First Day in Tibet

With great excitement we gathered at 5am for the early flight to Lhasa, Tibet. I can’t believe we’re actually getting to go. I have taken acetazolemide for altitude sickness, about half of us have, and the other half thought they’d brave it out and then once in China decided to get some Chinese herbs for altitude sickness. We’re thinking the Western medicine won this round.

Latitude 29°17'39.32"N, Longitude 90°54'37.72"E

We arrived in Lhasa Airport which is really in Gonggar about 60km outside of Lhasa. It’s easy to see why they placed the airport there when you look at it in Google Earth; the airport is in a fairly wide river valley. It is pretty straight and the planes have plenty of room for take-offs and landings. There are no large flat areas to put an airport in Lhasa. I was told that the bus trip used to be about four hours (over 100km) but they ‘found a short cut.’ What they did was blast a straight tunnel right through the mountain. That’ll do the trick.

Two Tibetan tour guides met us at the airport. The Young Tour Guide gave us an overview of some interesting facts about the Plateau, like all major rivers in Asia originate in Tibet. There’s no birth control in the countryside and families have four and five children, but in the cites families are smaller, like 2 children each. There are no grave yards to be seen, there are Sky Burials, which can be expensive, so there are Water Burials for the poor. There are Earth Burials for criminals, and there are Spirit Burials for the sub-Lamas and monks.

We were told to not take pictures of the military or ‘we would have a problem.’

The geology is incredible. Though Lhasa is over 3600 meters above sea level, the surrounding mountains jut up quite high and form a jagged rim around the valley. There are no trees on these mountains and this is indicative of rapid uplift and lack of a wet enough environment to produce soil. The lack of soil is a big reason why the Tibetans do the Sky Burials, there’s no ground to bury people in. Actually, the mountains remind me of those in Nevada and Utah, with just scrubby, low brush and easy to read geology.

Once we got into Lhasa, we had a nice lunch at a hotel. The food was very mild compared to the Sichuan fare I was used to, but it tasted really good. I was prepared for the worst because our guides made the Tibetan food out to be so horrible you had to go out and buy extra snacks just to stay alive. I don’t know if we will have a food shortage problem.

Latitude 29.659802, Longitude 91.088817, Altitude 3,627 meters (11,900 feet)

Arrived at the Tibet Hotel. It’s not too beautiful on the outside, but inside, in our room, it is just dandy. Very clean and comfortable and the view is amazing. Plus the Lhasa air is so fresh and clean. As usual, I’ll write about the experience on Tripadvisor rather than here.

Against the wishes of the tour operator, we took a little nap. He thought it would be best if we just stayed awake to acclimate to the higher altitude but many of us were really tired and sleep was all we could do. Plus we have a big day tomrrow. But after that short nap, we took a walk to see what was in the neighborhood. We found an interesting array of street vendors, all selling what looked like the exact same things in about hundred spots on carts and on blankets laid out on the sidewalk. All had the same approach to lure us over using a few English phrases. But we bought some cool stuff, took some pictures of the beautiful children and had fun.

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