Verfasst von: rbontour | Mai 2, 2011

Tibet’s Beauty… And Hardship

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Photos Tibet

The landscape of Tibet is full of breathtaking scenery, although it is barren and desolate. It’s a true Shangri-La for climbers, hikers and nature lovers.

After some time in Lhasa we started our land cruiser journey and headed towards the Nepalese border. We could only marvel at the beauty of the nature… the vastness and solitude of the Tibetan landscape, the mighty mountain peaks of the High Plateau and the majestic Himalayas provide such a special experience. The countryside around us evoked a feeling of limitless freedom. Last time we had this feeling was back in New Zealand. In the abandoned and uninhabited areas of Tibet you also feel like being on a different planet. You constantly want to turn round and round, look in all directions and admire the landscape.

We often drove at high altitude (higher than 5,000 m/16,400 ft), passed mountain slopes, gorges, impressive monasteries (e.g., Shigatse – headquarter of the Panchen Lama), or beautiful lakes (e.g., Lake Yamdrok), which shimmer turquoise blue in the sun and offer a breathtaking natural spectacle. It is not unusual for Tibet, that you drive all day and don’t meet another soul. All the more fascinated we were when we suddenly spotted nomad tents in the middle of the barren prairie.

Encounters With Nomads
Once we arrived in Tibet, we noticed that the common people are very poor. They may be poor in material, but in Lhasa they are definitely rich in spirit. Still, as many times before we can see that poverty looks worse once you get out in the rural and secluded areas. While we stopped somewhere in the heart of a stone desert, a nomad family came running towards us… it was like they appeared from “nowhere”. The people approached us very friendly; they smiled and immediately signalized that they are hungry. All of us (= our 4-people tourist group + 1 driver + 1 guide) shared some cookies and fruit with them from our food supplies. They were happy about it and tucked some cookies thoroughly into their pockets.

Anew we felt affection and compassion. Looking at the nomads made us almost speechless. Their skins were incredibly rough, brittle and burned by the intense sun of the high plateau. Although they were smiling, their faces showed strain and sadness. The little children had snot running down their noses – sure, the weather and especially the wind was freezing cold. Both of us had approx. 4 layers of warm clothes on our bodies (including fleece pullovers and thermo underwear). Most likely, nomads have no idea, what “thermo underwear” is – their garments were rugged and tattered. And due to the poor (or non-existing) hygiene standards everything was covered with dirt – including their hair, faces and hands. It is difficult to grasp, how humans can live in such an area, how they can survive in the cold with only a few clothes in their possession – without electricity or running water.

Top of the World: Mount Everest Basecamp
Enough about the sad things… When we think back on our voyage, it’s just truly amazing, what special moments life can bring. Several years ago we have been on top of Germany’s highest mountain – the “Zugspitze” (~ 3,000m/9,843 ft). We didn’t really expect to gaze at the highest mountain on earth one day and neither did we think that we would stay overnight in a nomad tend at 5,200m altitude. When we stood at the foot of this great mountain, a feeling of happiness and even temporary euphoria overcame us. It was such a special moment and you only think how crazy all of this is and that no other freaking place on earth is actually closer to the sun… w-o-w!

Yes, it was damn cold, but we all received plenty of Tibetan yak fur blankets from our hosts. Therefore, our bodies were relatively warm during the night. The only problem was our face, which must have been as cold as ice including a half-freezing noseJ. The hardest thing was to crawl out of this camp bed in the middle of the night in order to go to the outside toilet (about 200m). At the end of the day, it really paid off! We had full moon, the air was unbelievably fresh and the sky incredibly clear. Even at night this grand mountain took your breath away by its sheer beauty!

“Breath” is a good keyword… the air was extremely thin up there. Each step was super difficult and the simplest activity, such as crawling underneath your heavy yak blanket, increases your pulse. Besides a little headache though, we were fine. During the night, however, we woke up a few times. Suddenly it feels as if you wouldn’t get enough air and you start gasping for air a bit. In a situation like this, it’s important to calm down, relax and breathe steadily until it goes away. Unfortunately, it didn’t just go away for a nice American tourist in our nomad tent. Around midnight, he began to breathe heavily. He panicked. Somehow Brigitte was the only person in our camp, who did not sleep deeply (despite her beloved earplugs). I jumped up and had no idea what to do. Well, I tried to calm him down “please don’t panic” and quickly ran (in my thermo underwear) to the next tent, where I disturbed our guide playing cards. Luckily he dropped the game and followed me right away to help this poor guy. For the next hours they provided him with 3 oxygen bottle… and thanks god, everything went well and he was feeling much better after that.

The Hardship of Tibetans – Some Talks to Remember
Finally, we would like to write about our conversations with Tibetans. We had some surprisingly deep talks about the country’s political situation. Actually, locals are not allowed to talk about such things. However, their frustration and their sadness are probably too intense. (FYI: To protect these people, we did not publish any pictures of them in our photo gallery). Here are some issues, people have told us about. When we left China, we researched some statements a bit more as we don’t intend to publish any untruths.

  • Since the Chinese occupation, the poorest farmers have to carry the heaviest burdens. It’s nearly absurd, what kind of taxes the communist government introduced in Tibet: fell taxes, grass taxes, freshwater taxes, land taxes and even people taxes. Yes, they have to pay money for every child that is born (BTW, ordinary Tibetans are allowed 2 children). In Germany, for instance, we get financial support for every new baby – in Tibet you have to pay a “penalty fee”.
  • The government also increased school fees so that many families are no longer able to afford the education of their children. In general, the immigrating people from China enjoy higher wages and don’t have a problem to pay this fee.
  • Schools are now state-owned and from second grade onwards, Mandarin becomes the language of education. This means, Tibetan children are again disadvantaged, grades decline and many of them are discouraged…
  • The monthly income of a Chinese waitress/waiter in Lhasa is ~ 1,200 RMB (US$ 184). A Tibetan waitress/waiter, who carries out the same job, earns only ~500 RMB (US$ 76). We are not sure if the figures are a 100% correct, but it’s true that Tibetans only get half of the money Chinese people get.
  • Until this present time, Tibetan parents send their children into exile to India. They hope that they will have a better future in a freer country (and near the Dalai Lama). It’s estimated that ~800 children try to escape every year – and the only escape route lead over the glacial passes of the Himalaya! Many children lose their lives. And those children, who really reach Nepal or India, may never see their beloved parents again…
    (Source: “Escape over the Himalaya” from Maria Blumencron – a book which we recently read).

Well, for sure there are many more things we heard and many more topics we could write about. Fact is that our contact with the friendly and incredibly faithful Tibetans has really touched our hearts. We have learned a lot and very much hope that one day (before it’s too late) Tibet will be able to find religious and cultural freedom again.

Adhe Tapontsan, a former Tibetan prisoner and now living in exile in Dharamsal/India, puts it as follows: “I hope that the culture of my homeland as well as the horrendous suffering and destruction imposed on its people will not continue to be easily dismissed as a casualty of what has often been termed progress.”


  1. Dear Brigitte and Robert, its a great adventure to read, just fantastic, would wish we can do same at some point, Ma said 5000meter hight would take her breath away :-), even the sad parts and critical part of your message in the report makes it very unique to read and enjoy, take care, love Dad

  2. Hallo ihr zwei, ich weiss bald gar nicht mehr was ich sagen soll. Eure Berichte sind so hinreissend, emotional und einfach so schön zu lesen. Ich beneide euch manchmal (aber nicht immer) – passt auf euch auf. Bussi Ma

  3. Sitzen grad draussen und haben eure Bilder angeschaut, einfach phantastisch. Man würde eigentlich sagen: wie im Film, aber ihr zwei erlebt das wirklich – unvorstellbar. Bussi Ma & Dad

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