Everybody knows about Tibet, but there are not so many people who actually go there. Tibet is one of the most famous and holy places in the world. The region is so mystical extraordinarily intriguing with distinct culture and religion.
There are different ways to get there, like with a not so long flight from almost every big city in China, but who will want to take the plane when there are more fun and adventurist way to get to Tiber? Like, The Qinghai–Tibet railway, which is the first railroad to Tibet and claims many proud world records. It is the highest railway line in the world, with 960 km of its railway lying at 4000 meters above sea level. The rail line traverses some amazing landscapes, like Qinghai Lake, Qarhan Salt Lake, Kunlun Mountains, Hoh xil area.
Impressive, yeah? It was a really fun 24-hour trip, especially when my best friend and my son kept me company. We took the train from Xining to the capital of Tibet – Lhasa with a bag full of dried yak meat and Chines vodka, which is a really strong drink, and don’t worry my son is old enough to handle it. So as you can imagine this trip was far away from boring.
Lhasa – The Land of Gods
So we arrived at the capital and largest city in Tibet – Lhasa, whose name means ‘the Land of Gods’ in Tibetan. The city has an elevation of about 3,600 m and the air only contains 68% of oxygen compared to sea level. That’s why the locals have this belief, that when people arrive there, they should not take a shower for at least 24 hours to protect the body from high altitude (mountain) illness. Yeah, but that’s advice is hard to follow when you just spend 24 hours in a train cubicle. So as you can guess after a day or two we had an unpleasant headache.
Our first days in Lhasa we spent exploring the city and the culture. This is one of the best places in the world to experience the home of Buddhism. Lhasa is world-famous for its sites of historical interest related to Buddhism, such as the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, and more. The Tibetan ethnic group have a long history in this region and rich culture to go with it.
When in Tibet the spirituality is in every little street, monastery and land. One of the marvellous places to visit when you are Lhasa is Namtso Lake. Namtso Lake means ‘the holy lake’ in the Tibetan language. It covers a total area of more than 1,900 square kilometres, is the second-largest salt lake in China. At an elevation of 4,718 meters, it is also the highest altitude salt lake in the world. Along the circle path to the lakeside, we saw the Yingbin Stone. Countless long plat flags falling down from the top of the hill decorate the stone colourfully. Yingbin Stone is called Namco’s door-god. According to legend, Namsto is a goddess in charge of the wealth of grassland in northern Tibet.
Shigatse (Xigaze) or the manor of the most fertile soil
Shigatse, one of the most attractive tourist resorts in Tibet, is ranked as the second biggest and the only county-level city in Tibet. This ancient city has a history of nearly 600 years. It is named Xikasangzhuzi in Tibetan, and Xikazi for short, which stands for “a manor of the most fertile soil”, and it is transliterated into Chinese as ‘shigatse’. Xigazê has been designated by the national government as one of China’s historical and cultural cities. The Tashilhunpo is one of the largest monasteries in Tibet. It and other monasteries and cultural sites in and around the city attract many tourists every year. In addition, Xigazê is on the northern access route to the Mount Everest (Qomolangma) region.
The road to Everest
Our first days in Tibet were filled with culture, spirituality and sinking into the regional traditions. But the fun part of our trip was yet to come. Reaching near to Everest Base Camp was our next goal. The iconic Everest Base Camp leads you through the Khumbu Valley, allowing you to experience the immense beauty of the surrounding Sagarmatha National Park while simultaneously providing breath-taking vistas of 4 of the 6 highest peaks in the world. We were prepared for a hard climbing and challenging weather conditions, but we were really surprised when this fancy van arrived to take us to the top. Thanks to this nicely paved road to the base camp, we were able to go to the top with a driver and enjoy the amazing region from the window of our comfortable ride. We had the chance to see everything from Shisha Pangma to Cho Oyu, Everest, Makalu, and Lhotse.
I would like to add here that this way to the Base Camp is for people who are not real alpinists and professional hikers. This road makes for regular people and tourist to take a peek at Everest. Which was very convenient for someone like me who is far from being an alpinist and the same want to get a little sense of what it’s like to be on the top of the world. Or at least near to it.
As a tourist attraction, it’s one of the coolest roads we’ve seen anywhere on the planet. The completed road is just one of the many recent China-led developments that are widening the disparity of experience between climbing Everest from the north versus the south. The trip to the Base Camp took us around 6-8 hours. We passed the famous Gawula Pass, which were the perfect place to have a panoramic view of Mount Everest and its high peak neighbours across the magnificent Himalayans. Actually our first intention for this trip was to cross the Himalayans like Indiana Jones, but unfortunately, the road was in construction. What a bummer!
When we got there the real adventure began. To stay the night, there are 2 options one of which is a tent or a something like it and there aren’t privet rooms, everyone is sleeping at this huge tend. The other place it’s called Guest House, and you can book a privet room. It’s the most “luxury” to stay in these conditions. There are several traditional yak wool tents, without doubt, all are basic, but have enough blankets and offer boiled drinks and simple Tibetan and Western food.
Staying near to Everest Base Camp was certainly a golden opportunity to us to appreciate the snow-capped and mighty Mount Everest at closest range possible for us. Owing to a high altitude of 5200 meters above sea level, it is quite challenging to sleep at these guest houses, the air is too thin to result in the risk of altitude sickness. Which we had of course, but this is the small price that we had to pay for this unforgettable lifetime experience.
Tibetian foodie story
Let me finish my Tibetan story with something delicious, or in other words to tell you something about the food there. The most traditional dish is momo. This is a type of steamed dumpling with some form of filling. The dish is believed to be of Tibetan origin and since then has spread to neighbouring countries. Traditionally, momo is prepared with ground/minced meat filling, but over the past several years, this has changed and the fillings have become more elaborate, like any combination of ground meat, vegetables, tofu, paneer cheese, soft chhurpi (local hard cheese) and vegetable and meat combinations. Another delicious dish is the Tibetan noodles, which are like spaghetti and usually are served with simple vegetable, diced beef, chopped scallions in the brews. The most typical drink there is the tea, but this is not an ordinary tea. It’s called Butter tea, also known as ‘po cha’. Traditionally, it is made from tea leaves, yak butter, water, and salt, although butter made from cow’s milk is increasingly used, given its wider availability and lower cost. It’s a really tasty drink.
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