Driving Tibet: the layman’s rally

When one thinks of Tibet there are a couple of things that come to mind before others. Of course this depends on one’s interests and focii in life, but for the average Western the list would likely include ‘Free Tibet’ protests, Buddhism, Mount Everest, the Dalai Lama (or perhaps his former residence the Potala Palace) or Tibet’s relationship with China.

One thing that probably doesn’t spring to mind is motor sport. Tibet isn’t usually seen on the same plain as, say, Montecarlo for example. Recently I was lucky enough to go to Tibet. It’s scenery, culture, history, and food completely blew me away. Being the petrol head that I am however what made the trip a dream was the fact that I was able to drive through the semi-autonomous region of China, which is about the same size as Western Europe.

I was able to do so because a close friend of mine is Chinese and I visited him for my last holiday. Normally, driving in Tibet as a tourist isn’t that easy considering the strict restrictions of who is allowed to enter the region. Those same restrictions are what really prevent the tourism industry from taking root in the region, but that is also what makes it the ideal place for a road-trip.

My friend works in the auto industry, so he really knows his stuff and has all the tools to prove it. His job (my dream job, by the by) entails him going for long drives to test cars and see how they perform under various circumstances. We weren’t doing that on our three-week trip, but I was glad to have someone with me who at least knew how to do that.

Driving round Tibet was the closest I’ll probably ever come to being in an long distance rally. As I mentioned, the region is the size of Western Europe, but has only about three million citizens, according to the Chinese government making it one of the less densely populated regions on the planet.

Driving for hours and hours on end without seeing any sign of civilisation was the adventure of a life and something I will never forget. It’s not an easy place to take to a road-trip but for anyone as lucky as me who has the chance I promise that you’ll feel like a professional rally driver!