Thrown out of Tibet

Firstly I’d like to point out that it wasn’t just me personally who was thrown out, but our complete group of 12 riders, three support crew and the two guides and Mr. Wang the long-suffering driver of the land cruiser. To set the scene: it’s very difficult to get the necessary permits for travel in Tibet, particularly for independent travel with your own vehicle. In fact we were the only group to get the permission in 2011. There are numerous checkpoints along the way where the paperwork is checked and re-checked to ensure that none of us have sneaked off to do a bit of freestyle touring, and possibly venturing into forbidden areas.

However, we had kept our noses clean and behaved ourselves, but 2011 is also an important year to the Chinese, it marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist party. Huge parties and celebrations are planned throughout the country. Due to local unrest in Tibet, it was considered inauspicious for foreigners to be around to witness any naughty goings on or blatant human rights abuses. Yes, we’d been aware of that and also of the fact that all foreigners had to be out of Lhasa by 28th of the month; then we had a late night phone call that changed everything.

“You have two days to get out of Tibet –not just out of Lhasa. “

It turned out that our hard won permits were being rescinded and there was no court of appeal. We looked at our options – which were somewhat limited. Our route had been due to take us through eastern Tibet and down off the plateau through Leaping Tiger gorge and onto Cheng Du. This was supposed to be a journey of about five days and taking us through what had suddenly become an undesirable place for foreigners to go. For a horrible moment, it looked like we wouldn’t be able to ride out of Tibet quickly enough and that instead we would be flown out while our bikes were trucked to the Chinese border.

Maps, internet searches and ideas from these were pooled and a plan was concocted.

We called everyone together for a team meeting and explained the situation, basically we had to get out of Tibet NOW, or at least first thing in the morning. We would be taking the northern road out of Lhasa as that was the shortest route to China, just over a day of hard riding. Everyone was a bit shell-shocked, we were supposed to be having another rest day in Lhasa but that was out of the window. The evening was spent packing, double-checking routes and ensuring that everyone had a map. The atmosphere was tense, this was a forcible reminder of how the Government controls everything in China.