It would be rare to see the concept of using a trap with any drain pipes in Tibet hotel bathrooms. Every hotel I have stayed in over the years had some type of odor with varying levels of severity. There is usually a drain in the center of the bathroom floor that its sole purpose is for cleaning the bathroom. This always seems to be the main source. Sometimes the hotel will make an attempt to cover it. The most unique way I have seen was filling a bag half with water and place it over the drain. This seems to work fairly well.
If the drain is not covered, a quick solution would be to wet a towel and fold it several times then cover the drain.
It is nearly impossible to visit Tibet without experiencing some type of altitude sickness. This is because most people arrive in Lhasa (12,000 feet) from some location near or slightly above sea level. It is said that once you are at 8,000 feet above sea level, one should only ascend 1000 feet per day to curb the effects of AMS. You can ascend more than this for a day hike but it is recommended to sleep no more then a gain of 1000 feet per day.
Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, nausea, tired, loss of appetite and mild forms of ataxia. You could experience one or all of these symptoms. A sure cure for AMS is to descend to a lower altitude. Of course you do not have that option in Lhasa. You have to grin and bear it. Spend at least three days in Lhasa to help adjust and treat symptoms as they appear. There is medication such as Diamox that is available by prescription from your doctor.
One thing you can do to help prevent or lessen the effects of AMS, is to drink plenty of water, starting several days before arriving at altitude. Staying hydrated is key to feeling better upon arrival. Don't stop hydrating once in Lhasa but it is also very important to eat even if you feel nauseous or have a loss of appetite.
Tibet is one of the most unsanitary countries I have every been to. As an avid outdoor adventure seeker and traveler, I knew that if I boil water for about a minute or so it kills all the little nasty's such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E.coli and even Hepatitis A. So you may think that cup of hot Yak Butter tea or mutton soup would be safe, if they actually boiled the water. You may even see them boil the water and kindly poor you a cup. Wonderful!
The CDC considers that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. BUT! This has nothing to do with travel in Tibet. Lhasa is at 12,000 above sea level where water will boil at 87.6 degC and at 17,000 feet water will boil at 82.7 degC (Everest Base Camp)! Not knowing whether this temperature will kill the little buggers, when I returned from my trip I called the CDC. In brief, here is the extent of my conversation with the "experts"
Me - "will water heated to 83 degC kill Giardia. This is the temp water boils at 17,000 feet when I was at Mount Everest."
CDC - "The water must come to a boil."
Me - "Yes, I know. The water is boiling but not at 100 degC. Will 83 degC kill everything"
CDC - "I don't know, hold on." 5 minute wait - "You have to bring the water to a boil."
Me - "Yes, I know but the water is boiling at a lower temperature."
CDC - "Well as long as the water in boiling, it should be fine."
Me - "So you're telling me the bubbles of the boiling water is killing the Giardia?" (I know this is not the case, but you had to hear the operators tone).
CDC - "No, I'm not saying that. You have to boil the water."
Me - "Really? Ok, Thank you."
And there you have it. Government bureaucracy at it's finest, lol.
Anyway, further research from the good people at NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), tell me that all the nasty pathogens listed above will die at 60 degC. Obviously this is not even close to boiling. So, bringing water at sea level to 60 degC kills everything? Hmmm. I'm still boiling!
But is the water even getting to that temperature. See the photo above. This is how the water is heated, especially in remote areas. This photo was taken on the road to Everest. I won't bet this water is making it to 60 degC.
Drink at you own risk, but see your doctor about a supply of Ciprofloxacin.
You cannot travel to Tibet by yourself (unless you are a Chinese citizen). You do not have to join a group but you have to go through a travel agency to have a permit processed. The permit itself is a reasonable rate but it is in conjunction with your itinerary that you have to set up with the travel company.
You can still have some free time in Lhasa not attached to your guide but the days of independent travel around the country (legally) are long gone. I have traveled around Tibet with a Chinese citizen and no travel agency with no problem. They can be strict if they want to but I have not encountered any problems.
The most troubling experience I've had so far this trip when it comes to driving was when we left Lhasa and entered Shannan Prefecture. At the police check point there are men in white lab coats and face masks. They were spraying the tires of the cars with some chemical. Then the driver pulls onto a red carpet saturated with this chemical. The police make us exit the car and rub our feet on this chemical.
Apparently, there is some type of cow disease and they had to kill a lot of cows because of it. This process is suppose to stop the spread of the disease! My concern is, knowing the lax regulations and testing China has on pesticides, what am I going to get from this chemical exposure!?
This also happened when leaving Shannan Prefecture as well. So this will effect you if you plan on traveling to Tsedang and/or Samye Monastery. If you are sensitive to or do not want to be exposed to chemicals of this sort, let your guide know and make the necessary adjustments, i.e. do something else.
I have used the agency below several times and found them very reliable. I have taken them with a group of 6. They provided our permits to enter Tibet, hotels, cars/drivers and a Guide that spoke English, Tibetan and Chinese.
Tashi is my contact.
Tibet Mountain and River International Travel Agency
Tel : 86-891-6333819
Fax : 86-891-6332974
Unfortunately, this tour guide returned my emails this year but when it came time to give me a quote, he stopped responding. I consider this agency no longer reliable!
While I enjoyed visiting Mount Everest it was far from being a base camp. What you are actually going to at the end is a Military Base Camp! There are only several military tents and a building. As soon as you arrive, you are told by a military official that you cannot walk past some prayer flags atop a hill and you cannot hold out any type of flag (there goes my VT flag contest entry). You really don't see any more that you do at the tent city where all the tourist stay.
If you were expecting to see mountaineers preparing for they ascent of Mount Everest, you will be a little disappointed. Add this to the fact that when you arrive, the mountain could be completely engulfed by clouds, you may go a super long way on an incredibly bad road for nothing. Unless you have a strong desire to see Mount Everest, I would pass. It really has nothing to do with experiencing Tibet.
By the way, I was told we cannot take any photos of the military or the camp. My guide said they will confiscate my SD card, regardless of what else I have on it.
A new unpleasant change in Tibet is the time restrictions when driving from town to town. Each town now has a check point at each point of entry and departure. There are also check points along the way. Now, whenever someone leaves a particular city, the driver must check in at this police check point. The police hand the driver a slip of paper with the time he checked in. The police allow for a certain time to arrive at the next check point where the driver checks in and the times are compared. The time they should arrive at the next check point is on the paper.
Could work to avoid excessive speeders, which is the target but the speed limit averages out to be about 30 miles and hour! This is on all highways. A trip from Lhasa to Shigatse normally would take 3 to 3.5 hours. Now it takes 6 to 9 hours! The system is ridiculous. The check point is a table set up on the side of the road. Drivers leave their car/truck and run to the check point. But there could be 10 to 15 cars.
And the problem is far from solved and created even more dangerous situations. Drivers are still speeding but now, at some point during the drive, they stop on the side of the road. Half on the shoulder and half still in the road due to lack of a substantial shoulder.
If I had known this, I would stick with visiting Lhasa and avoid all these 6 to 10 hour drives.
Being in Lhasa one does not notice it so much, but Tibet really has quite a lot of beggars (not counting monks' alms here!) - and the more you go to south-west along the Friendship Highway, the more noticeable it is. Kids, men, women, old people - we've seen everybody at it. They can even come into the restaurant while you're eating - anything goes.
In a restaurant, quite unexpectedly, it's often food they want - given the huge (for me) portions people get served, most people will usually be quite happy to give them some of it when approached.
There's plenty of advice out there as to whether one should or should not give money. With kids (who tend to be the most persistent), we've bought some sweets & pens to hand out, which seemed to work well enough. That said, if you'd rather donate to an organised charity and are having a hard time to shake beggars off, the only trick we've found that works is to mention 'Police' - even though people did not speak English, the concept was familiar and we were left alone.
What is it?
Acute Mountain Sickness is a name for a host of symptoms that can appear as the oxygen content in the air is reduced when people ascend to higher altitudes without proper acclimatisation. The level at which AMS can manifest itself differs from person to person, but generally one would have to be above 3,000m to exhibit any noticeable symptoms. Flying into Lhasa is a common trigger, as you get straight to an altitude of ca. 3,500m - often from close to sea level. Most common symptoms would include headaches, lack of appetite, difficulty sleeping, etc.
It's usually difficult to predict how one feels at higher altitude unless one has been there - how fit one is is not always a reliable guide. Even past history can be misleading - both my mother and myself have got AMS once before at an altitude of about 3,000m with prior acclimatisation, but this time we were absolutely fine at 5,200m at the Everest Base Camp without oxygen or anything like that (even though we went up there from ca. 4,050m altitude at Shegar in a day)
What to do?
1. Acclimatise in Lhasa - when first arriving in Lhasa from lower down, it's a good idea to stay in the city for a couple of days at least to get used to the altitude. Whether you will be able to do any sightseeing on day 1 will depend on how well your body adjusts to the altitude. If you see you're not doing so well, starting off at the Potala is not a good idea.
2. Make a gradual ascent - try not to gain more than 400-500m net a day. It's much easier done when hiking, but if you're riding in a Land Cruiser you may not notice the elevation gain before you stop for the night. If you see you're struggling and you're flexible with your schedule - try to remain at the same altitude for another day. You will probably be safe without it, but better safe than sorry, right?
3. 'Climb high, sleep low' - the old mountain climbing principle. AMS symptoms are typically worse at night, so it's considered prudent to go up during the day (possibly by more than 500m net) and then descend a little bit for the night.
4. If symptoms are bad - the only thing to do most often is go down.
One of the very few unpleasant things one encounters in Tibetan cities are packs of feral dogs. There have been clean-up campaigns in Lhasa and Shigatse's centre (which does sound cruel, but if the current situation in other towns is anything to go by - Gyantse springs to mind - things must have been pretty desperate), but in smaller towns and Shigatse's suburbs it's still a problem.
The packs did not feel life-threatening, but it made me seriously consider whether I really wanted to do the Tashilhunpo kora (which was perfectly fine, given it was day-time and the number of people around), and it did feel distinctly uncomfortable when we left the hotel in Gyantse to go for dinner across the road to see 6 dogs on a surface of about 8-9 sq. meters.
To be on the safe side, try to avoid the less frequented roads and be especially vigilant at night (most dogs tend to sleep during the day and don't care much for passers-by). Something to definitely steer clear of are the nomads' dogs, who are guard dogs and as such should be given a very wide berth.
Protesters are not welcome here. We’ve been told that it would be a big problem if we have a book or poster of Dalai Lama or even Richard Gere. They can make you wait or even send you back from airport. If you carry a photo of them, you should leave it behind. And don’t think you are free to protest after the airport. Every place is highly secured. We’ve been warned just because of standing still (we were listening to our guide) in Potala.
The below web site has good information for traveling at high altitude.
Everyone if different. I had very little problems with high altitude. I think I was just lucky and also drank a lot of water. A travel nurse recommended taking multiple vitamins with iron for at least 6 weeks before the trip. I don't know if it helped but I did what she recommended.
But my friend was like an altimeter and had problems every time we went over 4,000 meters. My friend got use to it over time, I think going up and down in the car as we drove to Lhasa helped. We were touring so took about 2 weeks driving up and down at altitude.
The main thing is give your body time to get acclimated to the altitude. Don't fly in to Lhasa and head off to Everest Base Camp (EBC) the next day. EBC is a tourist sight and many people do this.
Drink plenty of water. Just breathing causes a lot of lost of water vapor that you don't even know it's happening. Drinking alcohol will cause problems and I did not.
Please rate this and my other tips when you find useful, interesting, or like the pictures.
As said above , don´t expect any hands on experience from your GP - last time I came out of the university travel clinic with altitude medication and the following note in my journal : "prescribed as per the users experience and knowledge" . This doesn´t mean the doc was a passive rubberstamp , he was very professional in checking out possible interaction with other medicines.
We also went over the documentation from the specialist altitude medicine site together : http://ismmed.org/np_altitude_tutorial.htm#prevention
Some of the points I´ve come to see as important over the last twenty years of travelling in the Himalayas :
* You acclimatize to A altitude , not THE altitude. Having just arrived in Lhasa you´ll match the norm for home oxygen treatment for people with chronic lung disease, and you will improve a lot over the first three days , but full acclimatization takes up to two months. Jump up to 4500 meters and you´ll have to restart the process.
* The key factor both in acclimatization and altitude sickness is where you sleep : longer time with the lower oxygen saturation that comes from horizontal position. Hence start counting nights , not days.
* Many assume that land travel is automatically better , from a gradual approach. Often it´s the opposite : on the Kathmandu-Lhasa run for example Lhasa is the lowest night.
* acclimatization is slow at 2000 meters , and nonexistent below 1500 : the optimal run is going fast to your first acclimatization night near cabin pressure ( like Xining at 2300 ) , and preferably spend two nights there before going higher.
* After your first acclimatization night you can do day visits up to 4000 meters , and this will in fact boost your acclimatization : "climb high , sleep low"
I’ve never seen a brighter sun in my life! Maybe because of being closer to it, sun is too powerful here. It can even cook your brain, if you don’t protect yourself. Bring hat and high factor sun blocks. Select higher factors than your usuals. I would bring UV factored clothing, too, if I was aware.
You can see a strange device people used for boiling water in Tibet in photo. It can give you an idea about the sun’s power.
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