(Dear English readers, please scroll down for the ‘click’ for English translation)
我和Ed的假期只乘几天，没时间到郊外。所以，这种签证刚好适合我们。 虽不如我梦想中的“一个月把西藏游遍”的计划，可机会难得，看一看驰名的拉萨也好。价钱比我们预测的便宜。唯一 的问题是我们不会见到所谓的签证，因为这个签证是团体的，不是个人的。我怎么知道我们是否真的进得了去，或进了去出不了来。 加上，我们必须告诉负责人我们要飞离的日子，他帮我们代买飞离拉萨的机票。可是，机票要到了拉萨，再到另一家他们接洽的旅行社才可拿到。
你们无法i想象我们当时有多担心！我进进出出这旅行社十多次，问长问短，要探测这位负责人的可靠性。我最最担心的是，我和负责人的所有交谈，Ed一个字都听不懂。Ed是比我精明的人，我较心地善良，一路上就曾被小骗过一，两次。不过，那些是小骗，我几乎是心甘情愿地被骗。我一直解释说，哎呀，他们日子贫穷，我多给人民币几元 有什么关系。可是，如果这次我又被骗的话，后果不堪设想。可是，担心归担心，有些难逢的机会是不可放过的。 看那负责人还蛮可靠的，就决定信一信他。
I have recently changed the blog theme design, and Ed happens to choose a photo of Potala Palace as the header image, which immediately remind me of our trip to Lhasa three years ago.
Ed and I backpacked in China at that time. Tibet was not in our original plan but while we were visiting Zhongdian（a small town located at the boarder of Tibet), we saw a poster for a travel agent that specialised in helping independent (and budget-minded) travellers to get visas for Tibet. Out of curiosity, and with my long standing dream of visiting Tibet, we went to see how “easy” it is to enter the country without being on a tour. The agent seemed reliable and honest, and the cost was also less than expected. He only got us visas to visit Lhasa, the capital of Tiber. If we wanted to travel around the country, we had to get additional visas. Ed and I only had only a few days left for our trip, hence this seemed to be a reasonable choice (although it was different from my intention to go for one whole month sometime in the future. However, this was a rare chance and we decided to go for it, seeing that we were so close).
Since the Chinese government does not encourage independent travelling, this agent applied for a ‘group’ visa for us, which also included a couple of other backpackers and a group of Thai buddhist monks. The agent not only helped us to book the air tickets, he also drove us to the Zhongdian airport himself and helped us to check in. It was really like a ‘tour group’ organised by his travel agent but we can go on our own once we reach Lhasa. We couldn’t get our return air tickets until we got to Tibet, which worried Ed greatly, since he is a natural worrier.
Zhongdian airport only consists of a very small but modern building for check-in. It is one of the few gateway to Tibet. Zhongdian’s is in a mountainous area and the city sits at 3400m above sea level. The runway is situated in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains making the scenery absolutely stunning (as picture above).
We met a few Canadians on the plane and enjoyed their stories of teaching English in Tibet. A couple of them had been living in Tibet for about six to seven years and still loves it! When we arrived, I thought the Tibet airport would be similar to Zhongdian airport, but it is a very modernised and with a gangway so we don’t have to walk on the tarmac to the terminal. What a surprise and disappointment ！
Once out of the airport, a minibus came to pick us (the whole ‘tour group’) up. It was an hour or more long journey from the airport to Lhasa itself. Along the way, there are beautiful mountainous plateau scenery, we also had a tour guide to tell us some stories about Tibet. He was also in charged of getting us pass customs. I could see lots of Chinese Army personnel along the way. There were small towns along the road but it looked like many others we saw in China. Sometimes, I was unsure if I really was in Tibet because I saw signs with huge Chinese characters, while the Tibetan characters were very small or unnoticeable.
In the bus, I felt a mild headache and dizziness. I knew it was more to do so with the high altitude than with car sickness. At that time, I did not understand why I suffered from high altitude sickness here and not in Zhongdian. There was only 250 meters difference between the two cities (Lhsas is at 3650m), but I could feel the symptoms much more acutely here. After some research online today, I realised the Zhongdian region has more forest reserves than Tibet, thus resulting in a better supply of oxygen. This is why the symptoms of high altitude sickness are more prominent in Tibet.
When our group arrived in Lhasa, we were dropped off at each individual requested accommodation. This signified the completion of our ‘group tour’ and beginning of my own adventures in Lhasa…… (to be continued)