Tibet, Roof of the World

June 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Culture, Feature Highlights, Mythical Himalayas, Nature

I don’t like to quote Wikipedia too often, but on this occasion it’s really quite apt – “‘Tibet’ names and definitions are linguistically and politically loaded language.” In context of this discussion, the Tibet we refer to is the official Tibet Autonomous Region. It is a natural geographic wonders, the world’s longest and highest plateau full of gorgeous scenery that has been dubbed ‘the roof of the world.’ While the country is filled with unique historical sites, natural phenomenon, and brilliant experiences, here are just a few ideas to get your next Tibet adventure started.

Capital Culture in Lhasa

Lhasa is Tibet’s capital and cultural center. The city has a long history dating back to the 7th century; some of the post popular sights to see today include –

Potala Palace. Photo credit - reurinkjan.

Potala Palace. Photo credit - reurinkjan.

Potala Palace – this massive, earthquake-proof building is the largest collection of Tibetan relics. Inside are jewelry, murals, and priceless antiques. The palace is 14 stories tall so it’s a strenuous tour that will take the better part of a half day at least.

Bakhor Street. Photo credit - vwsluk.

Bakhor Street. Photo credit - vwsluk.

Bakhor Street – Bakhor (or Baghor) is the oldest street in Lhasa, and today is a virtual open air market with each side of the old lane filled with shops and storefronts. You can pick up everything here, from a tacky souvenir to household goods to food and drink. The street is always quite crowded because it is one of the “circumambulation circuits,” a route that goes around the temple and is a method of showing devotion.

Jokhang Temple. Photo credit - Matthew Winterburn.

Jokhang Temple. Photo credit - Matthew Winterburn.

Jokhang Temple – the Jokhang monastery was originally built in 647AD and was expanded several times to reach the size you see today. Inside is a statue of Jowo Sakyamuni Buddha which is considered one of the most highly regarded religious in the country.

Natural Beauty

Get out of the cities and you’ll find yourself with some of Asia’s most dramatic natural sights. Beyond the fame and glory of scaling Mount Everest, at Tibet’s border with Nepal, you’ll also find these show stopping stops –

Yarlung Zangbo. Photo credit - notemper.

Yarlung Zangbo. Photo credit - notemper.

Yarlung Zangbo – this is a canyon waterway on the Parlung Zangbo River which packs in a number of great viewpoints along the crystal-clear waters. Ra’og Lake is beautiful and takes a different persona during each season – it has been called “Switzerland in Tibet.” There are also a number of glaciers that can be reached with some effort, such as the Midui glacier whose icy façade appears to just hang down the side of the cliff face.

Yamdrok Lake. Photo credit - Jake Ji.

Yamdrok Lake. Photo credit - Jake Ji.

Yamdrok Lake – one of the three largest sacred lakes in Tibek, Yamdrok is also the source for Tibet’s largest hydroelectric power station. Local legend says that if Yamdrok dries up, Tibet will no longer be habitable. Surrounding the lake is a series of sharp mountain peaks and several small villages. The lake has nine islands – one is large enough to be home to the Samding Monastery.

Mount Kailash. Photo credit - reurinkjan.

Mount Kailash. Photo credit - reurinkjan.

Mount Kailash – spending three days walking around a mountain may not strike your fancy, but to do so around Mount Kailash is a pilgrimage, this one of the most sacred mountains in all of Tibet. It is the far west, and the mountain’s iconic rounded cap is almost always snow-covered and very inspirational even for non-Buddhists.

If You Go

All tourists require a permit of some sort to visit Tibet, and sometimes the rules change, so you’re best to check with a travel agent regarding the latest information before you travel. At a minimum you’ll need a Tibet Tourism Bureau permit. Some areas (which change frequently) require an Aliens’ Travel Permit (ATP) which is issued by branches of the Public Security Bureau in most larger Tibetan cities. And if you choose to go to some of the most remote areas, you’ll also need a military permit, only available in Lhasa. Typically permits are inexpensive when coupled with a tour package; otherwise you’ll be faced with a high markup.

If it all sounds confusing, it is. But it’s always better to double-check your paperwork than to be faced with disappointment. Also keep in mind the extreme altitude which can exert extreme stress on the body. Give yourself some time to acclimatize – in other words, don’t go trying to see all 14 stories of Portala Palace on your first day or walk around Mount Kailash in only 24 hours.

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Experiences.

7 Things You Didn’t Know About Everest

January 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Attractions, Mythical Himalayas, Nature

What’s in a name?
Everest, previously known just as Peak XV, was confirmed to be the highest mountain in the world in 1856. It was named after Sir George Everest (a previous Surveyor General of India) due to the fact that Tibet and Nepal were sealed off at the time, and so the local names couldn’t be discovered. In Tibetan it is known as Chomolungma (mother goddess of the universe), while the Nepalese call the mountain Sagarmatha – goddess of the sky.

To put that in perspective…
The summit of Mount Everest stands at 8,848m – the equivalent of twenty Empire State Buildings, just below the cruising altitude of a jet. The Burj Dubai will be the tallest building on Earth once it is completed, but Everest will still be over twelve and a half times its height. Even Everest Base Camp (5,300m), the staging point for attempts on the summit, is higher than any of the Rocky Mountains.

Big, but not so tough
It may be the highest mountain in the world, but Everest is not the most dangerous. About 3000 people have made it to the top of Everest, and over 200 never made it back to the safety of Everest Base Camp – it is estimated that about 9 percent of Everest climbers do not survive their journey. This may sound like a daunting percentage, but compared to some other mountains, this is tame stuff – K2, known as the Savage Mountain, claims a quarter of its climbers, and Annapurna I has a staggering 40 percent mortality rate due to its frequent avalanches.

Rest in peace…
Anyone who is climbing from Everest Base Camp to Everest’s summit must prepare themselves for the gruesome sight of the climbers who never made it back. At the higher altitudes, the corpses do not decompose due to the cold, and removing them is too dangerous. It is believed that over 120 bodies remain on the mountain, many of which are visible from the standard summiting routes. Anyone on an Everest Base Camp trek needn’t worry – all the bodies are further up in the so called “Death Zone”.

The fastest way down…
There are plenty of speed records associated with Everest, but one of the most impressive is that of the fastest descent. In 1988, Jean Marc Boivin of France went off the summit in a paraglider, making his descent in just eleven minutes.

You may kiss the bride
Couples are always trying to find ways to make their wedding day memorable, but few would think of holding the ceremony at 29,000 feet. On May 30th 2005, the Nepalese couple Mono Mulepati and Pem Dorje Sherpa became the first people to tie the knot at the highest point on Earth. Presumably, they had to find a Buddhist priest who was also a master mountain climber to perform the ceremony!

You’re never too old…or too young
Keen mountain climbers who hope to one day go beyond Everest Base Camp and on to the summit itself may be embarrassed to discover the age of Everest’s youngest summiteer. Temba Tsheri made it to the top in 2001 aged just 15. Then again, it’s never too late to make it to the top – Min Bahadur Sherchan was 76 when he reached the summit.

About the Author. Jude Limburn.Jude Limburn Turner is the Marketing Manager for Mountain Kingdoms, an adventure tour company who have run Everest Base Camp treks for over 20 years.