As we arrive at our deserted train station in Tibet’s capital Lharsa it felt good to finally stretch the limbs out. For the last 72 hours we had travelled non-stop 4064km across the remotest parts of China and Tibet on the Qinghai-Tibet railway. The wild untouched reaches of the environment and a shifting culture had lured us here, we would witness both, sadly, in equal measure.
At nearly 12,000ft Lharsa is a beautiful ancient city, bustling and colourful. The local population devoted to the Buddhist faith display carved shrines alongside small smoking towers. The fragrance of smouldering pine needles engulfs the market squares. Under the blue skies of our first morning, we stood quiet and humbled as 100’s of Tibetan locals circumnavigated the Potala Palace (The Dalai Lamas former residence) with prayer wheels and prayer beads, offering their blessing and commitment at this sacred and remarkable spot.
As the sun rose on our 3rd day it was time to leave Lharsa to start our 4-day 800-mile vehicle journey across Tibet. The route would take us out alongside the Himalayas and down to the sub-tropical Nepalise border. The journey out of the city was a moment of reflection. We had all learned about the influence and history of the Chinese in this region but I didn’t think we expected to discover such an overwhelming authority from the larger neighbour and occupier.
As Lharsa became a distant sight in the wing mirror, Tibet’s civilisation became less evident. Hour after hour the empty road meandered through 5000m passes, past ugly hydroelectric dams nestled over the mountain reservoirs and eventually taking us further towards the remote communities out amongst the Tibetan plateau. At this point the mountain terrain became all-powerful, snowcapped and rugged. For 2 days our frozen accommodations are small remote tea houses in dusty wild west towns where every dog is malnourished and stray, cows wander the streets eating cardboard and the galaxy chocolate is 1 year out of date. We attract funny looks and attention from our western faces and grizzly beards.
As day 3 became day 4, the harsh Himalayan temperatures and terrain slowly give way to lush green mountains and alpine-like forests as we descended down towards Nepal. The narrow mountain roads snake and contour until we reach a bustling border town set on a hill reminiscent of a Brazilian favela. Drivers from India and Nepal wait their turn to cross the border with their vibrantly coloured trucks while small restaurants churn out local spicy noodles with yak for little under £3. As we safely make our way on foot through the strict Chinese border crossing we go from one country to another, and from one adventure to the next. Kathmandu is our new destination; it will take us 8 hours by 4 x 4. In the coming weeks Mt Everest will be our journey’s end.
There is something to be said about Tibet, it is a country of landscape and culture that is of unrivalled beauty. For someone like myself who is driven into the arms of certain remote environments because of their native cultures Tibet is a goldmine of history. In a place where verbal communication was hard I found the locals shared their life stories through their faces, hands and kindness. Their stories are of nomadic lifestyles and hardship built around their community, family and their need to simply survive. How strange we go so far in search of adventure, only to meet and be humbled our fellow man and his way of life.