Tibet is in China, of course. It is famously remote and not easy to get to. And we’re going there!
But really where is it? For the traveller, a journey begins long before you leave home and for months I will be constructing a virtual Tibet in my mind. Having been to China before, I know this is important because often what you see and what you are shown is only part of the story – and sometimes what is hidden, what is not shown and what happened in the past is only discoverable by doing research and digging deep.
I always like to start with maps. They pretend to be objective and authoritative, but they are really deeply political. I like this hand-drawn map because it harks back to an era when the world had mysterious undiscovered corners. What it shows are the three main regions of Tibet: Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang. The first thing that strikes me is that it is only U-Tsang that is called the Tibet Autonmous Region and that Kham and Amdo are in other provinces of China. So Tibet is either bigger or smaller than it appears to be – depending on how you look at it! It is in more of China than the Chinese perhaps like to acknowledge.
Tibetans are famously spiritual and Tibet is high above sea level. So there is an other-worldly dimension to going to Tibet. You must literally rise to a higher plane / plain and to understand what is important you must also rise metaphorically – possibly spiritually.
It is likely that the richest discoveries I make in Tibet will result from reading done before we go. But I also know that the virtual Tibet I construct will be different from the reality I encounter when we arrive. How closely I can get the virtual Tibet and the real one to converge wil be a measure of the success of my research.