Roof of the world

Ti­bet can be re­ward­ing, but needs prepa­ra­tion

Global Times - Weekend - - TRAVEL - By Li Jingjing Page Ed­i­tor: luwe­nao@glob­al­times.com.cn

South­west China’s Ti­bet Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion is on the list of trav­el­ing des­ti­na­tions for many peo­ple. Thanks to the re­gion’s many por­tray­als in movies and good word of mouth among trav­el­ers, Ti­bet is seen as a holy and mys­te­ri­ous land that most peo­ple want to visit at least once in their lifetime.

While I agree that Ti­bet is def­i­nitely a must-see place, most peo­ple don’t con­sider the dif­fi­cul­ties that en­sue with such a pil­grim­age.

Peo­ple who are look­ing to go on a fun, re­laxed and ex­cit­ing hol­i­day, prob­a­bly should head some­where else.

Trav­el­ing in Ti­bet def­i­nitely will be ex­haust­ing as the phys­i­cal chal­lenges this place presents makes it dif­fi­cult to re­lax.

How­ever, don’t think I’m try­ing to in­tim­i­date those who are yearn­ing to visit Ti­bet. I just feel that be­ing fully pre­pared both phys­i­cally and men­tally is cru­cial to re­ally en­joy­ing ev­ery­thing this place has to of­fer.

I just fin­ished my first trip to Ti­bet in late July, and here I would like to share some of my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences, as well as some tips.

What to take

“Travel light” does not ap­ply to Ti­bet. On the con­trary, it’s bet­ter to pack as much as pos­si­ble. Sev­eral things are es­sen­tial for trav­el­ing in Ti­bet.

1. Al­ti­tude sick­ness medicine

It’s im­por­tant for ev­ery one who is not ac­cus­tomed to high al­ti­tudes to pack medicine to treat this sick­ness, be­cause it could hap­pen to any­one at dif­fer­ent lev­els of sever­ity.

Ti­bet is known as the “roof of the world.” The av­er­age al­ti­tude is more than 4,000 me­ters above sea level and most scenic spots are lo­cated at places nearly 5,000 me­ters above sea level. That means the avail­able oxy­gen in the air is al­most 40 per­cent less than what we nor­mally breathe.

This can cause a se­ries of symp­toms, in­clud­ing headache, loss of ap­petite, trou­ble sleep­ing and fast heart­beat – all of which could stop you from en­joy­ing your trip.

Tak­ing medicine to pre­vent high al­ti­tude sick­ness ev­ery day in Ti­bet is nec­es­sary, while some medicine needs to be taken sev­eral days be­fore land­ing in Ti­bet, es­pe­cially for those who have never been on the plateau.

While it was my first time be­ing on plateau, I didn’t suf­fer from al­ti­tude sick­ness my first day. I give half of the credit to all the medicine I kept tak­ing ev­ery day.

In China, there are two main medicines that most peo­ple choose, medicine made from herba rho­di­o­lae, the other is lan yang pian, or blue pills, each of which en­hance your body’s abil­ity to ab­sorb oxy­gen. They are all avail­able on taobao.com.

Cold medicine is also some­thing you need to bring, be­cause the chang­ing tem­per­a­ture in Ti­bet can eas­ily cause a cold, which could be­come a fa­tal sick­ness at high al­ti­tude.

2. Clothes for four sea­sons The tem­per­a­ture can be dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent from one place to an­other in Ti­bet, or sim­ply just from day to night. It’s very com­mon to wear a short­sleeve T-shirt dur­ing the day and then wear a down coat at night. This is why Ti­betans tend to wear their cot­ton-padded jack­ets with one sleeve on their shoul­der and the other off. If you are head­ing for moun­tains and lakes, pack­ing down coats and pants, as well as climb­ing boots are im­por­tant. Al­though in sum­mer, places like Lhasa are warm enough to just wear a short-sleeve shirt, but it’s bet­ter to wear a thin jacket, be­cause the sun­shine is very strong and could give you a ter­ri­ble sun­burn. Pack­ing sun­block and bring­ing sun­glasses is es­sen­tial.

Rules for sur­vival

The high al­ti­tude ba­si­cally re­quires that we change the life­style that we were used to.

1. Be­ing ‘slow’ is key. Bet­ter to make ev­ery move­ment as slow as pos­si­ble. Walk, and walk slowly, in­stead of run­ning, jog­ging or jump­ing.

Try not to do ex­er­cise or any sports. Any fast move­ment puts an ex­tra bur­den on your heart and lungs which are al­ready over­whelmed try­ing to bring oxy­gen to your whole body.

Many peo­ple faint from do­ing sports in Ti­bet be­cause they didn’t feel any al­ti­tude sick­ness.

I didn’t feel any sick­ness un­til the day I headed to Namtso, a moun­tain lake in cen­tral Ti­bet which is about 4,700 me­ters above sea level. No mat­ter how slowly I walked, I could feel my heart was rac­ing like I had just fin­ished a 100-me­ter race.

So I chose to sit down all the time and rest more of­ten, even though that meant miss­ing out on a few scenic spots. It turned out that this was good choice, be­cause af­ter that day, I didn’t suf­fer from high al­ti­tude sick­ness symp­toms even when I went to Mount Qo­molangma Base Camp, which is 5,200 me­ters above sea level.

2. Take less show­ers This is a com­mon rule ac­cepted by trav­el­ers in Ti­bet. Don’t take show­ers or wash your hair dur­ing your first two days in Ti­bet, and don't take show­ers that fre­quent ei­ther af­ter­ward, be­cause that also con-tributes to high al­ti­tude sick­ness and may lead you to catch­ing a cold as well.

3. About oxy­gen bot­tles Many peo­ple are so wor­ried about al­ti­tude sick­ness that they carry oxy­gen bot­tles and take hits off of it when­ever they feel any symp­tom. That is the wrong move.

Do not use oxy­gen bot­tles un­less you ab­so­lutely have to. They are more for those suf­fer­ing se­vere symp­toms, like some­one who has fainted.

It’s nat­u­ral to feel symp­toms like headache, loss of ap­petite or a rac­ing heart­beat, but the hu­man body is very adap­tive.

Give yours enough time to ac­tively adapt to this low oxy­gen en­vi­ron­ment and you will be able to en­joy your visit with­out any symp­toms.

How­ever, us­ing oxy­gen bot­tles when small symp­toms oc­cur af­fects the body abil­ity to adapt. Then th­ese symp­toms may fol­low you dur­ing en­tire trip.

Get­ting there

There are many routes and trans­porta­tion in dif­fer­ent cities

in China, in­clud­ing di­rect flight and oxy­gen-pumped trains.

How­ever, for­eign­ers need to par­tic­i­pate in group tours or­ga­nized by travel agen­cies.

It may sound dull. But Ti­bet is a very large place which means it takes dozens of hours to drive from place A to B.

The com­pli­cated ge­og­ra­phy of Ti­bet also means not ev­ery driver can han­dle trav­el­ing by them­selves.

In that case, tak­ing an or­ga­nized tour with an ex­pe­ri­enced driver and huge oxy­gen bot­tle on board will ac­tu­ally make your trip safer.

Things to re­mem­ber

Ti­bet is a very re­li­gious re­gion and lo­cal peo­ple have many cus­toms and tra­di­tions. It’s im­por­tant to re­spect their cul­ture.

It’s very com­mon to see peo­ple pray­ing, ei­ther in the cities or out in the wilds. It’s okay to give them a lit­tle bit of money. Yet I saw too many tourists tak­ing photos of them, which kind of dis­turbed them.

When vis­it­ing tem­ples, please wear long sleeves and long pants to cover your­selves. Fe­male vis­i­tors shouldn’t come into phys­i­cal contact with monks.

Many parts of Ti­bet are still less de­vel­oped, es­pe­cially in re­mote moun­tain ar­eas. On Mount Qo­molangma Camp Base, even water is a lux­ury.

Lo­cal vil­lagers have to walk a very long way to get water from wells and have to carry it back them­selves.

So hy­giene con­di­tions will be quite dif­fer­ent from what we are used to in cities – it’s nor­mal for places not to have run­ning water or mod­ern toi­lets.

Many peo­ple call Ti­bet the last pure land, as the wilder­ness, peo­ple and cul­ture seem less im­pacted by the mod­ern world.

Ev­ery­thing you see and ex­pe­ri­ence there is quite dif­fer­ent from our daily lives.

Al­though it might be tough at time, the ex­pe­ri­ence is def­i­nitely worth the trou­ble.

Photos: Li Jingjing

Counter-clock­wise from left: The Po­tala Palace in Lhasa, cap­i­tal of South­west China’s Ti­bet Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion A yak on the plateau An el­derly woman prays. Two Ti­betan Bud­dhism monks

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