How to get to Tibet in 1997

1. Reject the overland route from China due to the fact that you and your friend have already travelled all the way from Beijing to Kashgar with the idea of backtracking to Urumqi and reaching Tibet via Qinghai because a) you cannot stand the thought of doing that bone-crunching two-day bus journey between Kashgar and Urumqi ever again, and b) because you have a sudden desire to go to Pakistan. [Ed.’s note: it would have meant taking a bus to Tibet from Urumqi, as the Tibet-Qinghai railway did not yet exist.]

2. Reject a possible overland route through Nepal, because once you have gone through Pakistan, India and landed up in Kathmandu, you learn that China has tightened its borders because Hong Kong is about to be handed back to the Middle Kingdom and you don’t want to waste your time making your way to the border only to be turned back.

3. Reject the idea of flying to Tibet from Nepal, because the only way you can do this is by also buying a bogus Tibet “tour” package that tacks a huge fee –  a money grab by the Chinese government you cannot avoid paying – onto your ticket.

4. Reject the idea of going to Tibet altogether. Proceed to buy a ticket from Kathmandu to Chengdu, as you need to get back to China and eventually to the coast where you’ll catch a ferry to Korea, from where you will catch a plane – already booked – to Canada.

5. Listen with surprise when the travel agent informs you that you must transfer planes in Lhasa, that you must take your backpack on board with you, and that, under no circumstances, can you leave the airport in Lhasa.

6. Take your flight as scheduled. When you land in Lhasa, try in earnest to get information about transferring to Chendu from the two staff members in the otherwise empty airport who shout at you in Tibetan and leave the building, so that you are literally the only two people in the entire airport.

7. Leave the airport, talk over your options, and decide in about two seconds to get a taxi to Lhasa and see a bit of Tibet, dammit. Pray that no authorities will stop you and ask to see your Tibet travel pass (also bogus) which you do not have.

8. Hang out in Lhasa, visit the tiny village of Mar, which is holding its annual horseracing festival (pictured). Drink butter tea, eat momos, visit temples, take photos of monks, etc.

How to leave Tibet

1. Spent only eight days, as you’ve got to get back to China so you can get back to Korea so you can get back to Canada.

2. Visit the airline office, only to be told that there are no flights available for three weeks.

3. Go see the authorities and tell them a sob story about how you tried so hard to not come to Tibet but had no choice, and have been trying to leave ever since. Show them your passport, pointing out you have no travel pass, stressing that you shouldn’t even be there in the first place.

4. With the help of the officer, who makes a quick phone call, obtain a plane ticket immediately and fly out the next morning.


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