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May 28, 2006 – A journey to Lhasa, China in Asia

A Route To Finding Tibet

After talking to quite a few travel agencies (the ones by the budget hotels, hostels, and hotels where most foreigners stay at, and even some Chinese ones) and travelers, we decided to forego the traditional route from Lhasa to Kathmandu for several reasons:

1) The roads to one of the highlights of the route (one that I especially wanted to see), Sakya, has been closed down due to road construction;
2) Nepal didn't make it on your itinerary this time around. So, there's really no point in travelling in a car for three straight days;
3) Another factor is that quite a few travelers we've talked to and that have taken this route, said that many of the cities they've passed through have been modernized with much Chinese-influence (e.g., Shigatse, Gyantse);
4) Lastly, to "really see" Tibet, there's quite a bit of red tape (you need permits for every place you go outside of Lhasa), which means lots of cost involved. Plus it's high season, and we've heard (and seen on the way to Lhasa from the airport) that quite a few policemen have been checking people.

So, after much debate between Rick and I, compromised on hopping on a Chinese tour. The name of the package is called 'The Great Canyon of Yarlung Tsampo.' I know, I know, I said we'd never take a Chinese tour ever again after our Great Wall/Ming's Tomb experience in Beijing. We were assured by the agency lady that 1) we won't be stopping by any souvenir shops on the way (as there really aren't any on the route chosen), 2) some of the places we'll stop at had just been opened to visitors last year, which includes the canyon itself, and 3) as long as we don't speak English to anyone, we'd be fine.

For 1000 yuan ($125 USD) per person, the package included all the entrance fees, meals, canyon boat ride, transportation in a minivan, and lodging for 3 days and 2 nights. Small group too - not your typical 40+ Chinese tour group. We had eight others in the group, plus the driver, a Chinese-speaking tour guide, and another tour guide in training. We can also ask to stop anytime for bathroom breaks, pictures, etc. (In comparison, the 7-day route from Lhasa to Kathmandu costs 4000-4200 yuan ($500-$525 USD) for a jeep and driver, and does not cover lodging, food, entrance fees, and sometimes gas. Traveling in Tibet is a lot more costly than in China overall).

The route goes through the southeastern part of Tibet, passing the Han-Chinese city of Bayi, and finishing at what has been claimed as the deepest canyon in the world, the Canyon of Yarlung Tsampo, before heading back to Lhasa. On the way, we were told that we will pass a great amount of natural scenery (snowy mountain passes, fertile valleys, grasslands, forests, etc.), small Tibetan villages, Basomtso Lake, a few monasteries, and some noted tourist stops.

I will cover the highlights and a few negatives (very few, actually!) in the next post.

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