Traveling to Tibet has been a dream of mine since I first read a travel book about it in my elementary school library. However, you can’t just stroll out of the Lhasa airport and start exploring Tibet. The Tibetan Autonomous Region is controlled by China and you need a permit from the Chinese government to visit the area and for many people, that means signing up with a tour company that can arrange getting the permit for you.
I went on a four day tour of Lhasa with Tibet Vista. Two couples were in the same group as me, one from the United States and one from Austria. Our guide was a mischievous and kind man who was born and raised in Lhasa.
I flew to Lhasa from Chengdu. Taking the train from Chengdu to Lhasa is a popular option, but it also takes 42 hours. I didn’t have the extra hours to take the the train this time, I’ll have to save it for a future trip.
Once you drive through the mountains from the airport, it takes about an hour to get to the actual city. The newer developments surround the old city. The first things you see are the apartment blocks, shopping malls, and manicured parks. I stayed at a hotel in the old part of the city where most of the buildings didn’t go higher than four stories.
Lhasa is also about 3,600 meters above sea level (11,800 feet). I was very fortunate to not feel any kind of altitude sickness. I don’t know if it was luck or just all the water I was drinking but I did see people holding their heads in pain and wheezing when going up stairs. I also had a cup of “altitude relaxation” tea on my first day there. I don’t know what properties made it good for the altitude, it could have just been a ploy for a clueless tourist like me to buy a drink.
The sky was blue and the air was clean and the mountains stopped me in my tracks and made my jaw drop constantly. I will have several posts soon of all the monasteries, temples, and neighborhoods I explored.