Ryggsekk.com har skrevet brev til Lonely Planet om turen mellom Tibet og Nepal.
Guidebook used: Tibet 5th ed.
In Lhasa we stayed at the very friendly Kirey Hotel. Double rooms were quite expensive at 150 yuan. We hade a private, rather disfunctioning bathroom. The shower didn’t work, so we had to use the communal shower. Furthermore, something was wrong with the toilet flush so we had to act as plumbers and fix the loo every time we used it. The last thing we wanted to do was using the communal toilet aimed at people staying in the dorms. Each floor has six dirty holes with bad drainage and you can smell the toilet from 5 meters away.
The FIT branch at Banak Shol Hotel seems to be the best place to organise trips around Tibet and to the Nepali border. The ladies who work at the office were professional, reliable and easy to deal with. A contract is standard procedure when you hire a car and driver.
The restaurant in Banak Shol Hotel, formerly known as Kailash, now operates under the name Namtso. The food is still excellent and we recommend the vegetarian lasagne (20 Yuan). Mains cost 16 - 25 Yuan.
Sadly, ticket prices for the main attractions in Lhasa have skyrocketed. Jokhang used to be free; it now costs 70 Yuan. At Potala you have to pay 100 Yuan, Norbulingka charges 60 Yuan and Sera monastery 45 Yuan. We met budget travellers who could not afford to visit Potala. Make sure to allow for the entrance fees when you plan a trip to Tibet.
Altitude sick camera batteries
We brought three cameras with us to Tibet. During our visit to the roof of the world, all camera batteries went flat or short-circuited. Obviously, the altitude played a role in this. The cameras all stopped working at particularly high places like the Everest Base Camp. Thus we missed some much-wanted shots of the world’s highest mountain. Also, we travelled with a Japanese woman whose camera batteries went flat the moment she reached Nam Tso.
Along the Friendship Highway from Lhasa to Kathmandu: We did this trip the week after the Chinese National Day in October. Because of the national holiday there were a lot of vehicle demand from Chinese tourists, pressing prices up. We paid 5200 Yuan for five days from Lhasa to the Nepali border. The price included a fairly new Toyata Landcruiser with an experienced driver, petrol plus food and accommodation for the driver. Basic permits were also included, but not the permit to the Qomolangma Nature Preserve (65 Yuan per person + 405 Yuan per vehicle). Neither was our own food and accommodation included.
Road works were underway on the road along Yandrok Tso. A new highway is probably being built here. In Gyantse we stayed at Wutse Hotel (dorms 30 Yuan). The hotel has a decent restaurant. The area north of the roundabout in central Gyantse has changed. The Tashi restaurant is gone (there is now a Tashi restaurant on the first floor about 30 meters north of Wutse hotel). The entrance to the fort is about 200 meters along the street to the northeast of the roundabout. Entrance to the fort is 30 Yuan, and the monastery charges 40 Yuan. Gyantse - Shigatse is 90 km along an excellent sealed road.
In Shigatse the former Fruit Hotel is now a shining new place called Gag-Gyan Hotel. A bed in a nice triple room with tv and shared bath is 40 Yuan. The toilets at this hotel were surprisingly clean given what we saw elsewhere in Tibet. There are also hot showers available. Tasilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse charges 55 Yuan for a ticket. The map of the monastery in your Tibet guidebook is confusing. It doesn’t show all buildings. The kora around the monastery is very interesting with prayer wheels all along and great views of Shigatse and the monastery.
West Qingdao Street in Shigatse is now a pedestrian street. The buildings along this street are renovated in Tibetan style.
From the Friendship Hwy there is a good sealed road for 25 km to Sakya. In Sakya there is now a new large Chinese style hotel - Sakya Hotel - situated northeast of the monastery. The hotel has a restaurant too - Sakya Manusavora Restaurant - where you can get the usual selection of Chinese, Tibetan, Nepalese and Western dishes. The restaurant is an overpriced tourist-oriented place though.
We spent one night at Kanjong Hotel on the highway in Shegar. Beds at this hotel are 25 Yuan. The hotel has a very dirty and extremely smelly pit toilet and the rooms are far from clean either. In your room you only have electricity for a short while in the evening. The hotel restaurant is quite cosy with meals costing around 15 Yuan.
The checkpoint west of Shegar is supposed to be a thorough one, but when we passed it at 7 am the guards were sleeping. Our driver had to go and wake up one of the guards and the guards just had a quick look at our passports before we were allowed to continue.
From the turnoff from the Friendship Hwy west of Shegar there is 101 km to the Everest Base Camp along a newly constructed road. Tourist vehicles have to park at Rongphu monastery. The last 8 km you either have to walk or go by horse cart. If you choose to go by horse, the cost is 60 Yuan (fixed price) for the whole cart, which can only take two people. Solo travellers also pay 60 Yuan. The trip up to the base camp takes about one hour each way. You see some stunning scenery, but you definitely have to put on warm clothes! Walking is probably better if you don’t want to freeze, but it takes about two hours to walk from Rongphu to the base camp. That sounded too exhausting for us given the extreme altitude.
The Everest Base Camp itself is a bit disappointing. We didn’t see any Everest expeditions. Moreover, the whole place seemed to be taken over by Tibetans who want to make money from the steady stream of tourists who visit the camp. A few tents offer tea, basic meals and sleeping. A rude Tibetan working in one of the tents tried to force us to buy jasmine tea for 10 Yuan a glass. He was very unwilling to take ’no’ for an answer when we left the tent. The small post office/mailbox was closed when we visited on 12 Oct 2004. Sad indeed, we had actually written several postcards the day before that we intended to drop in the mailbox at the Base Camp. All together there were around 20 tents and two smelly concrete toilets at the Base Camp when we visited.
At the Chinese border station in Zhangmu we were surprised to see as many as about 50 tourists lining up to clear immigration in the morning. The Chinese immigration opened around 10 am. Most tourists seemed to be on group visas, probably going on organised trips from Nepal to Tibet and back. The tour groups were favoured in the line before independent travellers. As a result we had to wait for about 2 and a half hours to get through immigration and customs on the Chinese side. The moment we had cleared Chinese customs we were approached by a young Nepalese guy who offered us car transportation to Kathmandu for 1000 Rs per person (we were now three people travelling together). The young man took us on a Chinese minibus down to Kodari, helped us through the Nepalese immigration procedures (which were very superficial), led us to his friends car, and off we went to Kathmandu. It took about 5 hours from Kodari to Thamel, including a stop for dhal bat in Barabise. For newcomers to Nepal it was good help to have a local English-speaking person guiding us through all the hustle and bustle in busy Kodari and through all the army checkpoints enroute to Kathmandu.
In conclusion, the five day drive from Lhasa to Kathmandu was an unforgettable road trip with plenty of awesome scenery and perfect photo opportunities. The altitude, the wind, the cold weather, and the bumpy roads made it a challenging trip, but as long as you have a well-maintained car and an experienced driver you have all reason to feel save and happy. Make sure you spend a about a week in Lhasa to get used to the altitude before you head off. We slept in Gyantse, Shigatse, Shegar and Nyalam - none of the places much higher than 4000 meters. That was a good idea, we think. Many travellers opt to spend the night at the Everest Base Camp. It’s extremely cold and windy up there, and we heard stories about travellers who vomited all night when they stayed at the Base Camp. Therefore we chose to sleep at lower altitude and visit the Base Camp at daytime. That was perfectly fine. A couple of hours in the cold wind was more than enough for us.
Guidebook used: Nepal 6th ed.
In Kathmandu we stayed at Hotel Tashi Dargey in Thamel. We paid USD 9 for a double room with bath and TV. The place is very friendly and well run. The hotel has a central yet quiet location and they offer free luggage storage for guests.
Taxi fares have increased in Kathmandu, probably due to higher petrol prices. In Oct 2004 we paid the following rates: Thamel-Patan Rs 150; Thamel-Bhaktapur Rs 300; Thamel-Tribuvan Airport Rd 150.
In Kathmandu we decided to sign up for a trip to Royal Chitwan National Park. We did this through the tour office in Hotel Tashi Dargey. The office is run by Mr Ramesh Bhattarai who is also the manager of Asahi Treks & Expedition P Ltd (ph: 4411519, 4411649, email: firstname.lastname@example.org). Mr Bhattarai offered frank and reliable advice about various Chitwan packages. We paid USD 170 pp (normal price USD 230, according to Mr Bhattarai) for a 3 days/2 nights package including tourist bus Kathmandu-Chitwan, transfer to the Island Jungle Resort inside the park, park entry, 2 nights accommodation at the resort with full board, 2 elephant rides, elephant bathing, 2 jungle walks with guide, bird watching, a canoe trip, and finally transfer and tourist bus to Pokhara. This package was very good value. For people with limited time it’s a good idea to stay at one of the resorts inside the park for a couple of days. In just two days we saw rhinos on three occasions. Yet, bathing with the elephants was the absolute highlight! Island Jungle Resort was very quiet when we visited. Only 8 out of 100 beds were occupied, thus giving us a good jungle feel. You can get a similar package with accommodation outside the park for USD 95.
Note that the road from Mugling south to Chitwan is very bad. This short drive can take up to six hours, we were told.
In Pokhara we stayed in Hotel Fishtail Villa. The hotel is situated close to Noble Hotel at the end of a quiet side road off the main Lakeside road. It’s a small and friendly hotel. The rooms have excellent mountain views (make sure you get a room on the 1st or 2nd floor facing the mountains). From room #203 you can open the door to a small balcony in the morning and enjoy the fresh air and the crisp mountain views from the bed! We paid USD 10 for a double room with private bath.
One morning we had breakfast at the Gurkha’s Restaurant & Bar next to hotel Meera in the main Lakeside area. Even though the restaurant seemed quite upmarket, there was lots of green mould on the toasted bread we were served. Definitely no fresh bread here! We complained to the grumpy waiter who reluctantly brought the food back to the kitchen. Five minutes later he came back with new toasts. The bread was changed but the slices of cheese were the same. We could even see our tooth marks in the cheese from the last serving. In addition to serving mouldy toast, the restaurant uses prayer wheels as a decoration to attract foreign guests. After two weeks in Tibet, we felt that was pretty disrespectful.
Greenline now charges USD 12 from Pokhara to Kathmandu. The bus leaves Pokhara around 7.45am and arrives in KTM around 2pm. Lunch and a bottle of water is included in the ticket price. Currently, Greenline services to Chitwan seems to be cut down.