Many people ask me how to plan trips like mine. The simple answer is to buy a good travel book about the country you want to visit and then go there. The most common questions I get asked are listed below.
Q: What books should I read?
A: There are not too many books about trekking in Tibet and I think the best one (by far) is "The Tibet Handbook" by Moon publications. It has hundreds of itineraries and the best maps you are likely to find anywhere. Even the Tibetan travel agents use it. I used The Tibet Handbook to plan my itinerary around Kharta and it was fantastic. As for Nepal, there are tons of good books so I won't mentions any.
Q: Tibet versus Nepal?
A: There is a certain romanticism about visiting Tibet that is quite different from Nepal but that is entirely in the head of the particular visitor. Only you can place a value on being able to say, "Yes, I was in Tibet" or "Yes, I trekked to Everest BC in Nepal". Aside from that the treks themselves are also quite different. On the Tibet side you must be self-sufficient while Nepal offers very nice lodges all along the way. Travel in Tibet feels like work while Nepal is a joy. There are not as many tourists in Tibet and some people complain that Nepal is overrun with tourists. But in fact there are very few people in Nepal compared to what you find in National Parks in the US. And the tourists tend to be people you actually like to meet as opposed to the typically ignorant American you find in US National Parks. I have been to both places and I intend to return to Nepal again and again because the logistics are so easy and I enjoy myself more. Even the views are better in my evaluation. You can drive right to the Tibet BC but it is nice to trek from Tingri. Or better yet, trek to the Kangshung glacier BC from Kharta for the best view of Everest and absolutely no other tourists. Get the Moon publication, "The Tibet Handbook" for info on Tibet trekking.
Q: Mongolia versus Tibet versus Nepal?
A: I was in Mongolia in May of 1999. At that time there was very little tourism and subsequently it made getting around a bit difficult. Also, almost nobody speaks English so communication can be difficult. However, once I got out of UB and met people in the countryside I found they were virtually unspoiled by tourism. That can not be said for Nepal or Tibet, at least not if you go to the popular places in those countries. I suspect Mongilia will change soon as there are more and more tourists going there every year. So if you are ever planning to go to Mongolia you might want to do it soon, before it changes.
Q: Did you go with a group or travel alone?
A: I like to travel alone or with a good friend. Traveling alone makes it easier to meet the local people. People who travel together often spend all their time talking to each other rather than visiting with new people.
Q: How did you get into Tibet?
A: This is a rather long story. Before I left for Tibet I had been led to believe that permits were no longer required and that I could simply purchase a ticket at the Chengdu airport for a flight into Lhasa. So I obtained a Chinese tourist visa and flew to Chengdu where I attempted to purchase a ticket to Lhasa. The language barrier was quite difficult but I eventually concluded that I had to obtain a special permit for Tibet and they pointed me to a bus that would take me to the proper place. I got on the bus and road it into town (about 20 minutes) and the bus stopped and everyone got off. I had no idea where to go so I started wandering around and asking people for help. Nobody spoke English so I continued wandering. After a few minute a man walked up to me and asked if he could help. I said I was trying to arrange a permit to Tibet and he told me he was Tibetan and had just arrived from there today. He seemed to know what was going on so he took me to a hotel (Traffic Hotel I think) where he told me I should stay. Also, I was told I could get a permit there. He was correct, there were several travel agents in front of the hotel and they were all willing and able to arrange for a permit. I paid for the airfare and the ride into Lhasa from the airport which is a 100 km (2 hour) drive. And I paid a small fee ($10 or $20) to the travel agent for the permit. The permit was actually a group permit but I was told that if necessary the group could consist of just one person. Also, I never actually saw a permit. The next morning the travel agent picked me up at the hotel and drove me to the airport where she took us to the front of the line and we checked our luggage. I say "we" because in the taxi I had met the other two members of my "group". We got on the plane and flew to Lhasa where we were met by another travel agent. The agent apparently had the proper permit because we were allowed to proceed on to Lhasa. The travel agent asked where we were staying and he dropped us each at our respective hotels, the Yak Hotel, in my case. After that I never saw or heard from the travel agent or the other members of my "group". And That is how I got into Tibet. And if I had it to do again that is how I would do it. Fly to Chengdu, check into the Traffic Hotel, buy the necessary airfare and permit for Tibet and go. Easy.
Q: How did you get around in Tibet?
A: Special permits are required to travel in many places in Tibet though they are not difficult to arrange. In my case I met two people from Holland who wanted to travel to the same places as me so we went to a travel agent and arranged for a guide and a driver. The guide turned out to be almost worthless but that did not really matter. We worked out an itinerary with the travel agent and he arranged for the necessary permits and visa extensions. Easy. After the Bonri and Kharta treks I split up with the couple I was traveling with. I traveled (without permit) on my own to Everest Base Camp. The trek from Tingri is 3-4 days and you will probably have to pay a small fee once you get there. I never saw any officials on that trek so I don't really know the rules. I just went where I wanted to go. After that I hitch hiked to the Nepal border and left Tibet. No problems at all.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: Air fare is different for everybody so I won't address that. Land costs in Nepal cost me about $10 per day while trekking. Sometimes less, sometimes more. It depends on how much beer you like to drink at the end of the day. In Tibet the cost is less while trekking because most of the time you will be in a tent and you will cook your own food. But travel costs in Tibet are higher because there is little public transportation. You must hire a car and driver and those costs are usually calculated based on the number of miles you want to travel. A ride from Nepal to Lhasa will cost about $100, perhaps a little less.
Q: When is the best time to go?
A: There are two good times to go to Nepal, Oct/Nov/Dec and March/April. The fall season is the most popular because the views are best then. But the spring is nice too because the flowers are out. In Tibet the season is not so important. I traveled in May and June.
Q: What about porters in Tibet?
A: I hired three porters at the start of the Kharta trek at a cost of about $3 per day. If you do the Kharta trek I suggest you print these pictures and try to hire these guys in Yeuba.
If you go to Kharta print my picture too and tell them I said hello.
They don't speak English (Almost nobody in Tibet does) but they were very strong, friendly, and helpful guides and porters.
Q: I don't have much time. What should I do?
A: If I was quite fit and only had two week to spend in Nepal this is what I'd do.
1. Arrive Katmandu (look around)
2. Get trekking permit (site see)
3. Fly to Lukla and begin trek to Namche
4. Hike to Namche
5. Rest day for altitude acclimation (Necessary!)
6. Hike to Tengboche (visit monastery)
7. Hike to Dole
8. Hike to Pangar
9. Hike to Gokyo
10. Day hike up Gokyo Peak and perhaps also to the 5th lake
11. Day hike up the Nameless Towers (WOW!)
12. Hike to Namche (long day)
13. Hike to Lukla (long day)
14. Fly to Katmandu
15. Fly home
Q: What kind of camera do you use.
A: The pictures in Nepal were taken with a Canon EOS Model 10S. I used two lenses, a Canon 35-135 mm Ultrasonic and a Sigma 21-35mm zoom. In Tibet I used a Canon Elan II with a Canon 28-105mm lens and a Sigma 18-35mm lens. As for film, I used Kodak Lumier ASA 100 slides in Nepal and Tibet. I shot about 30 rolls in Nepal and 40 rolls in Tibet.
About color: These slides were originally scanned by
Kodak Photo CD and then I edited them in Corel Photo-Paint 6.0 and saved
them as 24 bit color JPG files. If you are viewing with an 8 bit video
card (256 colors) the photos may look very bad. If you have software to
convert them to 8 bit color they will look much better. Also, Corel
Photo-Paint uses the Kodak color calibration system to calibrate the
monitor so that the colors I see on my monitor are very close to the
actual colors. As far as I know browsers don't perform this calibration
so the colors you see in your browser will probably not match the
actual colors. That's how it works in my browser and I'm a little
disappointed in the colors rendered by Netscape and Internet Explorer.
You may find the color balance to be acceptable but these pictures can
really look much better on a calibrated monitor.
My Khumbu Itinerary:
I slept in the following villages.
4. Junbesi (Got sick, high fever)
5. Junbesi (Still sick, saw doctor)
6. Junbesi (Feeling better)
9. Jubing (Feeling tired, rested)
13. Namchi (Acclimatization day)
17. Dingboche (Cool day hike to top of hill behind village)
19. Chukung (Day hike Chukhung Ri (5845 m)
20. Chukung (Day hike to Island Peak base camp)
21. Chukung (Rest day)
24. Ode (Dole)
26. Gokyo (Day hike to 5th lake)
27. Gokyo (Day hike Gokyo peak, too cloudy to see much
28. Gokyo (Day hike Gokyo peak, forgot camera
29. Gokyo (Rest day)
31. Gokyo (Back up Gokyo Peak with camera, WOW!
32. Gokyo (Day hike up the Nameless Towers, cool)
33. Namchi (Long day hiking)
34. Lukla (Another long day hiking)
35. Kathmandu (Fly by helicopter)