Chengdu tea house
Permits in Chengdu
Chengdu is a major destination for many tourists; as a result, it tends to spark competition among some airlines. One can even buy tickets 40-55% off from Beijing the day before…. just In Chengdu you can arrange a minimum 3 day trip to Lhasa (including permits and the plane tickets) in less than 24 hours. The three agencies from Traffic Hotel are quoting prices between 2550-2700RMB and they will deliver your next day plane ticket at 9pm in your hotel room. In spite of being overpriced is still the legally cheapest and fastest way to get into Tibet.
Your permit will likely verified only when you first check in at Chengdu Airport.Once you are in Lhasa you can stay there as long as your Chinese visa is valid, no matter that there are travel agents who will try to convince you that you need a guide and an extension permit otherwise you will get in trouble with the authorities. They are ONLY trying to sell you guide services!!!
If you come from Chengdu you will be hosted in Snowland Hotel at least for the duration of your 3 day trip. For the day trip in the program you will have a guide with you, but do not expect too much from him in terms of explanations and such, so if you decide to go by yourself would be almost as well. Also the Drepung Monastery that is promised in the trip booked in Chengdu is not in the itinerary and you can visit by yourself getting there by bus #3. Also a good trip is to Pabonka Monastery and in order to get to the trek get bus #5.
If you travel further in Tibet and you don’t want to have troubles with the authorities you may need some other permits. In Snowland Hotel, tours and permits are organized by FIT Travel, a generic name you’ll find in many other hotels from Lhasa. The guys from FIT Travel in Snowland speak good English and are very friendly and helpful and you can contact them even by email from abroad to get fresher information. They promised they will answer to the emails but they are very busy serving travelers so it may take some time for the response: Dorjee Gyantsen: firstname.lastname@example.org mobile: 13628903282 and Sandup: email@example.com mobile:13908987610. The FIT office phone is 891 6343834
You can try to find better deals for various tours with other hotel agencies but it is an understanding between the agencies not to lure tourists from one to another. This is what we learned and if is true or not we cannot confirm but as we understood anybody booking through another agent still has to get the permits through the original hotel agency where the traveler arrived, and this will increase the time expected to get the permits or even not being able to get them at all.
In Lhasa we booked our tour through FIT travel in Snowland to go to Western Tibet, Nepalese border and Everest going also to Sakia, Shigatse and Gyantse. For this type of tour the agency needs about three days to obtain all the permits (military, tourism, local police, etc.). You can spend this time visiting Lhasa and its surroundings that has a lot to offer and to get acclimatized to the altitude, after leaving Lhasa you will be constantly over 4000 meters. The AMS is pretty serious business and during this trip we heard many horror stories especially about travelers and pilgrims coming directly from Katmandu getting in an hour from 200 meters to 3700 meters in Nyalam. After we finished the trip and realized all the effort we did we cannot emphasize enough the need of these several days of acclimatization, ideally a full week, in Lhasa. This week may be needed also to put together a group, if you came by yourself, who can have a decent time together during the 2 weeks spent in dire conditions. The more people are in the group the cheaper is the trip, considering that you are quoted a price for the use of the Land Cruiser. The ideal number of people would be 4 (excluding the driver and the guide) but the cars are big enough to accommodate 5 or even 6 if one is sitting in the luggage area.
The trips are priced by the number of days and the difficulty of the itinerary. Our trip took us 15 days, with 3 days in Kailash, one in Manasorovar and an extra day in The Everest and it cost somewhere around $450/person for a Land Cruiser with driver, guide and 4 travelers and we has to pay all the entrance fees for Kailash, the Everest areas and other. Before you leave for the trip, when you meet your guide ask him to tell you some things about Tibet in English. There are many instances when the guide is totally useless, like in our situation, and does not speak English. Do not hesitate when you find out to ask for somebody else because the agency will accommodate you even if they have to send a guide by another Land Cruiser. Also ask the agency to write on the paper the itinerary, what is included and what is not and anything else you may think that is useful. Usually the agency want to accommodate you but the guide and the driver may have a different agenda and will want to bring you to the places where they have an interest to stay.
When you book the trip with the agency, your lack of knowledge about the area puts you in an disadvantageous situation especially not knowing the time needed between two cities. Here are the times spent by us in the itinerary. It is important to take in consideration that we traveled in June, dry season, and we did not have any major incidents on the road. So I would consider these being the minimum needed times but they include also stops and lunch times:
Lhasa-5-Shigatse-3-Lhatse; (to get off to Sakia you need 2 hours round trip on 20 km, the road being in construction); Lhatse-8-Saga-3-Dzongba-2.5-Baryan-2-Nomad place-5.5-Manasarovar-1-Darchen; Saga-8-Nyalam-3-Tingri-4-Everest Base Camp-2.5-Shegar-4.5-Shigatse-3-Gyantse-6-Lhasa
Based on these times you can accomplish a short trip to Kailash and Manasorovar without seeing anything on the way in 9 days no matter that the agency will be very reluctant to do it.
You can also go to Kashgar the road being open and tours being organized. It takes another 4-5 days from Kailash, one to Ali and 3-4 more to Kashgar. In any instance, when you are dropped somewhere and the land Cruiser comes back empty you have to consider about 500RMB per day extra for the returning car, the Kashgar-Lhasa return taking about 8 days. You can get very good info about Kashgar by calling John’s Cafe in Kashgar at 0998-2551186 or email firstname.lastname@example.org They speak English very well and are very helpful.
Travel conditions in Ngari:
The conditions of the trip in Ngari are harsh and you have to be prepared psychologically for them.
Road: After you leave Saga the road is mostly built by wear and is so bumpy that you don’t know if everything inside your body will ever be in the same place. You are driving on a very dry and dusty plateau and many times the dust from outside will be so thick that you cannot open the windows. However the road is beautiful and very spectacular and is definitely worth the aggravations.
Food: You have to buy food in advance, the last place pretty well stuffed being Saga. After Saga expect nothing. Anything you find take it as a bonus and an exception. Meditate before you leave to the remarkable taste of instant noodles to get in the mood. If anybody offers to cook anything for you, don’t miss that chance.
Water: The rivers are very tasty and if you have some purification pills you may even sleep with less to worry. The last bottled water you can buy is in Saga. Also you can drink boiled water that you will receive almost everywhere you stay.
Sleep: Whatever has a dot on the map is considered a city but expect to be different than in Tsang. The dots on the map in Ngari are basically simple villages with mud huts, dirt floor rooms and washing in a basin for the best. A sleeping bag is highly recommended and not necessarily for the cold weather. Two sleeping recommendations: in Dzongba in front of Tashi Hotel that charges 50RMB for something that is possible to fall on you overnight, is a small Tibetan hotel and restaurant for truckers. The hosts are great, the beds are 15RMB, the room looks better and it has even a very diverse English menu at the restaurant with fried rice, pancakes and omelets.
If you don’t need to charge your batteries try to avoid Darchen( that sound and looks like Dark Age). Stay in Manasorovar, in a small Tibetan hotel in front of the Chiu monastery hotel. It is a very nice atmosphere and it has a great den that can accommodate many people. We spent a magical night there after we were able to negotiate the bed price down and as a result everybody else from the village came there to stay. Paradoxically the good business the owner had misfired, him being fined 5RMB by the other hotels in the village for non loyal competition!!!!
Electricity: The last place with electricity available to charge batteries is Saga and only after 8PM. Poles and nice street lamps are installed in Dzongba but the word was that the power will be turned on after June 28, 2002. The only other place with electricity is Darchen, either after 10pm in the managers office, (who will charge you 15RMB to charge batteries!!!) or at the restaurant for free. Also you can try the entire day at the telecom station that has a power group running continuously.
Mt. Kailash kora:
In Darchen you will be charged 50RMB to do the kora, however nobody checks the tickets. Lonely Planet mentions an exit checkpoint of the kora where you will be charged another 50RMB but we did not encounter anybody who asked for money or tickets. Maybe just good checkpoint karma.
I am sure Messner did the kora in 12 hours. Also the Tibetans are doing similar times but if you want to enjoy and see something is better to stay around the mountain 2-3 days. Many people recommend to get a porter to carry your stuff, the road being pretty intense and especially long. it is better to negotiate with the porters one day in advance and you can get one for 60RMB for one day but they want to be booked 3 days. Lonely Planet gives the first day a time of 3 hours to Chuku Monastery, that is correct, but the second part of the road is more around 5 hours than another 3 hours as they pretend. We found the first day to be the most difficult, by far more difficult than the next day crossing of the Drolma La pass. When you arrive close to the monastery after the first day you encounter two rivers: the first is coming from the north face glacier of the mountain and the second is the main river you followed for 5 hours. Both are spanned by bridges, so walk towards the glacier till you find the first bridge over the glacier stream, cross it, and walk past the monastery on the river shore upstream till you find the other bridge.
The monastery is not necessarily interesting and accommodations are pretty basic. We slept on a debris floor in a room where the monks carved statues. In the morning the monks began chanting at 6 am in a fantastic atmosphere. But if you want better sleeping conditions you can follow the glacier stream past the bridge towards Kailash and a little further there are some new pilgrim tents.
The second and third days on the trek are better timed by Lonely Planet. The second day is astounding when you will be joined by hundred of pilgrims walking or prostrating and by tens of yaks caring material or even people up the pass where the snowy peaks are breathless. The third day has at least one hour of very boring walk towards Darchen that gloomily comes in sight.
The road from Rongphu Monastery toward Everest Base camp takes about 90 minutes and is pretty interesting. Definitely is worth doing it at least once. At the Base Camp is a large sign that posts that you are not allowed to hike beyond the basecamp, such an action being punish by a $200 fine. However if you are not hiking in May when the expeditions are there, everybody from Tibet Mountaineering Association is in Beijing and Lhasa and is nobody to check on you. We got this tip from various guides. Also Tibet trekking books are stating that you can hike up to 5600 meters with no permit. As a result we decided to hike up till Camp 1, an interesting 2 hours hike that takes you along Rongphu glacier and up the mountain towards the left. If you want to get there you don’t have to cross any body of water except the one in the base camp. However from Camp 1 you cannot see the mountain but you have better views of the other adjacent peaks.
Shigatse and Gyantse:
Tashilhumpo Monastery opens between 9-12 and 4-6pm. The afternoon break is allocated to possible visits and mass held by Panchen Lama.
Gyantsen’s Kumbum and Pelkor Chonde Monastery closes at 6:00 PM but the Dzong stays open till 7 PM.
The dogs, that were a menace in the past in both cities, are hardly to be seen anymore. You can walk the streets at night with no fear of bites.
You can take pictures in all the monastery compounds around Tibet. There are restrictions to take pictures ONLY in the interior of some of the buildings. In most of them the restriction may be waived by paying a small fee (10-15RMB). In some others, considered highly venerated, the fee may be even 1500RMB. In the Potala Pal