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TIBET - Peter M. Geiser's Hotel and Travel Guide

Mystical land, Shangrila, Forbidden Country: Tibet has many names and
inspires an air of mystical dreams. However, Tibet is real and a
beautiful place to travel. World monuments like the famous Potala in
Lhasa and temples in Shigatse and Gyangtse testify of a high culture,
while beautiful landscape inspire for treks. For pilgrims from many
religions there are sacred places like Mount Kailas.

Check out these exciting China tour packages at
or plan your own China trip at

 Mount Kailas


General Overview
 Geographical Information
 Border Crossing
 Internet Access


TIBET - Peter M. Geiser's Hotel and Travel Guide

Copyright (c) 1995 - 2004, Peter M. Geiser



Once the center of Tibetan wool trade, it is now a pretty market town
in a fertile valley.


The Kumbum
The Kumbum is Tibet's largest and probably most magnificient stupa.


The Gyangtse Guest House is pleasantly arranged around a Tibetan-style



Situated 3683 m above sea level, Lhasa has long been the political and
spiritual capital of Tibet. Its main attraction is of course the huge
Potala Palace. Another must are the Jokhang Temple and the Norbu


Potala Palace
Built in the 17th century, the Potala is one of the architectural
wonders of the world, containing thousands of rooms. It stands at the
site of older structures, dating back another thousand years. In the
center is the older, red palace, surrounded by the large white palce.
The Potala was started by the 5th Dalai Lama, who died before it was
completed; a fact that was hidden from the people. Before the Chinese
occupation it was the center of the Tibetan government and the winter
residence of the Dalai Lama.
The view from the roof over Lhasa, the valley and to the mountains is
just spectacular.

Jokhang Temple
One of Tibet's holiest shrines, it was built some 1300 years ago in
celebration of the marriage of the Tang princess Wen Cheng and King
Songtsen Gampo. It houses a golden statue of the Buddha Sukyiamuni
brought by the princess.

Norbu Lingka
The former summer residence of the Dalai Lama is about three km west
of the Potala. In spring and autum, when the Dalai Lama moved to and
from the Norbu Lingka, there was a great procession following.

Some 7 km west of the Potala lies the monastery Drepung. This biggest
monastery of Tibet was once the place where the Dalai Lama was
educated. It once housed over 7000 monks (as in 1959), but nowadays
there are only 200 to 300. Take bus no. 1 or 9.

About four km north of Lhasa is the monastery Sera. It was fonded in
1419 by a disciple of Tsong Khapa. There are about 100 monks living
there, who practice debate every day at noon. Take bus No. 10 to get

Farther away, 45 km east of Lhasa lies Ganden monastery. Founded in
1409 by Tsong Khapa it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
Today, for the sake of tourism, it is being revitalised and rebuilt by
200 monks.


The Xuedun (joghurt) festival, held in August, has a long tradition.
During old traditions previous to the 17th century, during three
months the lamas were forbidden to leave their monastery. At the
beginning of July when they were free to leave the monasteries again,
they went out to enjoy themselves. Since the 17th century, the Xodon
festival is also called the Tibet-Opera-Festival.


There are many budget places in Tibet. The Banak Shol, Kirey Hotel,
Yak Hotel and Plateau Hotel all are about USD 3 - 5 for a single room.

Internet Cafes

The Barkhor Cafe has a few PCs with internet access. 10 minutes
(should be enough to read a couple of e-mails) costs CNY 7, one hour
is CNY 40.


 Month       Jan  Feb  Mar  Apr  May  Jun  Jul  Aug  Sep  Oct  Nov  Dec

 Air    C     -2    1    5    8   12   16   16   16   14    9    4    0
        F     29   34   41   47   54   61   62   60   58   48   39   32

 Rain  mm      0   13    8    5   25   64  122   89   66   13    3    0
       in      0   .5   .3   .2  1.0  2.5  4.8  3.5  2.6   .5   .1    0



Mount Kailas (or Kang Rinpoche, Precious Jewel of Snows in Tibetan),
is sacred to many people of different religions. This holy mountain
rises to an altitude of 6714 meters and its distinctive appearance
has long awed people. It is located in Western Tibet. Just south of
the mountain are two lakes, Raksas Tal and Manasarovar.

For a long time, Mount Kailas was thought to be the source of four
great rivers of the earth: the Indus, the Karnali, a tributary of the
Ganges, the Sutlej, and the Yarlung Tsanpo, which in India is named
the Brahmaputra.

Mount Kailas was thought to be the earthly manifestation of the
mythical Mount Meru, the axis of the universe. The mountain is not
only sacred to Tibetan Buddhists, but also to Tibetans of the Bon
Religion, and to Hindus and Jains from India.


The main starting point for any hiking or touring is Darchen (altitude
4620 m), just south of Mount Kailas. There is not much to see there,
but you can leave unneeded luggage in locked storerooms or rent
additional gear or guides.

Kailas Kora

Kailas Kora is the scared pilgrimage around the mountain. While
Tibetans make this trip in one long day, you should not attempt this,
but rather take two to four days. Remember that at this altitude
excercise of any kind stresses your health. There is not much food
available; it is advisable to bring all you need with you.

It is a good idea to make an acclimatisation walk to two other
monasteries just near Darchen towards Mount Kailas are Serlung Gompa
(5000 m) and Gyangdra Gompa (5000 m). This round-trip should take
about 6 to 8 hours.

The main tour starts at Darchen. Head westwards until you get to a
flagpole, called Tarboche. The Tarboche is full of long lines of
prayer flags. Each year on Saka Dawa, the full moon in May or June,
there is a large celebration when the prayer flags are replaced by new

Continue north and cross a bridge over Lha Chu River. Some way off the
main track is the Choku Gompa.

Choku Gompa
Choku Gompa (4820 m) was built in the 13th century as a shrine. It
houses a white stome statue of Buddha Opame and a sacred silver
embossed conch shell, said to have belonged to Milarepa.

Follow the Lha Chu River to the northern most point of the route, the
Drira Puk Gompa.

Drira Puk Gompa
Drira Puk Gompa (5010 m) offers a simple room with a few places to
sleep. It might be a good idea to rest for a day or take the time to
go to the Ghangjam Glacier (5270 m), the nearest you will get to Mount
Kailas short of mountain climbing.

From Drira Puk Gompa the way leads along Shiwachal, a bizarre
field with loads of scattered clothing. Devote pilgrims have left some
personal item, most often a piece of cloth. Continue up to the highest
point of Kailas Kora, the 5570 m high Drolma La, or Pass of
Tara. Being the focus of Kailas Kora, pilgrims leave some token like
coins or a lock of hair and attach their own prayer flag.

Just a little further on to the right is the Gaurikund Lake where
devote Hindi take a bath. Some 10 to 12 hours after you have set out
from Drira Puk Gompa you finally reach Zutrul Puk Gompa.

Zutrul Puk Gompa
The Zutrul Puk Gompa (4820 m) is a monastery built around sacred
formations said to have been formed by hand by Milarepa. This ascetic
had a duel with the sorcerer Naro Bon Chun at the place. In his final
fall, Naro Bon Chun caused the large vertical cleft in Mount Kailas'
south face. The monastery has a guesthouse with a few beds.

A comparatively easy walk brings you back to Darchen.

The temples and shrines around Mount Kailas are all looked after by
monks from the Drkpa Kagyu Sect.


Accommodation is available, but rather basic. Don't expect luxury

Tours and Transportation

There are tours available from Lhasa. Count on at least 15 days
(better 25 days, so you won't be rushed) for a trip in good
conditions. The weather is best during May and June. The road is often
a problem during the monsoon months of July and August.

Several modes of transportation are avilable to get there. One
possibility is tenting a landcruiser or a truck. Since the road is
often bad, it could be a good idea to have two vehicles, but then,
there are often other vehicles to get help from during the summer.

Make sure you get a reliable driver, and be prepared that sometimes
there are accidents. In October 1996, a group had to abort the trip
after a collision of two trucks, where one member lost am arm.

Group travels arranged in Lhasa cost about USD 3000. Typically, you'll
need a truck to carry 10 people, equipment, and food.

To form a group, hang out notes on the noteboards in the restaurants
around town. There usually are enough people wanting to go.



The huge monastery represents the former power of the Sakayapa sect,
founded in the 11th century. It contains the most valuable collection
of Tibetan religious items remaining in Tibet.



Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet. It is the seat of
Panchen Lama who ranks close to the Dalai Lama. The Panchen Lama is a
reincarnation of Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. Currently,
the 10th Panchen Lama (according to China) 'reigns' from Beijing.
Another 10th Panchen Lama, the 6 year old boy Gedun Choekyi Nyima was
announced in May 1995 by the Dalai Lama.


Tashilhunpo Monastery
The huge monastery, built in 1447, was once inhabited by over 4000
monks. Nowadays, only 600 remain there. It is the seat of the Panchen
Lama. The Grand Hall contains the tomb (containing more than 85 kg
gold and lots of jewels) of the 4th Panchen Lama. There is a 27 m high
statue of the Maitreya Buddha. It may be that foreigners wanting to
visit the monastery will account trouble.


There are several hotels accepting foreigners.

Recommended is the Tibetan-owned Tenzin Hotel right by the
free-market. It is arranged around a friendly courtyard. Don't miss
its good Chang (Tibetan beer).



There are flights from Chengdu and Chongqing, and reportedly also from

There are two daily flights from Chengdo to Lhasa. It costs about
CNY 1500 or USD 200.

During the summer there is a flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa. It is
operated by Nepal Air. It operates about 2 - 3 times a week and costs
USD 190. Hope for good weather! The flight goes right past Mount

The Southwest China Airline flight from Lhasa to Kathmandu is usually
heavily overbooked. Be at the airport _very_ early (3 or more hours.) It
seems that not the reconfirmation, but the time of arrival at the airport
determines who gets on and who not.



There is a bus from Golmud to Lhasa which takes about 40 hours (+- 10
h) on a bumpy road. Official busses cost CNY 1100. There are
inofficial ones that charge only CNY 300, but you may get caught at
the checkpoints and be fined and sent back.

A regular bus runs between Lhasa and Shigatse. The fare for foreigner
is about USD 8.

There is a bus between Lhasa and Kathmandu (see section on border
crossing.) (Although one report says that this isn't so anymore.)



It is possible to rent a landcruiser. These landcruisers sit four to
five, including a driver. Expect to pay about USD 100 to 200 per day
for the car, gasoline, a driver, and a guide. Without the guide the
rate is lower.

There were reports of a driver named Tsering of the CITS-Shigatse
agency attacking his passengers. The latest reports state that he does
not work for the agency anymore. I also got a report from a traveller
saying that he was very satisfied with the services of the agency.

Another bad experience was reported with China Tibet Traffic Holy Land
Travel Agency. It is advised to talk to the manager only.



Although not officially allowed, it is nevertheless possible to do
some excellent trekking. Be sure you are self-sufficient, since food
becomes very scarce once you are outside the main tourist cities.

If you get caught, you will have to pay a fine of CNY 500.

Make sure you buy a good guide book (see guidebooks section of this



Area          1'221'700 km²
Capital       Lhasa
Borders       India, Nepal (1236 km), Bhutan (470 km), Myanmar
Highest point Zhumulamafeng (Quolomunga, Mt. Everest), 8848 m

Time          GMT plus eight hours

Measures      Metric
Electricity   220 V, 50 Hz

It must be said that the region of the ethnic Tibetans consists not
only as what is known Tibetan Autonomous Region, but an area covering
a little more than 2 million km2 with a population of roughly 5
million Tibetans (excluding Chinese) as per Chinese government
census. These regions are designated as Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures
in four other Chinese provinces. The region as a whole is called
Cholkha-sum by the Tibetans.



Tibet has a continetal climate and it's high altitude (most of it is
above 4000 m) warrants rather cold weather, although in summer the
thermometer may climb to 25-30 C.

For average temperatures and rainfall, see in the section for the
aprropriate destinations, e.g. Lhasa.



Population      1.9 mio
                Tibetan, since the occupation an increasing number of Han
Language        Tibetan, Chinese, some English

Tibetans are very friendly and peaceful.

For most Tibetans, the Dalai Lama is the highest being in the world,
holy and most revered. Even a photo is considered sacred and of
course a great treasure. Many tourist thus think it is a good idea to
give away photos of their God. This would be so, if there would not
be for the Chinese suppressiors that outlawed these photos. Although
the police may or may not hassle you for handing out Dalai Lama
photos, you'll probably not suffer any harm. But the poor Tibetan
found out having a photo will certainly have to face severe problems.

The Dalai Lama himself lives in exile in Dharamsala, India, together
with thousands of Tibetan refugees. To learn more about Tibetan
culture, it might be a good idea to visit this place first. You can
also take Tibetan language classes there or in Kathmandu, Nepal.

It is generally a good idea to be a tourist, not a politician. While
we in the West may have a different view on Tibet than the Chinese
do, the fact remains that Tibet is occupied by China, and thus a part
of China the same way that e.g. North America is occupied by the
Europeans (founding USA and Canada.) If you want to be politically
active in Tibet, you can be sure that the Chinese will not tolerate
this, and that you will face penalties under Chinese jurisdiction.
While you may be lucky and simply be thorwn out of Tibet, Tibetans
that are found guilty of political activities (e.g. discussing
politics with you) face up to 20 years of prison! So be careful, if
not for your sake for the sake of the local population!

The best way to help Tibetans is spending your money at their places,
restaurants and shops instead of Chinese ones.



Tibetan festivals and events follow the ancient Tibetan calender that
was systematized in 1027. Thus, there is not a fixed day of our
calender when the festivals take place, but rather the dates are
discerned by the higher Tibetan religious instances.

With the number of Chinese living in Tibet increasing, the Chinese
festivals also gain in importance.

Tibetan New Year
The Tibetan New Year is reglemented by the systematization of the
Tibetan calendar in 1027 and follows the Chinese New Year. Before
that, the year started in Tibet with the blossoming of the peaches. On
this day, families unite greeting with the auspicious "tashi delek".
The next dates are:

24 February 2001  Saturday
12 February 2002  Tuesday
 1 February 2003  Saturday
22 January  2004  Thursday
 9 February 2005  Wednesday
29 January  2006  Sunday
18 February 2007  Sunday
 7 February 2008  Thursday
26 January  2009  Monday
14 February 2010  Sunday

Great Prayer Festival
Following the Tibetan New Year, this is the greatest religious
festival in Tibet. It was instituted in 1409 by the founder of the
Gelukpa Sect, Tsongkapa. In Jorkhang monks from the Three Great
Monasteries of Tibet assemble to pray to Sakyamuni and hold
philosophical debates among candidates for the Doctorate of
Metaphysics. From all over Tibet pilgrims come to pray and donate to
the monks. The festival lasts nearly two weeks.

Butter Lamp Festival
The last day of the Great Prayer Festival celebrates the victory of
Sakyamuni over non-Buddhist opponents. The festival was established by
the Lord of Neu Dzong in 1409 with the illumination of countless
butter lamps.

Gyantse Horse Race and Archery
Every June, people from all over Tibet gather in Gyantse for horse
racing, archery and barter trade. In modern times, ball games, racing,
folk songs and dances were added. While horse racing and archery is
popular all over Tibet, Gyantse is proud of being the oldest such
event, being started in 1408.

World Incense Day
On this day, the Gods in heaven are said to descend to earth. Huge
amounts of incense is being burnt. Many people go for a picknick in
the parks.

Six-Four Festival
The day that Buddha gave his first sermon is celebrated with visits to
holy mountains.

Shoton Festival
Held in August or beginning of September, the "Opera Festival" is one
of the greatest festivals in Tibet. During seven days, opera
performances and contests are held. Since the 7th century, Norbulingka
was the centre for this festival.

Bathing Week
When the sacred planet Venus apears for a week, all the people from
Lhasa bath in the river, since it is said that the water becomes pure
and can even cure disease.

Death of Tsongkapa
In memory of the great reformer of Tibetan Buddhism, his death on that
day in 1419 is still remembered. People burn butter lamps on the roofs
and pray. In the evening, Tibetan dumplins are served as supper.

Driving Off Evil Spirits
At the end of the Tibetan year, religious dances to drive off evil
spirits are help in monasteries all over Tibet. Every houshold burns
bundles of straw and throws rubbish on the streets. The
Year-End-Dumpling is served for supper.



To enter Tibet you need a valid Chinese visa. At the moment, only tour
groups are officially allowed into Tibet.

When you apply for the Chinese visa, make sure you do not mention that
you want to go to Tibet (state anything else, e.g. Beijing, Xian,
Shanghai, Chengdu, etc.). You want to go to China, and need a valid
visa to China. For addresses of Chinese embassies, see the section
Embassies in the Internet Travel Guide to China.

Nowadays it is possible to get a 60 days tourist visum in Kathmandu,
Nepal. The difficulties that one have been common seem to be past.

Once you are within Tibet, it is possible to extend your visa up to
two times for 15 days each time. An extension costs CNY 110. It may be
that visa extension may not be issued during politically sensitve





To enter Tibet, you usually should be on a tour. Usually, you will be
refused entry if you are by youself, although it might be possible
that you are still admitted.

A 'standard' way to enter Tibet is by plane from Chengdu.

There are busses or trucks from Golmud. They should cost about USD 100
and takes about 30 hours. It is not quite clear whether this is still
illegal or not. Apart from the regular busses, sleeper busses are

Hitch-hiking may be possible, but is illegal outside Lhasa province.
Even if you as a tourist may be let off easily, the driver caught with
a foreigner will have to pay a heavy fine.

I heard of several travllers that were walking or tried to walk from
Sichuan or Yunnan.

There are busses from Kathmandu to Tibet. The bus from Kathmandu to
Kodari (the Nepalese border) takes about 8 hours. Cross the border
bridge by foot (there are porters). There is a shuttle service to the
Chinese border station Zhangmu seven steep kilometers away. From
there, you should take a 2 day or a 4 day tour to Lhasa with CITS.

The bus from Lhasa to the border takes three days. The bus leaves
three times per month (on the 1, 10, and 20), that you have to book
far in advance. There is a flight between Kathmandu and Lhasa 2 - 3
times a week for around USD 200.

A five day trip in a Jeep costs USD 140 in Kathmandu.

If you want to enter from Nepal, the officials at the border are
asking CNY 200 for a special permit to travel in Tibet. However, the
police station is not open until 8 am, so you will not get a permit
before (but you can enter anyway, beeing early saves you CNY 200). I
have also reports of some tourists only paying CNY 35 when accompanied
by a Chinese army officer. Probably, that's the official rate.

CITS also wants a share of it. They are issuing an ATP (Alien Travel
Permit) for USD 100. If you don't have one, you'll be stopped by very
well equipped police (Gore-Tex jackets, etc.) further up the road.

Entry through Kashgar, Yarkand, Mazarpass to Ali is a good
possibility. An ATP in Ali costs CNY 50, with an additional fine of
CNY 300 for illegal travelling. There, you can also get visa

An organised trip of seven cyclists plus a guide complete with the
necessary permits cost USD 260 per person for a 20 day trip. With
this, you can cycle relatively freely, but have to report in at the

Another hazard when crossing the border is of a more natural kind.
There are quite often rock and land slides, especially after rain. One
such slide killed a foreigner and his Chinese guide in the morning of
2 Sep 1995, and in July 1996 a whole hamlet with a couple of hotels
and 64 people disappeared forever. Due to these land slides you have
to change trucks or taxis frequently (they bring you up to the slide,
you climb over and on the other side you'll be ripped off one more
time to get a hike to the next slide or finally the border).

For the latest information talk to fellow travellers just coming from
Tibet you'll meet in Nepal (e.g. in the Pumpernickle Bakery in
Kathmandu) or in Chengdu.

Generally, it is best to maintain a low profile. Draw as little
attention as possible towards you. It's not the tourist that the
Chinese fear, but the politically involved and caring person. This
does not mean that you should not care about Tibetan politics, just
that you should be careful in when and where you show your views.



The currency is the Chinese Yuan (ISO code CNY), divided into 10 Jiao
or 100 Fen. However, money within China is called RMB (Ren Min Bi,
people's money), and people normally refer to Yuan as Kuai (piece, the
counting word for money, as in yi kuai qian = one piece of money),
Jiao as Mao and Fen as Sen.

Notes are available in denominations of 100, 50, 10, 5, 2 and 1 yuan,
5, 2 and 1 jiao, and 5, 2, and 1 fen. Coins are 1 yuan, 5, 2 and 1
jiao, and 5, 2 and 1 fen.

Note: As with most currencies, there are counterfeits. Banknotes
printed from 1990 on have a metal thread woven into their fabric.

The exchange rate is about USD 1 = 8.27 CNY (Jan 2003)
(Historical development: very stable 8.28 since 1996, 8.3 Sep 1995,
8.7 Jan 1994, 5.8 in 1993, 5.5 in 1992, 5.3 in 1991, 4.8 in 1990, 3.8
in 1989)

To get a nice small conversion table that you can put in you pocket,
look at the Currency Cheat Sheet at

Travellers cheques will give you a better exchange rate. Travellers
cheques denominated in most major currencies are accepted by the Bank
of China. You normally get a better exchange rate than for cash. There
is a 0.75% commission.

Most larger hotels, restaurants and department stores accept credit
cards. Of course, in small shops, or markets, credit cards are not

There is an American Express business travel center in the Swissotel
Beijing Hong Kong - Macao Center in Beijing. It is a cooperative
effort between American Express and China International Travel Service
(CITS). American Express has four other travel service offices in
Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen and Guangzhou and 23 representative offices
throughout China.
American Express has also cash machines where you can get cash
(Chinese Yuan), provided you have a pin. There is one in the Beijing
World Trade Center Shopping Arcade.

Remember to always bargain. Chinese people are very good business
people that can smell money when it's lying around. They consider
Westerners to be living and walking money bags. Even if it is
sometimes a nuisance, they reason that even if you pay several times
the price that a local pays, you still can afford it. Always ask for
the price first, especially in restaurants. Otherwise you could end up
having ordered this 'really special soup' that costs you USD 100 (one
hundred, no typing mistake, it happened to a friend of mine!)

The FEC (Foreign Exchange Certificate) was finally abolished in
January 1994. However, it seems that still a few circulate.

The disappearance of the FEC also caused the black market to virtually
disappear. If you really want to change money on the black market,
make sure you know the exchange rates, the bank notes, and count
carefully the money you get before handing over your own money.
Changing money on the black market is illegal, there are sometimes
secret police changing, the exchange rate may be worse than in banks
and shortchangings are frequent, so it is not really advisable anymore
to change money on the black market unless you know the game quite



Hotel standards have improved a lot over the last couple of years.
In the larger cities that are frequented by tourists you get a lot
of quality accommodation. But away from these places you will have
to put in a bit more effort to get accommodation.

I advise you to book ahead of time.

Reserve your hotel online at



Food is often quite scarce in Tibet. Apart from Lhasa, only Shigatse
seems to have a reasonable food supply. For trips outside these towns,
make sure bring enough food with you.

Apart from Tibetan you'll also get Chinese food.



As every region, Tibet also has its special health problems. This
text does not mean to scare you away, but rather to warn you of
dangers that you can face with little problems if you take some simple

A big problem is the high altitude with the thin air. Many people
suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), also known as Altitude
Sickness. Until your body has become accustomed to the thin air (much
less oxygen than normally), you may experience dizziness, nausea,
headache and difficulties with sleeping. Make sure you don't dehydrate
(i.e. drink a lot.) Avoid alcohol and tobacco.

The material is excerpted from TIBET TRAVEL ADVENTURE GUIDE, by
Michael Buckley, (c) copyright 1999, all rights reserved, reprinted with
Order the book directly from at
or at
(ISBN 1895907985, 272pp, 22 maps & plans, 6pp colour photos)

Have a look at the section guidebooks!

Altitude Sickness

When Sherpas say climbing is in their blood, they may mean it
literally. Sherpas have a physiology adapted to the high-altitude
environment--their blood has a higher red-cell count, and their lung
capacity is larger. Ability to adapt to altitude is thought to be in
your genes. That may mean you either have the high-altitude genes or
you don't. If you do, you can adapt quickly; if you don't, it will
take longer--or so the theory goes. At higher altitudes, air pressure
is lower, and the air is thinner. Although it contains the same
percentage of oxygen as it does at sea level, there's less oxygen
delivered in each lungful of air. So you have to breathe harder, and
your body has to convert to more red blood-cells to carry the oxygen
through the system.

Altitude sickness is something of a mystery. It does not appear to
depend on being in shapes: athletes have come down with it, and it may
occur in subjects who have not experienced it before. Altitude
sickness generally occurs at elevations above 2000 metres, becomes
pronounced at 3500 metres, and then requires adjustment at each 400
metres of elevation gain after that.

Terrain above 5000 metres (common enough in Tibet) is a harsh, alien
environment--above 6000 metres is a zone where humans were never meant
to go. Like diving at depth, going to high altitudes requires special
adjustments. To adapt, you have to be in tune with your body. You need
to travel with someone who can monitor your condition--and back you up
(get you out) if something should go wrong. Consider this: if you were
to be transported in a hot-air balloon and dropped on the summit of
Everest, without oxygen you would collapse within 10 minutes, and die
within an hour. However, a handful of climbers have summited Everest
without oxygen: by attaining a degree of acclimatisation, they have
been able to achieve this. A similar analogy could be drawn with
flying in from Chengdu, which is barely above sea level, to Lhasa, at
3650 metres. That's a 3500-metre gain in an hour or so. You need to
rest and recover. Coming by land from Kathmandu, you rise from 1300
metres up over a 5200-metre pass at Tong La--a gain of 4000 metres
over a few days (to soften the blow, it would be worth staying a few
days at Nyalam, which is 3750 metres).

The study of altitude sickness is still evolving. Recent studies
suggest that altitude sickness may be due to leaky membranes--which
are more permeable as you up in elevation. It was unknown if a person
could survive above 7500 metres without oxygen until 1978, when
Messner and Habeler summited Everest. Actually, a hundred years
earlier, in 1875, French balloonist Tissandier reached 8000 metres
after a three-hour ascent and lost consciousness: the balloon
descended and Tissandier survived but his two companions died. Messner
was told he would come back from Everest a raving madman, or, at the
very least, a brain-damaged automaton if he attempted the peak without
oxygen. Messner got his timing right, got to the top, and went on to
bag all the 8000-metre peaks without oxygen. Climbers like Messner,
however, will admit to impaired functions at higher elevations--and to
strange encounters. Messner recalls talking to his ice axe, talking to
his feet, talking to an imaginary companion and having hallucinations.

The Buddy System

When you go diving, you use the buddy system. You watch out for your
friend underwater, which is an alien environment and a potentially
dangerous one. You could draw close parallels in Tibet: high altitude
is a dangerous environment. If someone gets altitude sickness, he or
she becomes confused or disorientated, and cannot make the right
decisions. Someone else has to take those decisions. Back yourself up
in Tibet with at least one buddy. And be prepared to watch out for
others in a Landcruiser group if someone falls sick.

Other Health Problems

Of course the cold weather makes it very likely that you get a cold
and a cough. Take care to get enough vitamins.

There is the same stomach bug named giardia that is also found in
Nepal. Take enough anti-gardia drugs like Flagyl or Tiniba with you,
they are hard to find in Tibet.

Don't drink tap water. Even in the smallest guest houses in the
remotest villages there are thermos bottles with boilt water. It is
used to drink tea.

There are many dogs in the streets and near the monasteries. There are
reports of foreigners beeing bitten.


TIBET - Peter M. Geiser's Hotel and Travel Guide

Copyright (c) 1995 - 2004, Peter M. Geiser


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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:12 PM