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tiistai 27. kesäkuuta 2017

My Tibet Trip 2017 with Budget Tibet Tour

Compilation video of my trip 

My 8-day tour itinerary 

Day 1. Lhasa

15th June, 2017

So I had been in Chengdu for five days, before I flew to Lhasa. In the morning I took the taxi to Chengdu airport. I was fortunately early there, because it was a bit confusing to get the information where to go, while it was hard to find people, who could advice me in English. I survived to the plane and after a flight of a couple of hours we arrived to Lhasa. One of the most amazing views from the plane were the Himalayan mountain peaks, that arose above the clouds. I wondered if the mountain climbers on Mount Everest frequently see planes flying around when they climb the peak. 

At Lhasa airport me and some other tourists were picked up to the bus and we drove to Lhasa. I enjoyed the views during the ride to our hotel in Lhasa. I could also feel the altitude of 3600 meters a bit. The scenery reminded me slightly of southern Peru with its arid and dry nature with mountains surrounding in all the directions. 

The first day I just walked a bit with some new friends that I met during the bus ride. They were also tourists, who had come to a tour in Tibet. Fortunately two of the people were originally from China, so they spoke Mandarin which was useful when we went to eat. For lunch we had some Tibetan food and for dinner we ate in a place where you pick the barbecue sticks with different meats and vegetables, which were then fried and brought to our table. The food was very tasty and enough spicy for my taste.

Chengdu airport

Day 2. Lhasa

16th June, 2017

After resting and taking easily the first day, we were ready to get to know the Tibetan culture. We visited Sera and Drepung Buddhist monasteries. One of the really cool things was to see a bunch of Buddhist monks debating. They clapped their hands and said something. I hadn’t seen that kind of debate before and I would have wanted to know what they were debating and what was the result of their debate. 

One other surprising thing was to see so much money in the monasteries. People prayed there and left money with probably the aim to bless them and give good luck. In one room I saw a Buddhist monk with the biggest pile of money I had seen in one place. He was counting the money and it looked like it would take the whole day to count that much money. Our guide told that the money goes to renovate and maintain the monasteries. I also wondered how the monks could pray when all the tourists walk around and watch them. 

In the evening we went to a welcome dinner and saw different dances performed by Tibetan people. I enjoyed seeing their different outfits, which were very beautiful and colorful. The performers didn’t really seem that enthusiastic about their performance, some even seemed a bit bored. Still the food was good and I enjoyed the evening with my new friends, who were in my travel group. 

Monks debating at Sera monastery

Day 3. Lhasa 

17th June, 2017

On the third day we visited the monasteries of Potala and Jokhang. Potala Palace is the icon of Lhasa, which everyone associates with Tibet and Lhasa. It’s like Eiffel Tower and Paris or the Statue of Liberty and New York. Like you could expect, there were a lot of other people willing to go to the palace. After being in the queue and waiting for a long time we got inside the palace. It’s really huge and not all the rooms are available for the public. Because of the massive crowds visiting the palace, there’s a restriction that one group can be around one hour inside the palace. For me the time was sufficient as we walked around the palace and our tour guide talked about the history of Potala Palace, which included stories about the Dalai Lamas, Penchin Lamas, past, present and future buddhas and generally a lot about Buddhism. 

After a while of rest and lunch, we headed towards the Jokhang monastery through the Barkor street. There were a lot of small shops along the way, but I decided to only photograph the places I saw. It was a warm day and the sun was quite high in the sky very late, which is why I also felt a bit exhausted of the whole day when we arrived at Jokhang monastery. 

I lacked concentration and felt like the things that I saw in the monastery very almost the same that I had seen in all the previous ones. Also the decoration and statues started to look quite the same, although they were very beautiful and impressive in all the monasteries. Like some buddha statues were thirty meters tall and they were made hundreds of years ago. 

Potala Palace

Day 4. Lhasa-Shigatse 

18th June, 2017

We woke up early and started to drive towards Shigatse. We drove along a route, which included a lot of scenic spots to take pictures. We stopped at the famous Yamdrok Lake. Unfortunately the weather was a bit cloudy, so the crystal clear water of the lake couldn’t be seen as clearly. When we ascended from the top down to the shore of the lake, we saw local people who sold souvenirs to tourists and offered the chance to take a picture with a yak for money. I don't know was it a good think or not according to the animal activists, but I finally decided to take a picture. 

The other really impressive place was the glacier of Mount Nyenchen Khangsar. The altitude was above 5000 meters so I really felt dizzy there, but the view was amazing. Someone filmed with a drone there, but I couldn't hear the drone flying for more than a couple of minutes. I think the police asked the drone pilot to take the drone down, since it's forbidden almost everywhere in Tibet to fly drones. 

I was quite tired of driving towards Shigatse and slept for a while in the car, once when I woke up I saw really amazing grasslands with a lot of yaks. This sight was something I had seen on the internet, while googling pictures from Tibet. Unfortunately we didn't stop close to these landscapes to take pictures. It was quite late in the evening when we arrived at Shigatse. The hotel was there as well as in Lhasa better than I expected, because I had read that they were three star hotels and that the standards in Tibet are not as high as European people are accustomed to. So the hotels were actually really clean, comfortable and they had western toilets and hot water in the shower.

Yamdrok Lake

Day 5. Shigatse-Mount Everest Base Camp (EBC) 

19th June, 2017

In the morning we started driving from Shigatse to EBC. The landscapes were very varying during our way to there. I started feeling the altitude a bit more in my head. The streets zig-zagged up and down along the hills. In the evening we reached the EBC, which was very impressive. I had seen this mountain range already from the plane and again from very far distance as we drove there through some mountain passes. We put our stuff to the tent, or yurt actually, and then took the bus from base camp 1 to base camp 2. Some decided to hike there and back. Me and some other group members took the bus, which was a good idea, because we had more time on a hill at base camp 2 for taking pictures with the peak of Mount Everest in the background.

We were very close to the border of Nepal and that's why there were soldiers around the area. It was quite late and one soldier asked the people leave from base camp 2 back to base camp 1, so we started walking back. We didn't take the bus, because the 4-5km hike back to our tent was much more exciting and it might have been the only time to hike at Mount Everest, if I don't return there some day. We walked slowly back and took pictures during the time of sunset. I felt very dizzy at our tent, but after eating and resting for a while I went outside to take some pictures of the night sky. My brain didn't work normally, so afterwards I noticed how I should have used totally different settings, while taking the pictures of the night sky. 

Me and two of my group members at Mount Everest base camp two (5200m)

Day 6. EBC-Shigatse 

20th June, 2017

I slept really badly in the tent, which was quite crowded. There were 10 people sleeping and I woke up a couple of times during the night. I got a really bad headache and when I woke up I felt really bad. We had ascended from 3800 meters to almost 5200 meters in one day, which I really could feel in my body. We drove back to Shigatse and during the drive I felt worse than in many years. I was close to throw up in the car as we drove the hills up and down. I managed to sleep and started to feel slightly better when we arrived to some lower altitudes.

During the whole day I couldn't eat anything hot, I only ate bread, fruits and drank water and sodas. I felt already much better at Shigatse, where we visited one monastery before returning to our hotel. For the first time I used my 70-200mm zoom lens and I got really amazing portrait pictures of the local Tibetan people. I wish I had used it many times before, but I had left the lens in the bus, because I didn't want to carry all my camera stuff, which I really should have done. 

Buddhist monk at Tashilumo monastery

Day 7. Shigatse-Lhasa 

21th June, 2017

The last day of our trip we drove from Shigatse to Lhasa. This time it was a route, that didn't have that many places to take pictures. I used my zoom lens again to take pictures of Tibetan people along our way. I took the photos through the window, which was a bit tricky, but I actually managed to get quite many pictures that showed the authentic everyday life of some Tibetan people. There was a traffic accident in one part of the road and we had to wait for over an hour. During this time we took pictures and talked to other tourist group members. This was a good time to interview some of the group members in their native languages. I did this for my future vlog, where I reveal the stories of people who I met during my travels. I spoke and asked questions with an Estonian guy in Estonian. He had lived in Hong Kong for 4 years and the past year in Beijing. Then I filmed a Swiss guy working for an insurance company and spoke three out of the four Swiss official languages, German, French and Italian. One French friend also joined the conversation, when we talked in French. I also talked to an Argentinian in Spanish and he was studying also in Beijing like many people in our group. At Lhasa I had no energy to do anything, I only went to eat to a Tibetan restaurant with my two Asian Australian friends. The rest of the evening I just laid on my bed and talked a bit with my friends in Finland through Whatsapp, because Facebook and many other applications and websites don't work in Tibet. 

View from the bus, while driving back to Lhasa

Days 8.-10. Lhasa-Chengdu 

22th-24th June, 2017

On 22th June I boarded the train at Lhasa, which went along the world's highest railway track in the world. The railway track is on some places built on permafrost and it goes until Beijing. I had to change the train at one station to the train going to Chengdu. The train ride lasted about 44 hours from Lhasa to Chengdu. Fortunately I had a hard bed. I mostly laid on the bed, because I was so exhausted of my trip, but I managed to take pictures on the second day. I took pictures for about four hours and the scenery changed unbelievably much in such a small time period. After all I arrived to Chengdu and I had a really amazing 10 day experience. I had been at the world's highest mountain in Tibet and returned to Chengdu by taking the train on the world's highest railway track. 

Train compartments 

Soft bed = most expensive 
Hard bed = cheaper than soft bed 
Seat = the cheapest and most uncomfortable 

The view from the train

Questions and information about my trip 

1. Which tour operator I used ?

Budget Tibet Tour

My 8-day tour itinerary 

Like probably most of you who are going to Tibet know that it's prohibited to travel in Tibet on your own. Every foreigner has to go to Tibet through a Chinese tour agency, who also apply for the Tibet permit. You are not able to go to Tibet without the Tibet permit. 

2. What should I keep in mind in Tibet ?

Keep your passport and Tibet permit somewhere safe all the time. You will need to show these two nearly every day at the hotel or checkpoints, when you're driving anywhere from Lhasa. 

Don't photograph the police officers or soldiers in Tibet. 

Tibetan people are prohibited to pick up foreigners, so just forget hitchhiking in Tibet if you want to keep out of trouble. 

3. How did I manage with the altitude ? 

I arrived to Lhasa from Chengdu, so from sea level to 3600 meters. I had three days to acclimatize and I got used to the altitude during that time. At Lhasa I had no problems with the altitude. From Lhasa we went to Shigatse, which was at 3800 meters, but during that day we passed places over 5000 meters and there I really felt a bit dizzy. From Shigatse we went to Mount Everest Base Camp, which was at 5150 meters, where we slept. At the base camp I felt very dizzy in the morning, I had a really bad headache and overall felt quite weak. Many people at the other group had vomitted, because of the altitude sickness symptoms. I started feeling better the day when we left the base camp and arrived under 4000 meters again. 

4. Which medicine I took with me ?

Diamox (for altitude sickness) = I should have taken it for 4 days twice a day, but I took only the day before arriving to Lhasa and in the morning when I was in Lhasa. The medicine removes fluids from the brain and makes you go to the toilet several times a day, which was very uncomfortable so I stopped using it. 

Diarrhea medicine = I took something to prevent diarrhea and it was very helpful, I used it almost every day. 

Painkillers = mostly for headache 

5. Which clothes I took with me ? 

T-Shirts = I should have taken much more t-shirts, but I thought it will be cold in Tibet. In June when I was there the weather was sunny and above 20 degrees in Lhasa and Shigatse.

Shorts and long pants = I used mostly the shorts, but at Mount Everest and some places on a high elevation I used my long pants.  

Winter jacket = I needed my winter jacket only at Mount Everest base camp. Also some areas close to the base camp it was necessary. 

Sneakers = I brought my winter hiking shoes from Finland, but left them to Chengdu in my apartment. The normal sports sneakers were enough during my stay in Tibet. We didn't walk on snow in any point. Even at the Mount Everest base camp there was no snow in June. There was snow much higher from the two base camps. 

6. Which camera equipment I had with me ? 

1 Camera: Sony 6500
3 lenses: 25mm, 50mm, 70-200mm 
1 charger (very important ! don't forget these in any hotel rooms) 
1 Tripod 
1 GoPro 
A camera bag for the camera and lenses

I shot the scenery pictures with the 25mm lens. If we were near some monasteries with people and buildings I shot them with the 50mm lens. I shot some candid portrait pictures of the local people with the 70-200mm lens. I got the shots in the streets and from the car with a very fast shutter speed. I also took some landscape pictures with the 70-200mm lens, but only from places that were too far for the 25mm and 50mm lenses. 

7. Photography tips in Tibet 

- Like mentioned before, don't take photos of any military or police officers 

- It's not forbidden to take pictures of monks and local people, but some times they don't want to be in the pictures, so it's better to have a zoom lens and take the photos so far away that they don't notice like I did. The pictures will this way be also more authentic and natural without any posing. 

- Bring a tripod to Mount Everest base camp. There were quite many people taking pictures of Mount Everest with a night sky and milky way in the background. My head didn't work well on that altitude so I used really bad settings. I should have used a much higher ISO and longer shutter speed. My pictures ended up to be too dark. My ISO was about 800-1000 and shutter speed 10 seconds.  

- Drones are forbidden at Lhasa, at Mount Everest base camp (military area close to the border of Nepal) and in quite many other places. I didn't take my drone with me, because I didn't have space and I heard that there wouldn't be many possibilities to use it during the tour. 

8. Budget for a 8-day trip in Tibet 

8-day tour: 700-800 euros (includes accommodation, Tibet permit, Mount Everest permit and transportation) 
Food and drinks: about 10-15 euros/day so 70-105e in a week 
Tips for the driver and guide: 200 yuan (100 and 100), which is 26 euros 
Entry tickets to monasteries and other places: 850 yuan = 111 euros 

8-day budget in total: 907-1042 euros

This doesn't include the flight or train tickets to Lhasa and back or the Chinese visa

Click on the topics below to know more about some things that I didn't cover that much in my blog:  

Mount Nyenchen Khangsar glacier