...a group of 6 foreigners had arranged a tour of just the Lhasa area. They booked everything through my friends company, which is owned and managed by a great Tibetan family who are from Lhasa. The group had a great time in Lhasa and had no problems. The second to last day of the groups tour, they produced train tickets proving that they were leaving on the date their permit ended. The next day, one of the agencies drivers took them to the train station and saw them off....or so they thought.
Two days later, my friend's agency gets a phone call from the police in Dram at the Nepal border. The police informed my friend that one of his groups had traveled illegally to the Nepal border...
The Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) called my friends office regarding this group that travelled illegally to the border. The TTB told my friends agency that he would be fined Y50,000 ($7350 USD) and faced a possible 3 month business license suspension, which would mean they would have to close their doors for 3 months and not arrange any tours.
The above bridge marks the border between Nepal and China-Tibet. Our Tibetan drivers and guide, who had been piggy-backing us for weeks, dropped us at the foot of the bridge. We didn't have time for a long good bye, with so many cargo trucks and freight trucks backing up the narrow switchbacks behind us. Our guide stayed with us. He didn't have to. He had seen us to the border and that was where his job ended, but he stayed to make sure we got through okay, and because he's simply that kind of man. I won't name him.
Quarantine didn't exist except on paper, and immigration wasn't overly interested in us, but Customs pillaged every bag. They went through our rucksacks and daypacks. No interest was shown in any goods purchased, or any food we may have been carrying, they paid no attention to liquids or gels and completely ignored out toiletries.
They paid attention to books. They went through all papers, all novels, all travel journals. All pamphlets and maps carefully examined.
They're looking for pictures of the Dalai Lama, our guide told us, or any subversive messages.
I watched them labour through an Englishman's daypack. He had half a library in there.
What happens if they find any?
You get kicked out of the country, he said with a grin. Maybe get a fine.
And I will lose my tour guide licence, he said, still with a grin. Maybe get arrested.
Are you thinking about trying to travel in Tibet illegally? DON'T! Do you want to go to Everest, but you don't have enough money for a tour so you want to try and set off from Lhasa on your own? DON'T! All foreigners need a permit in their hand in order to board the flight or train to Lhasa. You won't be able to board without it. The permit can only be arranged by a travel agency. If you go to Lhasa legally, but then decide to venture out of Lhasa on your own illegally, you will almost certainly be caught. There are numerous checkpoints all across Tibet. It will be no problem for the police to track down which agency arranged your permit if you are caught in closed areas illegally. All they have to do is type your name in the database and it will show which agency arranged your permit to Lhasa. Your illegal action will probably only cost you a small fine of Y300 or Y500, but you potentially put an entire company at risk. You are not "fighting the system"...you are hurting the local Tibetans. My advice for those wanting to travel illegally, is to stay out of Tibet...you are not helping anyone.