Trekking in Tibet as a solo female traveler: tips and inspiration from my experience on the Ganden-Samye route
It took me many days to put down the most relevant thoughts and info about the last part of my fabulous trip to Tibet: the three and a half days trekking with yaks on the Ganden-Samye route. My memories of that trek are the most vivid of the whole journey and reflect the disappointments and the wonders which a solo female traveler may encounter when it comes to relying totally on other people.
ORGANIZING THE TREK IN TIBET AS A SOLO TRAVELER
Trekking in the Tibetan highlands requires a permit and the company of an authorized guide, like any other sightseeing activity in Tibet. A proper travel agency will arrange the trek for you, providing a tent, sleeping bags, a mat and portable oxygen (just in case you need it – the air is very thin at those high altitudes). The guide who treks with you will bring food for everybody in the group and cook three meals a day.
Before booking my trip to Tibet, I emailed the agency who later applied for my travel permits, and let them know that, besides the tour of Lhasa and the road trip to Everest Base Camp, I wanted to do some trekking. The agent seemed surprised to hear that, perhaps because I was a solo female
Still, that sounded like good news to me! It meant more freedom to do things my own way, more time and opportunities to interact with the locals, but it would be more expensive. Anyway, with such
I knew I could trust this agency completely. They had great reviews, and I had spoken with them several times,
LHASA – NAMTSO – GANDEN MONASTERY: WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE WE STARTED TREKKING
On the first of what would be 4 days together with this “external guide” who was assigned to me, I already had a sense that something was not right about him, but I thought that could be related to the fact that I had spent the previous 10 days with a different guide who was super friendly and professional and with whom everybody in the group connected easily, and maybe now I was just being too picky, so I pushed my feelings aside.
The weird sensation, unfortunately, was a warning. On the way from Lhasa to Trubshi Village (near Ganden, the point from which we would start walking towards Samye as Tibetan pilgrims have done for centuries) he talked with me as little as possible, while being chatting with the driver extensively, but in Tibetan.
The first stop-over was at the stunning Namtso Lake. The guide entered the Chinese Restaurant a couple of
The trip from Namtso to Ganden didn’t take long. We saw the monastery, nestled in the mountains, from the bottom of the valley, its buildings side by side like teeth in a smiling mouth. I felt like there was so much to observe
When we arrived at the starting point of the trek, which was only a short 10-minute ride from the monastery, it was 4 PM, and we had plenty of time to pitch the tents, meet the porters, have dinner and go to sleep.
I soon discovered that the guide hadn’t brought his own tent
I was wrong, again.
At breakfast, the guy had a grumpy expression stamped on his face, didn’t utter a word and, after we had packed everything, he started walking fast in the valleys, leaving me far behind. After a couple of hours of going uphill on my own, surrounded by beauty and wilderness, I was hungry and wanted to grab one of the snacks he had kindly offered to carry in his backpack ( of course, let’s not forget that I was financing the entire expedition, I had
When I finally reached my grumpy guide and asked for a snack (he had got out a few apples and some chocolate bars), he replied that we didn’t have that much to eat for that day, therefore I couldn’t have one. At that moment, I realized that there was no hope of getting along with
The following morning, before the second day of the trek started, I let the two porters know that we absolutely needed to head back to the
After we had returned to the starting point, the yak-man offered to take us to his house, where we could have tea. I called the agency and explained the situation. They couldn’t believe what had happened, and it took me quite some time to let them know I was serious. The agency manager had a very long chat with the guide, then another one with me, then another one with him, and in the end, they agreed to send another guide. In the meantime, I had tea with the
WILL YOU NEED OXYGEN ON YOUR TREK IN TIBET?
The new guide, Tashi, was friendly, and really sorry when he let me know that it was not anymore possible to head for Samye and complete the route we had planned, because I didn’t have enough time (my flight back was scheduled just after the end of the trek, and we had already lost one day), therefore he would take me along another trail up to a lake that is sacred to the nomads in the area.
The following morning, we set off early and headed for the lake, which we reached in 8 hours, passing through pastures, stopping by nomad tents and climbing through a riverbed covered with huge stones: it was just
I was astonished by the fact that, even though the route wasn’t too steep, I was walking slower and slower. Tashi said I should take it easy but without stopping; at a certain point, it was a real effort to take a single step forward. My legs felt too heavy. For the first time during the whole trip, I started sipping oxygen.
I decided to stop, sit on the grass and just enjoy being there with the grass and rocks, the yaks nearby and the sky so close.
I guess it was at that point that I started crying.
I cried because I was grateful for being up there in the clouds and the pure air (not too much air, btw
Tashi said he would reach the lake and come back and he would show me how close it was. I trusted him. He was kind and even only a few hours after we had first met, he was able to empathize with me.
I felt like we had entered another dimension that day. We didn’t see another human being for hours, and we couldn’t even hear any sounds around us. I reached the lake, in the end. It was very dry. I could see on the surrounding rocks the sign the water had left when it was full. Now it looked more like a pond, a pond at the end of the world.
After having rested, we returned to the camp which the porters had set up half-way to the lake. Tashi got there an hour before me and cooked the rice for me and the porters. I didn’t use any oxygen on the way back. I stopped often to rest, have a look around, and imprint the landscape on my mind and in my camera.
A crew of four nomads, who had been looking for something on the ground on a slope not far from our tents, stopped by and had tea with us. They wanted to know about me and asked Tashi a lot of questions. They told me they were collecting caterpillar fungus on the mountains because it’s used in Chinese medicine and sells well at the markets.
In my imagination, I thought we would ride the yaks. After I had spent the first day near these two creatures, I realized how far off my imagination had been. Yaks are fast and agile, and very free. They move easily on grass and rocks and spend the day grazing quietly all by themselves, but it’s not an easy task to gather them in the morning after they have spent the night away from the camp. They behave a bit like bulls, so it’s better to stay at a safe distance, as you can see below, in the very amateur video I took, in which the yak-men prepared them for the trail.
We walked along a river and past several nomad tents. We visited a few of them and had a little conversation with the women, who welcomed us inside
WHAT SHOULD YOU BRING WITH YOU ON THE TREKKING?
Overall, I suggest you bring
That was my last day in Tibet
Those 13 days in Tibet had been intense, and the trekking was definitely my favourite part of the whole trip, even with all the initial downsides. I was very sad to leave.
Looking back, I would do it again, but arranging the
If you’re a solo
Look at all the photos from the trek and others to fall in love with Tibet here!