The 318 National road connects Tibet and the rest of China mainland (or maybe the rest of the world). It is also the easiest way to get a panoramic visit of this gorgeous highland, as most of the stunning spots are along sides of this arterial road, it takes about 3 days (just driving) up to 11 days leaving or entering the region, where you will truly realise why it’s called the land of purity and holiness.
A decision on visiting Tibet can be difficult to make, not only because it’s one of the most remote regions in the world, but it is also a place that still remains mysterious, even to most of Chinese nationals. A totally independent language, culture, religion and landscape make Tibet very unique to the mainland.
“It’s gonna be a great experience” you keep telling yourself, but thoughts and worries never really disappear. You feel excitement and nervousness at the same time, nothing really changes until you put yourself in a vehicle. From the moment on, you realize a true adventure is about to begin in the Shangari-La.
There are many ways and transports to chose in reaching Lhasa, but trains are the most popular one, namely the Qing-Zang railway. This world-famous project took more than 10 years to complete. Instead of a ten-day-long trip to enter Tibet, nowadays “laying in a nice cabin while enjoying the mountain views” will do the trick. Besides the fact of time saving, the panoramic view is another motive for people to take the train. A scroll painting of endless mountains unfolds in front of you, with a speed of 300kph, and lasting for three days. It’s a traditional Chinese Ink painting style, natural and simple so you will never get tired of it. While the train gets higher, clouds start to descend, which eventually brings the whole atmosphere below the mountains. To those giant mountains, you can barely see the entire picture as the milky clouds circle around them. It looks like an old-school tall hat that they wearing, only way more massive. Lakes are also highlights for a Tibet trip, Yamchor is a sacred lake of Tibetans, the glassy water reflects an extremely amazing jade colour, which is a proof why locals called this place a gate to another universe.
People always believe that Shangri-La is an utopian place that remains hidden and awaits those who are qualified and selected to reach it. But no one knows that the most important matter has always been”reaching” Shangri-La itself.
Apart from the longest distance in the massive mountain ranges, the very first challenge is the altitude sickness. It’s a slow process that starts with dizziness and headache. Once the train passes Mt. Tanggula, also known as “The Gate of Tibet”, you are officially on a 3000m+ sea level plateau highland. On this platform, you will for the first time feel that the clouds are within a “tip-toe” height. But meanwhile, of course, oxygen becomes extremely low. From that moment, it feels hard to breathe… because of both the lack of oxygen and the extraordinary view that is beyond description. You will truly understand why it’s called “breathtaking”!
Similar to Shangri-la, the word “Lhasa” in Tibetan stands for “Buddha’s Place”. This well explains that how much the religion means for the people. In fact, the entire city was designed for religious purposes. Unlike other CBDs in the world, the center of Lhasa – Potala Palace – is mainly for worship. Before every sunrise, local people assemble here from all over the city to start their first routine of the day. During my five day stay in Tibet, all I have seen was how faithful this place is, and how followers are bound with the holy sites. In Lhasa, instead of shopping malls, shrines and temples are the most crowed public places, queues can sometime become street length.
“As a religious Tibetan, the ultimate dream place would be Lhasa, because of the Potala Palace of course, and the Jokhang Temple.” said a local Tibetan taxi driver.
Unlike the people who live in Lhasa, those who are scattered in rural areas aren’t the luckiest. Generally poor wealth and traffic conditions set up barriers for them to visit the holy city.
“Poor people would sell all of their properties just to visit Lhasa at least once in a lifetime”, “to walk thousands kilometres not only just because of lack of money but more to show how faithful they are” “it might last generations if the family is way too poor, but savings would still ensure that at least someone in the family could go on to a trip to Lhasa” locals said.
I didn’t believe what he said, or I would at least consider this more like an exaggeration. However, when we start to drive on a highway to head away from Lhasa, I saw countless local pilgrims were walking on the highway and heading in the opposite direction.
Visiting Tibet is definitely an eye-opener, a trip that will clear your mind and purify your soul. Not only because of its stunning views, but also because it is a faithful place – the nearest to purity and perfection.