Journey to the West: The road to Tibet

Culture | by Peta Heinrich
Posted: April 22nd, 2013 | Updated: April 3rd, 2014 | Comments

Pilgrims at Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet (Photo © Peta Heinrich)

 Though now free to explore this deeply religious land of chortans, prayer flags and scarlet-robed monks, the next big challenge was the altitude. Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world at 3,490 m (11,450 ft) above sea level. For me, the air was noticeably thinner and, at first, normal activities such as climbing a flight of stairs or tackling a modest uphill climb left me out of breath and required much more effort than usual. My Bolivian companion, accustomed to living at altitude, felt no effects whatsoever, but for some the effects can be life-threatening. While some people take preventative medication or other remedies, aside from purchasing the oxygen pillows (which we did not end up using), we did not take any other measures against the altitude. Eventually our bodies adjusted, the headaches of the first day disappeared, and we set out to explore Lhasa’s must-see sights.

They say it’s not always the destination that’s important, but the journey, and while this journey had already proved to be quite an adventure, the destination also provided lots to remember. Since my visit to Tibet, travel restrictions have changed constantly and are always subject to more change at short notice. While I certainly do not recommend you follow in my 2006 footsteps and try to enter without a Tibet Travel Permit, if you do make it through the application process successfully (an epic journey in itself!), then maybe you’ll pick up my trail once again, appropriate paperwork in hand.

Stay tuned for more on Peta's travels in Lhasa and Tibet. Note: While Tibet travel permits have been nigh on impossible to get hold of for some time, the region has recently opened again for foreign tourists.

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