Traveling the world has become more convenient than ever before. You can just type where you want to go into an internet search engine and thousands of sites, blogs, and advertisements appear with the best rates for flights, overnight accommodations, places to see, things to eat, and any other useful tips you can imagine about wherever it is you want to go. A few clicks of a button and you can have a ticket booked anywhere (a lot of times for a reasonable price), and then all you need to do is jump on a plane (or a few) to end up on a whole new adventure.
This time for me and my husband, the adventure was: Tibet.
Saying you are going to Tibet to a Westerner is almost like a joke. Tibet, unfortunately, is just thought of as a far off black-hole-of-a-place that no one visits and contains mostly livestock. If you are joking with someone about running away to a place where no one can find you, the two most common places people say they are running to are either Tibet or Timbuktu. I have no idea why these are the places, but they are. When I told people I had a trip planned to Tibet the response was usually: “Wait, no, seriously? People actually go there?” or “Why of all places Tibet?”.
Why of all places Tibet is because Tibet hosts half of the largest mountain in the world: Everest. As I shared in my previous post, my husband, Paul, and I were offered the opportunity to hike to Everest Base Camp on the Tibet side.
“There is a Tibet side of Everest?” is another question asked. Yes, yes there is. Everest being the vast, goddess that she is, spans across two bordering countries: Nepal and Tibet/China. Nepal is the South side of the mountain, Tibet is the North. I had no idea either that there was a base camp on the Tibet side until I started researching what exactly we had signed up for. I assumed we would be going to Nepal, but my ignorant ass learned something new that day.
Nepal is the most common side for people to visit base camp, as well as summit ascents. The reason for this is likely that Tibet is incredibly hard to enter. Tibet is not a recognized country and is Chinese territory. So technically Tibet is considered China. To enter Tibet, you need a Chinese Visa. To even be in Tibet, you need to have a local guide with you. Even with the guide, our tour group got stopped multiple times to show our passports and Visas. It was one of the most rigorous security places I have ever been to. There is no sneaking into Tibet.
Before leaving for the trip, I did some research about Tibet. There were two warnings about not talking religion and/or politics with the locals and then about the toilets. The reason people are not allowed to talk about politics and religion is due to the historical disagreement over territory between the Chinese government and the Tibetans and because Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was exiled from Tibet by the Chinese government, and now resides in India since 1959.
The second warning about the toilets was that they are HORRIBLE. The person who wrote the blog I was reading said out of 117 countries they visited, Tibet had by far the worst toilets. I wholeheartedly concur. I disagree with calling them toilets, that is a bit of stretch. They are holes in the ground with pits that are about two-stories deep. If you find one that flushes, it is a squatting toilet that is usually smeared with feces and blood. Yes, you read that correctly: blood. While using one of the hole versions, I looked down it and saw a cow had entered the bottom level and was wading through the pile of feces. I had to wait until he moved so I did not pee on him. Nothing about the looks of the toilets compared to the smell. From 30 feet/9 meters away you could smell them before even entering. The smell is forever imprinted in my memory and I am shuddering just thinking about it. I spent the trip just squatting outside, my bum being whipped by the incessant wind, praying a heard of yaks would not stampede me. Never have I appreciated a toilet so much then when I landed back in Xian and they had a semi-clean “western” toilet. I could have kissed it.
While toilets may have been the worst, the views in Tibet were some of the best. Being in Tibet felt like jumping into a photo of National Geographic. The cities sit cradled between russet colored mountains. Livestock and dogs wearing bells roam the streets, sometimes blocking traffic. The women and men are adorned in beautiful, traditional garb, working on their farms, usually with babies strapped to their backs. There was so much history, beauty, and even some heartbreak. How could there not be heartbreak with a country whose spiritual leader was exiled by the communist government who invaded and took rulership over it?
Tibet was an adventure, but I was ready to go home by the end of the trip. Ready to go home to a flawed country, but one where I was able to worship (or not) whatever/whomever I chose and to openly express publicly my political views. Sleeping in a place not heated by yak poop and not waking up with altitude symptoms was also appealing.
People prioritize different things in life. For me, it is travel. Whenever I go to a place with a culture that differs from my own, I learn a multitude of lessons that I take back home. It is always something different, but this time especially, I brought back a sense of gratitude. I am grateful for the ability to travel outside my own small mindset of living and see how other people live and the vast differences that make up this sometimes messy, but wondrous world.
Traveling to Tibet made me grateful of the freedom I have in America and things I normally do not have to give a second thought about, like access to clean, running water. A huge lesson learned on this trek, was realizing all the things that I did not need in order to survive. All my stuff just gets in the way of being able to appreciate what is important, of being able to focus on what needs to be done, and not have to worry about the excess. I am privileged with so much in my life and this trip solidified my choice to live a life with less baggage, so I can have more adventures.