Part 12 (17 September - 2 November) China / Tibet

Never during our travels have we and our car been tested as during our China trip. Let`s just say that we are not made to travel in a 6 car group with a fixed itinerary and a guide for 38 days, travelling a distance of 7500km!


Our group consisted of the most wonderful people and we consider ourselves very lucky! However, travelling for us is something we do as a couple, accompanied by 1 or 2 other cars, as we have been doing so happily with Javi & Ines and Wanja & Julia for the past months. We love the freedom to travel to where our imagination (and guts) take us, without a fixed itinerary.

During our China crossing all the days had to be set according to a tight schedule, which left little space for any spontaneous exploration or for setbacks like road constructions or cars braking down.


In comparison to the other cars in the group our Land Cruiser had a hard time keeping up with the pace, especially in the mountains at high altitude. This made us skip the necessary breaks during the day.  And sleeping in the car in the extreme cold nights (-10C) at high altitude (+4000m) was a challenge.


To communicate with each other we bought 6 walki talkies and had lots of fun with sharing our daily observations during the drive, warning each other about the dangers of the road and agreeing on the places to break, sleep and eat.


We travelled mainly through Tibet from west to east. The single road took us through ancient kingdoms, passing sacred mountains and crossing passes at literally breathtaking altitudes.

Looking back, the trip through China can only be described as absolutely epic!


Entering China


We started out with a 2 day delay on our itinerary in Kashgar because the border crossing didn`t go as smoothly as planned. There we learned that every Chinese problem can usually be solved with a lot of patience. When that is not enough a large bribe does the trick. Strange start of our Chinese journey where we learned to have more patience we as travellers could handle.


Happy birthday


We both celebrated our birthdays in the first week of our trip and these are the special moments you really feel blessed with such nice travel mates. They organized not 1, not 2 but 3 birthday cakes for us, one of them home/car-baked by Julia. They sang happy birthday for us multiple times also through the walki talkies in several languages and from our guide we got traditional Tibetian scarves to wish us good fortune. Really cool way to celebrate our birthdays.  

Leaving Kashgar we headed for the ancient capital of Tholing, where we would visit the magnificent Tholing monastery. It took us 4 days of driving to get there, as distances in China really are huge, and we steadily climbed from 1700m altitude to the Tibetan plains between 4000 and 5000m. Thank Buddha for our acclimatization in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan! The Tholing monastery was nice, but for us the real highlight was a detour through Zamjan Stone Forest, a series of geological formations resulting in a massive canyon through which we were allowed to drive! We missed our drone so much...

25 days in Tibet


We entered the Tibetan Autonomous Region in the Peoples Republic of China. It is better known as Tibet, the country that was invaded and taken over by the Chinese in the 1950`s. The situation here was not quite as we expected…

The Tibetans are culturally and religiously oppressed. Any resistance to the Chinese rulers is met with teargas and riot police. The Tibetans are on the verge of losing their identity and own culture, due to the Han Chinese moving into the Tibetan cities. 

But there is an upside to the Chinese presence. Because of massive Chinese investments, the standards of living have jumped upwards. The Tibetan main roads are now in great condition, poverty is down, levels of education are up and electricity is now widely available. Would this also have happened if Tibet would have remained in its isolation or would it be a developing country?


Mount Kailash trek


The next days we had a big challenge ahead: the mount Kailash Kora. This 'kora' is a 53km round-trip hike around the Buddhist`s most sacred mountain, where we met many Buddhist pilgrims wearing their colorful clothing and happy smiles while doing this grueling trek over a 5600m high pass.

The Tibetans are culturally the opposite of the Chinese. Where the Chinese are generally rude, loud and ignorant to others, the Tibetans are a warm and caring people. We felt like they would give us their last piece of bread if we were in need of it. 

At Mount Kailash Jeroen had his first ever physical breakdown and nearly collapsed due to a the lack of sleep and food for the past days (he is 38 now, no wonder J). Sleeping is hard above 4500m, especially if you suffer from Periodic Breathing at altitude, causing you to wake up every minute with a feeling of suffocation. Annoying and very tiring! The loss of appetite is also normal and you should eat more than your body wants to in order to compensate. After an hour or so of rest in a tea house along the way, Jeroen could continue and finished the trip with the others in 2 days. 

Kailash is said to be a tough trek, we didn`t expect it to be this hard, but the awesome beauty makes it very much worth while!

It was one of the best treks we have done in our lives, so incredible to make the Kora amongst a huge crowd of devoted pilgrims. After the first day we were the only non-pilgrims on the trek. Buddhist teachings say that if you do the Kora 13 times, all your sins are cleansed.

Or if they do it 1 time 'procrastinating'. This means taking 4 steps, falling down on the ground and stretching out, standing up, again taking 4 steps and so on, for the whole 53km! We were honored to be allowed to follow in their steps.

Mansarovar lake


After our Kora and being 1/13 cleansed of our sins J, we could relax a bit at Mansarovar lake. It was extremely windy but the sights sure were beautiful!

Mount Everest


As we headed deeper into Tibet, the mountains of the Himalaya that we could see in the south grew higher and higher. We were getting closer to Everest! It took another 4 days and about a 1000 more km`s to reach the legendary Rongbuk monastery, located at the Tibetan base of Mount Everest.

It quickly became clear to us that this place had become a high profile tourist location. Busloads of tourists come here to get a look at “Goddess Mother of the World” as the Tibetans call Everest. So where all the tourists take the minibus to the basecamp, three of us took a mountain path to Everest …. and kind of got lost :)  We ended up about 200m above basecamp, at a viewpoint covered in Tibetan prayer flags, which we later learned was very much off-limits. It felt great to move a bit off the beaten track and not follow the crowds, our bad behavior was rewarded with some of the best views of the great mountain! The only bad part was that Nicolette sprained her ankle on the way down, which made walking and driving the next days very difficult for her. 

Trying to keep up became though


The fast pace at which we had been travelling was taking its toll. We were becoming exhausted and irritable and the car was having problems keeping up with the rest of the group, especially going up the mountain. Also, because our space in the car is limited and the outside temperatures barely reach 0 Celsius, for us getting up, organized, washed (a bit) and having breakfast in time before our caravan left again was a challenge. Especially after a bad night of sleep because of the altitude.


So we weren’t enjoying it very much and we decided to seriously start skipping monastery and temple visits, just to be able to stick as much as possible to our own pace. This worked like a charm AND saved us a lot of money. With the insane entry fees the Chinese are demanding for Tibetan temples and monasteries, China was quickly destroying our budget!



The rest of the time we just soaked up city live by strolling through little alleys in towns and cities like Lhasa and Shigatse. For Potala palace in Lhasa we made an exception and loved visiting this beautiful home of the Dalai Lama. 



Next stop was the city of Shangri-La, meaning ‘Paradise’. The city was touristic but had a nice laid-back atmosphere.

Tiger Leaping Gorge


We had another trek on our 'China tour' itinerary; Tiger Leaping Gorge. But Jeroen had just had a nasty cold and Nicolette`s ankle was not healed yet, so we opted to just drive the Tiger Leaping gorge road. The first part is extremely touristic and, much to our amusement, they even have guidelines for the Chinese tourists how to behave! The second part of the canyon is much more quiet, resulting in stunning and peaceful views of this natural wonder.

Lijiang and Dali


As we had left Tibet by now, the places we visited became classic Chinese. By the time we entered the cities of Lijiang and Dali no trace of Tibetan culture could be found. These 2 cities are said to be the most touristic places in Southern China and it soon became clear why, as both are very scenic. And although the touristic shops are crawling with Chinese tourists (and the occasional European) they, have retained a pleasant ‘old Chinese city’ atmosphere that we very much enjoyed, especially in Lijiang.



Xinjie Rice Terraces


Before leaving China we visited the Xinjie Rice terraces, according to travel books a must see for all tourists. Although the Chinese asked an insane entry fee for viewing a rice terrace, it was beautiful. 


China crossed √ 


As we drove the last stretch towards the border with Laos, passing the cities of Jianshui and Kunming, Javi`s car started to act up and at the very last part of our China adventure an injector seal blew, causing the car to sound like a thai Tuk Tuk. Fortunately he could drive on (a 400km tow to the border was offered at 500 euro!) and all the cars in our group made it to the finish line!

It was an amazing ride. Everybody was very glad to have made it to South East Asia in 1 piece and we made one last group photo to celebrate, before each of us would go his own way again.

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