Peters Tibet Story

In August 1985 after trekking and rafting the remote Indian Himalayan regions of Zanskar, Lhadak and Kashmir, I found myself stranded in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, looking for an affordable way home. I quickly realised that I wasn’t the only traveller grounded there and having some experience in organising travel with ski trips to New Zealand, I decided it would be easier to find a way out for all of us rather than alone.

I put notices up around Lhasa seeking fellow travellers to join me, and ended up organising one of the first rickety buses to travel across the dusty, high altitude tracks of the Tibetan plateau to Nepal.

To make it work, I had to quickly absorb everything from local customs to dealing with Chinese officialdom, and that’s where having made close friends with local Tibetans really helped.

Eventually, twenty three independent travellers from all around the globe trusted me with their passports and meagre funds as I steered through a minefield of local red-tape and illogical logistics, before guiding them on a pioneering journey overland to Kathmandu, where we all had flights booked for home.

Over five, long bumpy travelling days, I had to deal with the expectations of my fellow travellers mixed with a recalcitrant bus driver, lack of food, not always knowing where we were or where we were going to sleep, confused authorities who had no idea what to do with a bunch of foreigners turning up in their remote outposts and in Tingiri, a loaded gun aimed directly at us during a dispute over a flask of hot water.

Despite the hardships, everyone quickly realised how profoundly privileged we were to experience an ancient culture, before it tipped over into the modern world. The medieval cities of Shigatse and Gyantse, ancient monasteries, superlative art, stunning scenery and incredibly open, pious and inquisitive people

After a thorough search by the Chinese army at the remote Tibetan/Nepali border we had to walk across 5kms of no-mans-land, crossing the river delta and scrambling up it’s banks, into Nepal. But our challenges still weren't over.

No township, just a single, tiny hut with a new, young Nepalese boarder offical who didn’t realise that he could process travellers after 5pm. It was a long two hours of gentle persuasion before 23 passports were stamped and all that remained was getting everyone safely to Kathmandu, about 114kms away. Negotiating blackmarket rates with $USD, I managed to get everyone into the back of a dilapidated tarpaulin covered truck which by a stroke of luck was carrying plush, soft bales we could sit and lie on.

An unofficial checkpoint fifteen minutes later had us confused until we realised we had been sitting on contraband which suddenly disappeared, leaving us on bare boards. Five minutes down the road we stopped for the official passport check.

After a few hours of uncomfortable jostling around mountain roads, we finally arrived in Kathmandu around 11pm that evening and were deposited into an empty bus park.

Having safely guided my fellow travellers to Kathmandu, we all parted ways. I pulled out my, one night voucher for a hotel, that had been organised back at home, a lifetime ago and commandeered a lonely rickshaw. Tired, caked in dust, elated and relieved, I sat back to enjoy the final ride, until we hit a big hill.

In the end, for the last steps of my journey from Lhasa to Kathmandu, I hopped out and pushed the valiantly peddling young rickshaw wallah and my luggage, all the way up the hill to the hotel.