guess that whoever watched the movie “Seven Years in Tibet” felt a desire to experience one day being in this place themselves). Miriam’s enthusiasm was as big as mine when we started planning our trip to Lhasa. Once we got the confirmation from the agency, we booked our train tickets (which sell out fast, so book in advance!) and planned the rest of our trip through China.

The train across the Himalayan Mountains

Three weeks later we boarded a very crowded overnight train from Xining, where we spent two days in order to acclimatize easier to the high altitudes once we would arrive in the Himalayas. We found only standard hard seats on the train because all sleepers were already booked, so we joined other passengers in a carriage more crowded with luggage than with people. It felt like one of the longest rides we ever experienced due to the lack of comfort, but we had many chances to forget about it whenever the view out of the window was able to catch our attention.

We crossed a gigantic sea of sand in which a few little traditional Tibetan houses were the only proof that once humanity took over these mountains. Thousands of yaks (large domesticated wild oxen with shaggy hair) were also part of the landscape. We found out later how much these animals are integrated into the Tibetan tradition and lifestyle.



The sunrise in the morning prior to our arrival was extremely beautiful when the light reflection in one of the lakes brought the shapes of the mountains to life and revealed spots of color in this apparently infinite valley. Each hour that brought us closer to Lhasa lifted up our excitement and the impression when we arrived met all our expectations about how the city would feel like.

We received a copy of our permits for Tibet via email from the agency that we booked the tour with. It is important to keep a copy of it as the ticket for the train to Lhasa cannot be obtained without. The same rule applies at the arrival, where Chinese authorities will collect passports in order to verify that all visitors are in the possession of a valid permit.

Lhasa – the ancient city

Outside the station our guide welcomed us in the typical Tibetan way, offering us traditional ceremonial scarfs, called khatas. Tibetan khatas are usually white and made out of silk. The white color symbolizes purity and compassion of the giver, but yellow-golden scarves are also used. The guide drove us to our accommodation, a beautiful hotel in the old town of Lhasa.

After the Chinese invaded the Tibetan territories in 1949 and later officially integrated them as part of the newly declared People’s Republic of China, Tibet went through major changes starting from the years when the Chinese Cultural Revolution took place till recent times. Modern buildings brought contrast in the architecture of the ancient plateau and foreign brands found their way into the local stores.



The western part of Lhasa is inhabited mostly by Chinese Han people and it is more modern and busy. The old town of Lhasa instead is still profoundly traditional and its architecture continues to reflect the authenticity of the Tibetan lifestyle and the impact of the Buddhist religion on the history and social development of these lands.

The location of our hotel allowed us to lose ourselves on the narrow streets of this ancient labyrinth of tiny houses and temples. While the day of our arrival felt still challenging from the perspective of our efforts to adapt to the new altitude, soon after we were able to explore the neighborhood and understand the particularities of life in the capital of Tibet.

Religion and tradition

From all factors, religion had probably the strongest impact on the way people lived their lives over the centuries. After the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the destruction of more than 6000 monasteries, the religion has been constantly under threat for many years. But nowadays, despite the tumultuous events of the past decades, Buddhism and Tibetan tradition continue to be strong and evident. Tibetans are still proudly wearing their traditional clothes while walking on the crowded streets or while engaging in koras (a type of pilgrimage consisting of a clockwise circumambulation of sacred sites or objects).



The streets were filled with fruits and vegetables stands, butcheries serving yak meat and restaurants inviting passers-by to try the local food and a cup of delicious butter tea.


It all felt like suddenly traveling back in time and life seemed peaceful and beautiful. But the appearance is not reflecting the whole truth about the situation in Tibet. The constant presence of Chinese soldiers shows that tensions still exist. Though, politics remains a taboo subject and tourists are advised to temper their curiosity when engaging in sensitive conversations.


The Drepung and Sera monasteries

It was only the third day of our stay in Lhasa when our guide picked us up from the hotel. The first day is usually reserved for acclimatizing to the high altitude. It is also advised not to take any shower on the first day due to the risk of dehydration. Instead, plenty of water should be consumed, as well as fruits to supply the body with necessary vitamins. Another problem of being at high altitudes is the thin air that might make breathing harder, but oxygen supplies are usually available.

We were a group of 8 people sharing a minivan that brought us around Lhasa, guided by Jigme, our wonderful guide from Tibet Vista. The first stop of the trip was the Drepung Monastery, the largest in Tibet. Apart from a beautiful view over the entire city and a chance to explore the interiors, including their gigantic kitchen, the Monastery offers a deeper understating of religious practices and traditions. And there is no other better way to understand Tibetan Buddhism than by watching monks debating, which is what we did later in the courtyard of the Sera Monastery. The experience was unique and, luckily for us, visitors were allowed to witness it.


We’ve also seen the largest wall painting of Buddha and detailed sand mandalas and we visited a religious text printing house.



The day ended back at the hotel, where we all ate dinner together and had a chance to get to know each other better. The oldest member of our group was Margrit, an adventurous lady that, despite being in her 80s, still ventures out to explore the world.

The Potala Palace

The next day our guide led us on the streets of old Lhasa, to see pilgrims on the Barkhor Street and prayers spinning wheels on a circuit around the Jokhang temple. The afternoon was reserved for visiting the most important landmark in Tibet, the famous Potala Palace. Beautiful and impressive from the outside, the former home of the Dalai Lama hides ancient scripts and secrets, together with magnificent Stupas that are hosting the mummified bodies of some of the previous Dalai Lamas. The most famous is the one of the 13th Dalai Lama, containing more than 590 kilograms of gold and being embedded with 100,000 pearls and precious stones.

The palace has more than 1000 rooms, but only a few are open to tourists and pilgrims. Taking pictures is not allowed inside the palace or any of the monasteries. After a late lunch, we went to the park of “Tibet Peaceful Liberation Monument” (the name does not really describe the real historic facts), located in front of the Potala Palace, from where we could witness the sunset over its mysterious walls.


We walked back to the hotel for our last dinner, before getting ready to say goodbye to Lhasa. The following days would take us on top of the Himalayan Mountains, through the wildest and the most spectacular landscapes of the Tibetan Plateau. Read more about it here.

China has some of the fastest trains in the world, like the one that brought us from Beijing to Xi’an. While Xi’an is an important stop on every traveler’s map through China and therefore needs time to be explored and discovered, we had only one day to spend there. We choose to do so after previously excluding Xi’an from our plan and deciding later that at least a bit of time should be reserved for the ancient capital of China. So we changed our train ticket for an experience that we wish now could have been longer.


Xi’an – beautiful and diverse

The city has a strong and pleasant international vibe, with French bakeries, a German beer garden, diverse Asian restaurants and a huge Muslim market, all surrounded by the ancient walls of an old fortress. Outside these walls is the new part of the city with its modern architecture.

Our accommodation was beautifully placed inside the walls, featuring a bar, a restaurant and a terrace where guests could relax and enjoy a refreshing drink.

We decided to don’t waste time and see as many touristic attractions as we could. So, after a delicious lunch in the city, we got lost in the immense Muslim Quarter and tasted different street food. A short distance walk from there brought us to the Bell Tower.


We were happy that the weather was again on our side, but two hours later we decided to return to the hostel as the sun felt too strong and made the walk less pleasant. So we made it more enjoyable by having a cold drink on the terrace of our accommodation and planned to continue our walk through the city later in the evening.


We found Xi’an to be more beautiful as the sun went down when the dominating red color of the surrounding walls and of the buildings looked much brighter.


The ancient walls

The sunset found us on the ancient walls that enclose the old city. You can access the top part of it after paying an entrance fee of 45 Chinese Yuan. Apart from enjoying the panoramic view over the old and the new parts of the city, visitors can just walk on the almost 14 km long wall or rent a bike to go around. Sometimes also dance and music shows are available at the South Gate for those seeking for more entertainment.


Soon after sunset, we continued our walk in the modern neighborhood, admiring the lights that were turned on everywhere, transforming the fortress and the rest of the city in an explosion of color.

Highlights of Xi’an

One of the attractions that make Xi’an such an important touristic destination is the museum of the famous terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. The emperor ordered to be buried together with the terracotta soldiers in order to protect him in the afterlife. For us, it has been just an option that we had to give up, as we wanted to see more of the city and the remaining time didn’t allow us to visit any other attraction.

On the way to Tibet

And so we left one more city behind and took the train to Xining, where we planned to spend the following two days. The reason why we reserved more time for Xining than for Xi’an is not that we found the first to be more interesting. In fact, we were surprised how little Xining has to offer in terms of touristic attractions. But what made it important for us were the elevation of 2275 matters of the city and the fact that Xining is one of the access points to the Tibetan plateau and one of the stops for the train that connects several big cities in mainland China with Lhasa. When we planned our trip to the roof of the world we’ve been warned about the altitude sickness that we might experience in the Himalayas and therefore decided to spend the two days in Xining in order to be able to acclimatize faster and easier once we would reach Lhasa.


While many people arrive in Tibet by plane, the sudden change of altitude makes it harder for them to adapt to the new conditions, which might affect the enjoyment of the first days.

We recommend traveling to mainland China and after taking a train to the higher placed cities or just book a longer stay in Lhasa in order to acclimatize. We experienced difficulties despite the long journey that we planned into Tibet and the constant change of altitude. Medicine or oxygen supplies would help control the altitude sickness, but we think it is important to adapt to it naturally.

Read more about our journey into Tibet by clicking here.