Embracing nature’s beauty in Tibet

Potala Palace in Tibet. — Photos: DR WONG CHOON MENG

Tibet is famous for its mesmerising scenery and rich culture. It is also called Rooftop of the World or the Third Pole, as it is geographically and environmentally influential to Earth’s climate.

Mid April is the best time to travel in Tibet as the weather is warm enough then and the flowers have started to bloom in a multitude of colours and shapes.

Some of the top things to do in Lhasa include shopping along the ancient Bakhtor area, climbing the rampart of the grand Potala Palace, walking the hallowed corridors of the 1,400-year-old Jokhang Temple and witnessing monks debating theology at Sera Monastery.

The friendly Tibetan folks are often seen in their traditional garb perfoming prayers and circumambulating at religious sites. Tibetan culture is intrinsically linked with Buddhism. However, the march of progress cannot be stopped. Modern malls, trendy cafes and fast food joints dot the streets today. Fast and reliable 4G connection is also ever-present, even in the hinterland.

Food-wise, the Tibetan diet is very meat-heavy and they love their yaks. They use it in their hotpots, grills, soups and everything else you can think of. Noodles are found everywhere too in various flavours and cooking styles.

Potala Palace. 

Tsampa (roasted flour) is a staple food for Tibetans. Butter tea is made – of course – with yak butter. There is also yak yogurt and cheese. You must try it to appreciate its flavour. The locals claim that drinking butter tea helps one to acclimatise to the high altitude of the mountains. I guess it worked for me.

My personal aim for the trip was to reach the base camp of Mt Everest from the north side. In China it is called Mt Qomolangma or the Goddess Mother of Mountain. The mountain is 8,848m high but the base camp “only” reaches 5,150m.

The long road trip is picturesque with views of rolling grasslands dotted with grazing yaks and meandering blue rivers. Beyond the river valley of Lhasa and Shigatse, the terrain changes to a dry rocky desert and deep canyons. There are no trees in these parts but you do see beautiful lakes like Yamdruk and Namptso.

As we get nearer to the Himalayas, the road starts to zig-zag up the side of steep mountain slopes; it is not a ride for the faint-hearted!

We went through several passes including the famous Gyatso-la Pass, Kora-la Pass and Geu-la Pass, which is the last high pass before the base camp. This is where you get an amazing panoramic view of the Himalaya Range with the five “eight-thousander” peaks: Makalu (8,485m), Lhotse (8,516m), Qomolangma (8,848m), Cho-oyu (8,201m) and Shishapangma (8,027m).

The base camp is actually a vibrant place with many tents, tea houses, souvenir stalls and a provisions shop. Modern facilities are lacking but the essential warm bed and heating stove are readily available.

A short distance away from the camp is the Rongbuk Monastery with a colourful history.

The north face of Mt Qomolangma dominates the entire valley’s vista. It stands majestic and awesome, contrasting the snow-covered slope against the clear blue sky. Looking at the beautiful sunset from here was deeply satisfying for me.

This was an epic journey that thoroughly enriched my life – spiritually, physically and professionally. Truly a chicken soup for the weary soul.

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