September 6, 2008

Travel, Shmavel

Once I decided I wanted to visit Tibet over the October holiday, and once I convinced 3 other people to come with me, it was only a matter of 50 or so emails before we had the plans settled. There are numerous ways to get to Tibet; chief among them being, in my opinion, the world's highest train. I was itching to have this experience, so in planning how we made it, I insisted that we take the train either in or out of Lhasa. Luckily for me, no one had a huge problem with that mode of transport. 

Why so many emails? Because the devil is in the details: 
  • Getting to Lhasa requires a permit separate from a Chinese visa
  • Only travel agencies can get that permit for you
  • You need your passport and visa to get this permit; two of my friends still need to get their residence permits
  • You must specify your city of departure
  • Your whole group must arrive together
  • We're travelling during a week-long national holiday, which means we'll be travelling with 人山人海, literally (ren shan ren hai, "a mountain of people, a sea of people") so there was immense pressure to book the trip ASAP
  • Train tickets go on sale only 5 days before the departure date; it's tough to reserve them in advance like you can for a plane
  • Our travel agency is based in Lhasa, so it's easier for them to get the train tickets going from Lhasa -> Shanghai, and that is preferable for numerous reasons
  • The Lhasa -> Shanghai train takes two days and leaves only on odd days (e.g. Oct 5th, 7th, 9th, etc.)
  • You can fly from Shanghai to Lhasa through Xi'an, or you can fly from Shanghai to Xining and take the train from there, and then return by flying from Lhasa to Shanghai, or any combination of the three
  • Some people were less than thrilled with the idea of the train and/or wanted to take it into Lhasa, whereas some of us wanted to take it out of Lhasa
  • We're a consensus-oriented bunch, which mean we all want to make sure everyone's okay with the plan of action
But eventually, we determined the plan. Sunday Sept 28th, we'll take the train from Shanghai to Lhasa. We'll arrive on the evening of Sept 30th. We'll spend several days in Tibet, then on Oct 7th we'll fly from Lhasa to Shanghai, thus ending the trip. 

At least, that's the plan right now :-) We still have to determine our itinerary, which should be okay since we all agree that spending a night at Mt. Everest Base Camp is of prime importance, and we're on a private tour so we can do pretty much whatever we want, whenever we want. The travel agent built this into our next-to-last day and gave us numerous suggestions for other sights, so we should be fine. I don't really care what we see; I will just be happy to be there. (As long as I don't hallucinate too much from altitude sickness. My friend Cameron was telling me today about his AMS in Sichuan province, which borders Tibet. It sounded pretty crappy. His bout involved headaches, shortness of breath on even the mildest of inclines, lethargy, trouble sleeping, and a mild hallucination that someone was crawling around on the floor of his room at night. WOW. I am thankful that we are getting a driver and not relying on hiking.)

This will probably be my last "big trip" in China. I think after Tibet, I might be content with smaller excursions, like to Xitang and Putuoshan. But who knows? Never say never.

Oh -- check out the care package my parents sent me!!  Thanks guys!! :-)