Gasping for Air in Tibet: Arrival in Lhasa.
Our trip to Lhasa began long before we arrived.
It started with a growing desire, nurtured in Bhutan, transformed itself into anxiety for all the paperwork and restrictions imposed on Tibet-bound travellers. And finally, a sort of quiet rapture, a growing conviction: 'We are going to Tibet. We really are going to Tibet.'
There is only one international flight to Lhasa, from Kathmandu. The other option is to fly in from mainland China. And the emotion surge starts at the Kathmandu International Airport.
We had heard so much. We knew there might be difficulties. I was shaking all over, afraid that we might be denied entrance. And when we were told at the airport that we were missing paperwork, I felt my heart drop. We phoned our travel agency and they solved it. We were off.
And, here, once more, the trip began before landing. It's worth going to all the trouble of traveling to Lhasa for the flight alone. We flew over the whole of the Himalayan range, bobbing up and down as the wind rocked our plane, and were greeted by the sight of the Tibetan Plateau, a frozen desert 3000 meters up the Himalayas. Sand dunes and frozen lakes. Otherworldly.
Immigration, unexpectedly enough, was frighteningly fast. Before we had a chance to register it, we had one foot in Lhasa. And the world we had landed in was a frozen desert. I've never seen anything like it.
Our friendly Tibetan guide was quick to answer all our questions – but before that, he gave us a heads-up: careful when discussing politics, you never know who might be listening.
With that warning in mind, we ventured towards the Tibetan capital.