By bike over the northern Himalayas

Tibet - a travel dream


For a very long time I have dreamed of traveling through Tibet. But this journey has always been in the distant future, when one can travel freely and freely across the country.
Also in 2014, all of Tibet is occupied by China. And me: in the middle.

For a very long time I have dreamed of traveling through Tibet . But this journey has always been in the distant future, when one can travel freely and freely across the country.
Also in 2014, all of Tibet is occupied by China .

All over Tibet? Yes, all over Tibet.

Tibet: monasteries, Buddhist pilgrims, mani stones, stupas and prayer flags

But at least for the traveler, if not for the Tibetans who are thirsting for freedom, there is a way out of the dilemma: north and east of Tibet's so-called "autonomous" region are sprawling areas of the neighboring Chinese provinces of Qinghai and Sichuan Visas can pass through such as Beijing or Shanghai, at least purely culturally still firmly in Tibetan hands.

Tibetan cities

In many villages and cities significantly more Tibetans than Han Chinese live. Here prayer flags and Buddhist monasteries replace Mao statues and gray high-rise facades with neon lighting. Old, wrinkled women dressed in traditional brown robes sit on their doorstep and stoically circle their prayer wheels. On the corner of the street, monks dressed in orange and red are playing with their smartphones. Pilgrims circle stupas and monasteries. Young women with long, intricately braided hair and colorful, oddly-shaped hair ornaments carry their baby home on their backs, where they will be cooking buttered tea for their other children on the fire stove powered by dried yakkot. In front of the village, the horned producers of heating material are standing on green meadows between golden-white stupas, glittering monastic roofs and high mountains with white peaks. And everywhere you welcome the traveler with a hearty "Tashi delek".

My gateway to this wonderland was Kulun, an almost 4800 meter high pass in Qinghai Province. But the Kunlun did not let me enter on my bike without further ado. During my ascent, a blizzard left puddles of icy water on the road, which splashed on my chain and switching system and froze there. Shortly before the pass I lost the opportunity to switch and on the subsequent descent, the road was already slightly snowed.

In the blizzard over the Kulun Pass (4800m)

Also, the following days and weeks in the high mountains of Tibet was not an easy task. But against snow, rain, dog attacks, nocturnal minus temperatures, light altitude sickness, bad roads and many high passes were hardly visited monasteries under white mountain peaks, warm greeting Tibetans in the villages and invitations to butter tea in warm, heated with Yakkot living rooms.

Bad roads and frosty nights are the price of my trip through Tibet

Tsampa is being prepared

So I ate my first tsampa, a batter made from cornmeal, butter, sugar and green tea, which is eaten raw. One day as I pushed my bicycle through the gate of a monastery to the courtyard beyond, a dozen young monks stormed toward me, wishing to take pictures with me. Of course, I also wanted to take a picture with them.

Each overcoming pass rewarded me with the sight of a fluttering sea of ​​colorful prayer flags. The landscape changed from tundra-like grasslands with rolling, pale green hills and grazing yaks over cornfields in the shade of jagged, snow-capped mountain giants to deep green-wooded ravines and valleys.

Tibetan landscapes

One evening I was pausing in the street when a passing Tibetan named Basa invited me to spend the night in his home in the next village. As in all the villages in the area there was no running water, but in addition to a dump toilet Basa also had its own recording studio, where he records with his son and a few friends music.

Basa in his recording studio at 4000 meters altitude

The last days in Tibet led me once again on high passes and bad roads. I spend a full day on the steep 60-kilometer climb to the 4,300-meter-high Daxuenshan Pass. It is now autumn in Tibet. The deciduous trees have turned yellow or red and shine brightly in the sea of ​​green coniferous trees, which fill a paradisiacal valley under gently jagged cliffs. The perfect silence is interrupted only occasionally by the distant chirping of a bird. Tibet releases me much more peacefully than it has received me.

Autumn in Tibet

  1. A nice report with great photos. But I think you should be a bit cautious about the political terms in relations between Han China and Tibet. Although there is a consensus in the West that China is evil and Tibet is good, the reality is much more complex. In particular, one should also note that the exiled Tibetans operate a huge propaganda industry, which has a strong influence on the perception here in the West.

    When asked if this is a crew at all, one would first have to clarify whether Tibet was an independent state before the invasion of the Red Army. If you are seriously concerned with the history of the region, you will see: that is not so clear. There is both evidence of a former independence, as well as on the fact that Tibet was already a part of China before. In fact, Tibet was most likely in an intermediate state.

    Now I do not think that history should necessarily set the legal status, but that the residents should be free to decide at any time whether they want to become independent or not. For this it would need a referendum. As long as this does not happen, it can not be said with certainty what the majority of Tibetans want.

    In my years in China, I have met many Tibetans living in China and I have the impression that here too it is quite unclear what the majority of Tibetans want. My assessment, based on conversations with local farmers, is that many people also endorse Chinese efforts to develop the region. The loudest voices come from the Tibetans, who grew up in the West and often have never visited their homeland.

    And well ... government critics are not being prosecuted in Tibet more than in other parts of the country. So this has nothing to do with the colonial aspirations of the Han Chinese. The worst thing in this respect is the Muslim Uighurs anyway. But with human rights violations against Muslims, you can not catch anyone behind the stove with us in the West. These terroists have earned, many find here.

    Sorry for the comments. Sometimes I get a little irritated when someone writes about propaganda and is influenced by the propaganda of one side.

    • Hi Oli,
      Thank you for the detailed presentation of your opinion, especially since you have obviously dealt with the topic for years. I'll agree with you if you warn against black-and-white thinking and bear in mind that (as always) there is propaganda on both sides.
      Nevertheless, I stand by my swipes on the Chinese Tibet policy in my article. In my humble opinion, which is certainly based less on historical or international legal expertise than on instinctive justice in the face of known facts, the Chinese army's invasion of Tibet and the subsequent destruction of cultural and religious sites and the exile of the Dalai Lama are quite aggressive Conquest and subsequent occupation. I was encouraged in this journey during my trip, during which I observed a negative attitude of many Tibetans towards the Chinese government and worship of the Dalai Lama as a representative of their so important Tibetan culture and religion. Of course my impressions are subjective and it would be highly desirable to find a representative opinion of the Tibetans through a referendum. But it is certainly not the Tibetans that such a referendum in the medium and long term is extremely unlikely ...

    • The destruction of which you speak has undoubtedly existed and is still taking place today. I think that's just as tragic as you. Nevertheless, the damage to the Han Chinese culture has been as serious as Tibetan culture. This is always forgotten in this context.

      That's why I'm always a bit skeptical when it comes to a planned destruction of Tibetan culture for colonial reasons. Rather, I have the impression that especially the earlier years of the People's Republic under Mao were a great disaster for all citizens of the state. The culture of the Han Chinese was almost wiped out, for example: The cultural indistria in China succumbed completely. In the 1960s, only four films were produced in China. China had already created a flourishing film industry in the 1930s. For more than ten years all the country's universities have been closed - with consequences that are still noticeable today.

      Yes, a referendum would be desirable. I think so too and probably it would also be meaningful from a Chinese strategic point of view. The situation in the Indian Sikkim is a bit similar to China. There, almost 40 years ago, the people were interrogated, who spoke out in favor of a stay in the Indian Confederation. That would be a sign and China could ultimately manipulate (or even fake) the vote just as India apparently did. But then I would have rest ... :)

      What bothers me personally: In Tibet is often measured with other cubes. On the different perception of Tibetans and Uighurs I have already pointed out. But also the political attitude of Tibet, as it is very conservative, is approved by people who would never do it elsewhere. If Switzerland has its racist attacks again, as it currently does with the Ecopop initiative, it is rightly criticized. That Tibet does not want "foreigners", however, is perfectly okay.

  2. That must have been a spectacular tour. The photos inspire me. Hats off even at the pass crossings, which demand everything in height in the cold.

  3. Tibet Travel

    The photo of cycling on the bridge is spectacular.
    Nice reports and photos, hats off and keep it up!

  4. Great pictures and unforgettable experiences, I'm impressed!
    The pictures with a blizzard over the Kulun Pass - it is unbelievable, how the weather can change there and how different pictures of a corner can develop!
    Tibet is actually a travel dream, but for some it is unreachable because of the height of the heart, or other limitations that make it impossible to travel to high altitudes.
    For the altitude sickness and health check before the trip, there are numerous information on our site at - just scroll down!

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