Tibet sans permis - Août 2004 (Récit en anglais)
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Even if you're not Chinese, you don't look like Chinese and don't speak Chinese fluently, it is still possible to go without any permis through South-East Tibet, from Yunnan (China). But this is illegal. You may need to disguise yourself, you may need a friend who looks and speaks like Chinese and you surely need some luck...
Lhasa (as few other places) is a town "open" to foreigners, you don't need any permit to STAY in Lhasa. But you need one to GO there, as most part of Tibet is forbidden to foreigners without permit. So you 'only' take risks on your way to Lhasa, not when you are in Lhasa.
My name is William and I'm from Europa. In August 2004 I have travelled across South-East Tibet by bus, without any Permis. This trip is really superb, but not always easy! I was with Jim - a Taiwanese tourist (whose mothertongue is the chinese language) - and I had to hide as possible... Being an illegal is a strange and interesting feeling, a little scary. We did our journey from Kunming to Lhasa via Deqin: 7 days by bus (or 4 days from Deqin), 650 Yuans (less than 80 dollars). I don't think I would have been able to travel alone without problems, I have been lucky to find Jim...
Though we had some luck I want to tell about it because I think my testimony has an interest. It is so hard to find some pieces of information about those "non official" trips, especially when you're in China, that my story may be helpful to some (crazy?) travellers! If you want some more details, here is my story.
I was travelling across Yunnan, in South-West China, when I met Jim. He is a Taiwanese man who was trying to find somebody to go with him to Lhasa. We were in Zhongdian, in August 2004, but going to Tibet was not in my plans (though I did dream of it, cause it was too expensive)... until I met Jim. We were both 25 years old, I had two weeks left before my departure from China. I wanted to take my chance and decided to go with him, even if I hadn't the necessary to be in order with the Chinese law (ie a permit, a group and a Chinese guide).
To be in order in the summer 2004, before you go to Tibet you had to buy a permit (Official price: 50 Yuans) in a travel agency. But no travel agency was allowed to sell foreigners a permit "only" . To buy a permit you had to be included in a group accompanied by a Chinese guide... and pay for it! Every "Tibet Pack" included also a one way ticket to Lhasa (by plane, Land Cruiser or small private bus). The price for one person alone was around 800 dollars (plane ticket + guide + permit) from Zhongdian, a little less for one person in a group. The permit and the "pack" used to take 3 or 4 days to be made.
With no permit it is difficult to travel in Tibet. It is hard to find a lorry driver that accepts to pick you up, because they are all afraid of being controlled by the police: if they are found with you they would have problems (being sent to jail and tortured is common in China). It is also hard to find a Land Cruiser; anyway a jeep is often a very expensive way to travel (2000 Yuans - or 220 dollars - from Zhongdian to Lhasa, for one Chinese - a 'tourist' price is higher!). And it is the same problem for bus drivers. If they accept you they take a risk, this is not only your responsibility. If you don't want to cause troubles to any person, especially when she is Tibetan (which is most often the case for drivers when you're in Tibet), you have the choice to hide. To hide from the driver, to hide from the police, until you arrive in Lhasa which is not forbidden to foreigners.
To try to look like a Tibetan, I wore dirty (muddy) closes, an old "soccer USA" jacket found in the streets of Deqin: young Tibetans used to wear those kind of clothes. I was sun burnt but tried to hide my hands, because of their colour and their hair: I put them in my pockets when I was walking in the streets. To hide my face (the most difficult!!), I wore a big hat that hide my neck and my face till my eyes; I kept my head low and walked behind or next to my Taiwanese friend, or near the walls. And spoke as less and as low as possible (my chinese was not fluently, and speaking english is absolutely not discreet... As you see, when you know you're illegal in China you often feel uncomfortable and you may be a little paranoid! But the only real risk for me, if I had been seen by the police in Tibet, would have been to pay a tax (400 dollars according to a policeman my friend asked to) and to be taken back to China. For sure, if you are believed to be an "activist" (if you speak to a Tibetan in a village, in particular if you want to know about violations of human rights for instance) you may be worse treated, and go to jail, and also the Tibetan you spoke to... But if you travel by bus, sleep in hostels (and not in a Tibetan house!), spend as less time as possible in the streets and stay carefully with people, I don't believe you risk your life!!
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