The insanity of flying form sea level directly to Lhasa at 12,500ft hit home when one of my traveling companions passed out shortly after landing in Lhasa. Had we been able to obtain tickets, it would have been much better to have taken the train from Beijing to Lhasa, which would have taken 48 hours, and would have given us more time to acclimatize. Carrying some Diamox, a drug that helps with acclimatization, would also have been prudent. In view of the things I learned, here are some tips to assist travelers going to Tibet:
Don’t underestimate the effects of high altitude. Lhasa is at an altitude of 12,500ft. That’s higher than Namche Bazaar, 11,300ft, a popular stop along the Everest Base camp trek for trekkers and climbers to rest and acclimatize.
If you plan on going trekking, 7 days in Lhasa acclimatizing should eliminate all systems of high altitude sickness, said one high altitude doctor I spoke to. If you can’t afford the time, again, there’s Diamox…
Taking the train in is better than flying in. From Beijing, it takes 48 hours by train. The first 24 hours gets you from sea level to 10,000ft and the last 24 hours is entirely over 10,000ft. (I have a lot more to say about the train, but I’m going to save that for another blog entry.)
You can also buy bottled oxygen from many of the convenience stores around Lhasa. These turned out to be pretty useful and each bottle lasts about a half hour, poviding a few hours of relief from the symptoms of high altitude sickness. Go see a doctor if the symptoms persist.
I’d stay in East Lhasa, within walking distance of the Potala and the Bakkor. That’s the old part of Lhasa, where the character of the city is Tibetan. West Lhasa is the new part of Lhasa, where the Chinese have built wide roads and 5-star hotels.
Get a guidebook and read it before you leave home, particularly about religious and political issues. Lonely Planet Guide books are always a good bet.
To be continued…
Top: Om Mani Padme Hum. Tibetan Pilgrims spinning prayer wheels as they circumnavigate the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Taken with a Nikon D200, 12-24mm lens.
Bottom: Devotion. A pilgrim prostates himself over and over as he makes his way around the Potala. Taken with a Nikon D200, 12-24mm lens.