In Lhasa I’m surrounded by tourists, tour groups, travel agencies and Western restaurants. With so many backpacker amenities I figured it would be a snap to organize an overland trip to the Nepalese border. My first day here I met a Chinese-American woman in my dorm room named Sui who I immediately clicked with. We are both traveling for a long time and she’s also heading to Nepal on the same sort of schedule as me. When we asked around everyone was leaving much sooner than we wanted so we decided to wait, see the sights, and worry about organizing a group in a few days.
Most people heading to Nepal hire a 4×4 landcruiser with four or five people. Local transport is sparse, often requires special permits and doesn’t go to all of the sights so it’s the best option. With Sui I had a group of two and we answered many ads placed by other travelers but for some reason our plans always fell through.
More than half of the travelers didn’t answer our replies at all. The other half either had a totally different trip in mind or found someone else before we managed to commit to them. Finally we placed our own ad at a few of the guesthouses with our proposed itinerary. It’s possible to get to Nepal in two days but most people take a four day trip, stopping at a monastery or two and Everest Base Camp. We wanted to take a six or seven day trip including a monastery named Samye, which is not quite on the usual route.
Our posting generated a round of responses, mostly from people who didn’t want to drive the same route or wanted to leave earlier or later than we did. We were somewhat flexible, but needed at least a day to plan and get permits so we couldn’t leave early. By that point we’d been in Lhasa for almost week so we didn’t want to sit around waiting for new arrivals to get their taste of the town. One couple we met with told us that they would go with us if the other group, who they’d only contacted via email, declined.
One morning a flighty, timid older woman came into my dorm room holding our posting. My initial reaction was horror—why would she take down our posting? She then proceeded to ask me the basic facts that were written boldly on the posting. What day were we leaving (she wanted to leave earlier). how many days would we drive (she wanted four, not seven). Once we’d established that she should never have bothered answering our ad, let alone taken it down, I asked her to put it back up. She agreed.
The next day, after a few more failed grouping attempts, we found a note in our room asking to meet. It sounded good and Sui and I anxiously attended the proposed meeting. Who do I find sitting in the office? The ad stealer! I was surprised to see her because we had already determined that we had different plans. She had a group of three together and suggested a plan to us, almost the opposite of what she had initially wanted. While she was talking I looked over and saw a clear folder with her notes… and our ad! She had never put the ad back.
At that point Sui and I knew that it wasn’t going to work out. We still went down to check out the proposed Landcruiser and waited for over thirty minuted while the woman and her new friend went outside. We began to grow impatient and I assumed they were having a conference about us and our plans. When she came back up to the office she told us she wasn’t interested, she wanted to stay even longer in Lhasa, and asked to speak to the third member of their new group outside. Something was up and at that point we knew that we didn’t want to travel for any length of time with that group. We left them and our ad and began to look for new postings.
By now we were getting short on time if we wanted to leave by the 25th and started to worry that we wouldn’t find anyone else. We met so many people that already had groups—we even wondered if we shouldn’t have mentioned that we were American. While I was walking around town I noticed one guy looking at our posting and introduced myself. He agreed to meet to talk with us and a couple who’d answered our ad. Just before the meeting time we received an email saying they’d just made other plans. The single guy was in, but we needed at least four people to make the trip affordable.
Later that day another couple answered our ad and proposed a meeting. They turned out to be a nice middle-aged Dutch couple with a definite plan in mind. The only problem was that they only wanted four people and wouldn’t take the single guy we’d met before. We needed to look out for ourselves at this point but we decided to wait to make a decision and try for more open minded people. The couple agreed to wait until 10 that night to hear from us before making other plans.
We answered ads which didn’t work out. We left notes on people’s hotel doors and ran to hotels to find people who we’d “heard”were looking to leave on the 26th. Finally, we told the single guy that we would try again in the morning and meet at 12. If we found someone else we would go with him. If we didn’t we would go with the Dutch couple. In the meantime we’d left a note on the couple’s door, explaining our plans. They left a note agreeing.
Sui left early this morning to find the couple we’d heard about. she didn’t manage to find them, but found another single guy who was interested. We all met at 12, put a down payment on a tour and ironed out the itinerary. The dutch couple was out and I was set to drive to Nepal with a Californian, an Israeli and a Frenchman. Because we’re all single travelers it should be a good group. It’s set.
We’re heading for Samye, a monastery East of Lhasa before heading down to Nepal by way of a few monasteries, forts and, of course, Everest Base Camp. I’ll be in touch again in a week, please have a wonderful Halloween on my behalf.