Reflections on China/Tibet

Lucy . We entered China a month ago but me, Alisha and mummy had to wait two days for Daddy to arrive with the truck from the border. We left to go to Tibet and had to have guides all the way. We all got a bit sick from the altitude but we soon adjusted.   We went to see the Potala Palace it was very very big and there were lots of thrones for the Dalia Lama. We also went to Everest Base Camp where there was a great view of Everest. When we arrived in Kashgar we went to see the animal market, there were goats, cows,sheep, horses and donkeys and just as we were leaving camels came in.  The best part of the trip was the beautiful mountains and no matter how difficult the day was I could always see a lovely mountain even if it was just in my mind's eye. . Alisha . I liked China although we didn't see much of it. It would take you years to see all of it and to be honest I'm not sure Daddy would be able to cope with guides the whole way. We did a really long drive to get to Tibet as we had guides the whole way. I had to go and sit in the back which I soon got used to.  . When we got to altitude all the sealed food puffed up. Some of the stuff got so puffed it took up all the space as soon as we got down though every thing puffed down and caved in.  In Tibet there was a lot of yak butter lamps me and Lucy joked that they smelled of cauliflower cheese, it got a bit overpowering in the Jokhang temple. I really enjoyed seeing the Potala Palace as well as the high mountain scenery and it was really cool (literally) to see Everest so close up. . Gilly . Having come from such a privileged country, I have to say I had rather taken democracy for granted. However after a month in Xinjiang and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, I will never take it for granted again. Kashgar felt like, how I imagine, a city under occupation would feel. There were police posts on every corner; our hotel had an army personal carrier primed and standing to attention outside; there were passport and bag searches to go into shops; heavily armed policemen standing alert in groups all facing outwards ready for action while people tried to go about their normal business around them; and citizens armed with clubs and nasty multi-spiked metal spears doing aggressive drills while being checked by the police. We saw multiple shows of force by the army and police throughout Xinjiang, all the traffic would be stopped and armoured cars; troop carriers bristling with machine guns rode around town with sirens blazing; and battalions of police dressed for battle with machine guns, riot shields and helmets faces hard matched through the streets ready to battle with an invisible enemy. Even schools are barricaded like fortresses with armed guards when open, we weren't allowed to take any photos of the police or military. The police checks both on the road and to stay in towns were oppressively omnipresent. However we never felt at all at threat from the local population who were trying the best they could under extreme stress to go about their everyday business. The agency we used had done a great job with the paperwork and our 5 different guides were brilliant at liaising with the police in such sensitive regions. Lhasa had as many police posts but the policemen were far more relaxed and although there appeared to be as many restrictions there seemed to be scope for the local police to use their discretion. This article from Reuters has some of the background behind the changes: . The heavy handed approach and the lack of freedom really upset us, I just can't imagine what it is doing to the local population. It certainly isn't a "winning hearts and minds" approach to governance. Although all over Xinjiang, even way out in the desert miles from anywhere (except the frequent police posts) were huge propaganda posters.  . Apart from the above we loved the rest of the experience, especially in Tibet. The beauty of the mountains and the deep spirituality of the people will last in my mind for a long time. It was such a privilege to visit such a unique and ancient place. Some of my favourite memories are of circumambulating Barkhor kora (pilgrimage circuit) in the evening. People smiling and welcoming us to walk amongst them as they prayerfully circuited the holy site. They were particularly pleased to see the girls, walking behind you could see the whispers go out and people turning and smiling towards them. The girl's presence brought out delighted faces and attempts at communication in a shared language of gestures and smiles. Despite the affects of altitude, I could happily spend much more time up in the high mountains. It was amazing to drive up to Everest Basecamp. We were so happy that neither the humans nor the truck suffered from bad altitude problems. It wasn't pleasant coming up so quickly onto the plateau, 3 really long days driving combined with concerns about altitude sickness was very stressful but thankfully none of us got anything serious.  . China is making great leaps economically and developmentally, it is amazing to hear how quickly things are changing. It sounds like public works and roads are completed in record time even in inhospitable areas. All across the thousands of kilometres we drove through the Taklimakan on a smooth ribbon of tarmac,  trees are being planted and irrigated along the roads, greening the desert. . Steve . Firstly I think I should say we have only really been in two provinces in China, Xinjiang and Tibet so our reflections are really regarding those provinces rather than China as a whole most of which I know from previous travels is quite different. We have spent almost a month in China and driven over 7,000kms yet we have only seen a fraction of China. It's been exhausting but exhilarating at the same time. . It's not easy or cheap getting into China with your own vehicle but it was all well organised and the guides we had were great especially having to put up with my frustrations at times. . The highlight for me was making Everest Base Camp and the scenery along the whole drive in Tibet was just fantastic. It was also interesting to visit the various monasteries and to see how Buddhism is still so important to the Tibetans. I wish I could say the same about the authorities. In all our travels we have never been subject to so many police checks, registrations etc. I know we are only tourists so it is much worse for the local population. The sufferings of the people in Tibet are well documented but we were surprised to see it in Xinjiang province too. Kashgar felt like a city that was occupied by an invading army. The authorities were keen that we did not see or know anything about this but the way they went about it really just highlighted the oppression. It really makes me appreciate the value of living in a free society and how important it is to retain those freedoms regardless of any terrorist or other threat.  Does a petrol station need to look like a military encampment?

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