One of the biggest dangers facing anyone visiting Tibet is the altitude, which can be a killer if underestimated. With an average height of 4000m, most travellers are likely to experience some negative side effects. Because the air is thinner, your lungs have to work harder to deliver the same amount of oxygen to your body with each breath of air. The effects on the body can be varied, and concerning and some acclimatise much faster and less problematically than others.
To dispel a common misconception, it has nothing to with how young and healthy you are, and bizarrely enough it is often the young and healthy who are effected worse of all though this might just be because they overdo it in their enthusiasm. Either way, it’s advisable to take a few precautions to minimise any unpleasantness.
*Take your first few days at altitude very easy. Simple, gentle exercise will help the body to adjust to the new climate.
*Drink loads of water all the time. Drink before you get thirsty, you dehydrate very fast at altitude and officially you should be on 4L per day!
*Don’t smoke, and if you plausibly can, avoid alcohol.
The Lhasonians are gradually learning the tricks and scams prevalent in other parts of Asia. You need to watch your pockets while you’re in the cities as there are plenty of pickpockets around often masquerading as monks. Keep your bags close to you, as it’s not uncommon to have then snatched from you or grabbed when your attention is distracted at the local Thanka stall.
Secret Police and Propaganda
Be careful who you talk to in Tibet, the walls have ears. If you’re overheard discussing anything of a negative political view, not a great deal will happen to you but for the Tibetan you talk to it could mean punishment or even imprisonment.
The Tibetans are patriotic, curious people who often want to hear your thoughts on their situation, or about their Chinese oppressors. Do them a favour and don’t get involved.
Likewise, images of the Dalai Lama have scandalously been outlawed since 1995 and, although you will be asked if you have them by the locals, you do put them at risk of imprisonment (and yourself at risk of deportation!) if you hand one over.
There is C.C.T.V in many of the major temples, and fake ‘spy’ monks will quiz you about their exiled spiritual leader and then grass you up to the Public Security Bureau (P.S.B) should your response imply anything subversive. Best to stay off the sensitive subjects unless you really know someone, and you’re sure no one else is listening.
In addition to Dalai Lama images, another sure way to get yourself booted out of Tibet is to carry anything linked to Free Tibet, whether that be posters and stickers, literature, or having any link with anything pro-independence at all. Even the Tibetan flag, which is draped over just everything in places like Dharamsala, is highly illegal.
You’d be very unlucky to ever get searched for carrying this kind of thing but do yourself and everyone else a favour and leave the propaganda at home. Giving anything like this to the locals can have serious consequences for them. Make no mistake, this is NOT a free country.