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Beijing (China) to Mt Manaslu (Nepal), October 2010

Our journey through Tibet started with the spectacular train ride from Beijing to Lhasa. The first day of the journey took us mainly through the Chinese lowlands, while the second part of the journey was on the Tibetan Plateau (read also the article: "The highest train journey in the world"). Eventually, we crossed a pass of more than 5100 metres. When we arrived on the train station of Lhasa, we were welcomed by Tsering, our guide for the trip through Tibet.

Nowadays, it is unfortunately not possible anymore to travel independently through Tibet. That means that you always have to be accompanied by a guide who is certified by the Chinese government. The Chinese, who occupy Tibet since the fifties of the previous century, don’t want to have priers in Tibet who will bring abuses of the occupation into the media. That’s why every visit to Tibet needs to be organised and approved beforehand. The guide has to prevent that you visit areas of Tibet that are forbidden for foreigners or that they talk to people who are against the Chinese presence in Tibet. During the first days of our visit to Tibet, we visited Lhasa and some sights around the city. Lhasa is the Tibetan capital which is heavily influenced by the Chinese. Nowadays, more than 60% of the inhabitants of Lhasa are Chinese, and the Chinese government is still motivating Chinese people to migrate from China to Lhasa and other parts of Tibet. These Chinese migrants are economically stimulated to move to Tibet, for example by providing them with cheap loans to open shops. Tibetan farmers who own land around Lhasa are indirectly forced to sell their land to Chinese migrants and property developers. Because of the expansion of the city, the farmers get the choice to build property on their land, or to sell the land to somebody else who can. And because of the fact that the farmers are too poor to build property, they are automatically forced to sell the land, for a cheap price, to people with money; the Chinese in this case.

Chinese soldiers patrol through central Lhasa
By the way, Lhasa is the city in Tibet where the Chinese occupation is most visible. Since the riots of 2008, there are a lot of soldiers in the streets of central Lhasa whose job it is to keep the Tibetans under control. There are also a lot of video cameras on every corner of the street. In the busiest streets of the town you will see permanent military patrols going on, and on the roofs of many buildings, soldiers are present. The Chinese government has only one goal: intimidation of the Tibetan people. The intimidation is clearly visible near the holy Jokhang Temple where many pilgrims walk the kora (pilgrimage) around the temple. According to Buddhist apprenticeship, people have to walk a kora around a holy place in a clockwise direction. But not the military patrol, they walk the route anticlockwise. The Chinese government also controls the religious life of Tibetan people. Most monasteries, who sometimes had 5000 to 6000 monks within their premises, are now limited to a couple of hundreds of monks. Too many monks is more difficult to control is what the Chinese government thinks. And the monks that are allowed to stay after an intense screening, are re-educated in special programs. The Chinese have one thing in mind: destruction of Tibetan culture and with it, the wish to become an independent nation.

In and around Lhasa we visit a couple of monasteries and of course also the world famous Potala Palace, once the political and religious centre of Tibet. But nowadays, the palace is managed by Chinese soldiers in orange overalls whose job it is to manoeuvre the many pilgrims and tourists who visit the palace everyday. Every tourist gets a timeslot of one hour to walk the predefined route through this palace, which is nowadays more a museum than a religious centre. But, it is still a magical place and an absolute ‘must see’ for everybody who visits Lhasa. It is a miracle that the palace survived the Cultural Revolution, which took place in the sixties of last decade. Lead by Mao, the communist party thought that religion was one of the biggest threats to Communist rule, and for that reason he ordered to destroy all religious symbols, including century’s old monasteries and temples. But for some reason, some say because of the local Communist leader in Tibet who found it a pity to destroy a palace like the Potala one, the palace survived the wave of destruction that went through the country. But times changed in China. Nowadays, religion is big business in China, at least as long as it does not dispute Communist rule. Monasteries and temples are seen as money machines where substantional admission fees can be collected. All the money goes to the government, and the present-day monks, are on the payroll of the government. The Chinese government probably thinks: “whose bread people eat, who word they speak” (old Dutch saying).

Posing with the Everest in the background

After our visit to Lhasa, we drove via Gyantse, Shigatse and Sakya to Mount Everest Base camp. Gyantse, Shigatse and Sakya are small traditional Tibetan towns where the Chinese influence is still much less than in Lhasa. These towns have beautiful monasteries, of which some (partly) survived the Cultural Revolution, and therefore it is still possible to admire original wall paintings, statues and buildings in these monasteries. Also the scenery in this part of Tibet is spectacular. High snow-capped peaks and rough landscapes are alternated by beautiful glaciers and turquoise lakes. Also the gravel road which took us to the base camp is amazing. Many hairpin curves brought us to a 5200 metres pass where we saw four 8000-metre peaks in one view (Everest, Lhotse, Makulu, Chyo-yu).

Our stay at the Everest Base Camp was both spectacular and cold. During the afternoon that we arrived, Everest showed itself only sporadically because of the clouds. But the following day the view was tremendous. There was not even the smallest cloud. We got up early enough to see the first sunbeams of the day illuminating the top of the Everest. But it was so cold! It froze more than fifteen degrees Celsius, but the strong wind made it almost unbearable cold. But we stayed and it was worth every second. After our visit to the base camp, we drove back to the Friendship highway and drove in two beautiful days to the Tibetan-Nepalese border. We crossed several passes of more than 5000 metres and the landscape was incredible. We stayed one night in Zhangmu on the Tibetan side, and the next day we said goodbye to our guide Tsering and crossed the Friendship Bridge to Nepal. After getting our visa, we hired a small van with driver to bring us to Kathmandu. The journey took much longer than expected, because the Chinese-made little van gave up several times during the ride. Eventually, we had to take a taxi for the last few kilometres and arrive after eight o’clock in the evening in the centre of Kathmandu. The first days in Kathmandu we used to explore the city and we especially enjoyed the old quarters of the city. Kathmandu still has old quarters where it seems that time stood still for centuries. Beautiful old alleys and squares with colourful people, small temples and little traditional shops give you the feeling to walk in an open air museum (see also the photo impression and video of Kathmandu). We also brought visits to Pashupatinath, famous for the public open air cremations along the holy Bagmati River, and to Bodnath, the holiest place in Nepal for Buddhist Tibetan refugees. But we also has some actions to finish. We had to apply for the Indian Visa at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu and we had several appointments with Pema of Pema Treks Ltd, who arranged our trekking around the Manaslu Mountain.

We decided already months ago that we wanted to do a so-called camping trek. That means that we arranged a team of people (13 in total) and equipment to do the trekking. Many other people decide to do a so-called Tea House trek which means that they make use of the hostels and restaurants along the trekking route. But because we wanted to do a less popular trekking, without a lot of facilities along the route, we had to bring everything ourselves. Tea Houses and restaurants are only available along the most popular trekking in Nepal, like the trekkings in the Annapurna and Everest areas. The ‘around Manaslu’ trek, which encircles the plus-8000-metres high Manaslu, is not popular (yet) and that was one of the reasons to choose this trek. We started our trekking on September 17th with the bus ride from Kathmandu to Arugat Bazaar where we started the walking. In the days after, we walked through the lowlands of Nepal, characterised by small farming villages and a lot of rice fields. After walking day five, with started ascending more steeply, with the ultimate goal to cross the 5100 metres pass Larky La, which we eventually did on day twelve. It wasn’t easy, but the scenery was breathtaking.

See also the photo impression and video of Tibet.


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