Tibet Travel Guide
Tibet, 'the forbidden part of the World' - locked away in its Himalayan fortress, has long exercised a siren's hold on the imagination of the West. Tibetans are used to hardship, and despite the disastrous Chinese occupation, they have managed to keep their culture alive. Travel in Tibet comes with some ludicrous permit requirements. The present Chinese policy on individual tourism in Tibet seems to be one of extorting as much cash as possible from foreigners, but not so much as to scare them off completely. Tibet is surely a destination apart from most in the world, the rolling hills of the high plateau and the stunning Himalayas are known to any. Tibet covers 1.2 million sq.kms constituting one-eighth of Chinas land mass, with an average elevation of 4,000 meters above sea level, and over 50 peaks above 7,000 meters, Tibet has become a real paradise for mountaineers and explorers. Every traveler wants to taste Tibet with its rich cultural heritage, incredibly dramatic landscapes and fascinating political history as a lifetime dream. Today in the age of information with the network of computers, mysterious places are rare to be found. But Tibet still had remained a forbidden land for the outsiders. Tibet one of that extraordinary destination where indeed adventure lurks around every corner!
Lhasa is the spiritual and political capital of Tibet. Lhasa means in Tibetan “The land of gods". There are numerous scenic spots and historical attractions, among which Potala Palace, Norbulingka, Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Ganden Monastery and Jokhang Temple is the most famous. Tashilhunpo Monastery is its major historic attraction. Mt. Kailash, the near-legendary mountain in western Tibet is holy to both Hindus and Buddhist. People come from far away lands to perform a pilgrimage, one even circle the mountain on the stomach. The mountain is the source of four major Asian rivers.
When to Visit Tibet?
Although the Tibetan climate is not as harsh as many people imagine, be prepared for sudden drops in temperature at night, particularly in western Tibet. The most pleasant time of year is between May and early November, after which temperatures start to plummet. However, in May and June, there is a wind factor to consider and dust storms are not unusual. During July and August, you may find roads temporarily washed out along the Friendship Highway to Nepal. These two months usually see around half of Tibet's annual rainfall.
October is the best time to make a trip out to the east. Lhasa and its surroundings don't get really cold until the end of November. Although winter is very cold, many restaurants are shut and snowfalls can sometimes make travel difficult, some travellers swear by these months. There are few travellers about and Lhasa, for example, is crowded with nomads and at its most colorful.
March is a politically sensitive month (the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising and flight of the Dalai Lama) and there is an occasional tightening of restrictions on travellers heading into Tibet at this time. It's worth trying to make your trip coincide with one of Tibet's main festivals. Losar (New Year) is an excellent (although cold) time to be in Lhasa. Saga Dawa (April or May) is also a good time to be in Lhasa or Mt Kailash.
Temperature differs dramatically between daytime and at night. Lhasa, the capital city, could have a temperature during daytime of around 10-25 Centigrade, but at night, the temperature may plummet to 0-degree Centigrade or lower. It is advisable to bring appropriate clothing. For protection against cold, layered clothing is better than a few thick ones, so choose your cloths accordingly. Cloths should preferably be made from natural materials, which allow the body to breathe better. You will be offending people if you walk around in skimpy or tight-fitting clothes. Shorts are not welcomed and women are advised to wear skirts or loose trousers; men should not wear a singlet. During the visit of monasteries, Dzongs and religious institutions, one should not wear shorts & hats, caps or smoke.
Cotton and light woolens in summer (June to September) and Woolens and jackets the rest of the year and rain gear for the monsoons and comfortable shoes.
Main Cities like Lhasa, Gyantse, Tsedang, Shigatse have a selection of relatively good hotels with at least a 4-star category. In smaller towns, the hotels are more basic. Further in villages, the accommodation is rudimentary.
Tourist hotels have a choice of Tibetan, Chinese and Continental food
You will be accompanied by a Tibetan English-speaking tour guide throughout your stay. Our tour guides are licensed and trained in programs conducted by the Tibetan Tourism board. They have mountain guide training, including safety and first aid instructions. They are well versed in local history and local knowledge. Plus their extensive experience and knowledge of western culture would make you feel at home.
We use 4WD drive Japanese Toyota jeep and buses for the land transport within Tibet.
Although the system of ‘give and take’ is always there in Tibetan tradition, tipping is not compulsory. But if you would like to appreciate the services of our guides, drivers and other staff you may give them according to your will.
In Tibet, foreign currency cannot be used directly and can be exchanged only in big cities either at the Bank of China or some large hotels. Passports are required to exchange currency.
Present hada is a common practice among the Tibetan people to express their best wishes on many occasions, such as wedding ceremonies, festivals, visiting the elders and the betters, and entertaining guests. The white hada, a long narrow scarf made of silk, embodies purity and good fortune.
Proposing a Toast and Tea:
Proposing a Toast and Tea when you come to a Tibetan family, the host will propose a toast, usually barleywine. You should sip three times and then drink up. To entertain guests with tea is a daily etiquette. The guest has not to drink until the host presents the tea to you.
Greetings don't forget to add "la" after saying hello to the Tibetan people to show respect. Make Way to others. Try not to make any sounds while eating and drinking.
Sky burial is a common form in Tibet. There are many prohibitions. Strangers are not allowed to attend the ceremony. Visitors should respect this custom and keep away from such occasions.
Also known as the Lamaism, the Tibetan Buddhism was introduced to Tibet from the mainland and India in the seventh century. The Tibetan Buddhism consists of four major sects, the Gelug-pa Sect, the Nyingma-pa Sec, the Sakya-pa Sect, and the Kagyu-pa Sect.
Import and export of following goods are strictly prohibited:
• Arms, ammunition and explosives.
• All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs.
• Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species.
• Any old items to be taken out of the country if they have not been certified as non-antique.
There is no personal insurance included in the tour price. Travel insurance should be obtained from your place of residence before the commencement of your trip. Tibet Travellers will not hold liability for any illness, injury or death sustained during a journey/tour/trek.
Tibet is a photographer's paradise. Attracted by fantastic snow-covered peaks in the morning sunlight, surging rivers in deep valleys, peaceful yaks grazing on the vast pasture, the culture of ancient festivals, the exotic ethnic customs and the unique religious life, photographers from every corner of the world arrive in Tibet, eagerly raising their cameras to record Tibet themselves. There are some restrictions for photographing radio towers, military installations, inside Dzongs, Temples and Monasteries.
You could use your video camera for recording your events during the tours (except in those restricted places mentioned) but there is a set of rules for the commercial filming.
Travel Permits & Restrictions to Travel Tibet (Visa Procedures):
There are three levels of bureaucracy you need to jump through to travel in Tibet: a visa to get into China, a Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) permit to get into Tibet and an Alien Travel Permit to travel to certain regions of Tibet. The current regulations (which could change tomorrow) state that all foreigners wanting to visit Tibet must be part of a group (though a 'group' can be only one person!).
Travelers to Tibet must obtain permits from the Tibetan Tourism Bureau, aside from visas for China. Nepal Vision will do this for you.
Only an individual Chinese visa via Nepal you are not allowed to travel in Tibet (your individual Chinese visa such as multiple entry tourist visas, working visas, student visas, etc., all will get canceled once we apply for the Chinese visa from Nepal. There is no other way to save your individual visas, only you can save these visas by entering Tibet from mainland China to Tibet, i.e. taking Lhasa to Kathmandu tour instead of Kathmandu to Lhasa tour.)
Travelers must officially be part of a group tour with a guide who will help you deal with the Chinese authorities at checkpoints en route. So traveling individually to Tibet is officially not allowed.
If you are traveling to Tibet via Nepal, you must obtain the Chinese visa which will only be issued by the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu BUT if you are planning to enter Tibet via mainland China, you need to get the Chinese visa from the Chinese embassy in your home country. Chinese Embassy is opened only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Generally, Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu takes about 5 working days to issue the tourist visa but by paying the express fee, we can get the visa in 1 day also. Nepal Vision will get a hold of visa for you as soon as possible even by paying extra amount but you will not be charged the extra fee. Please make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months before travelling. Visa is not provided to the passports with less than six months’ validity. You need two passport-sized photos for the visa application. And all of your Tibet permits can be obtained using a photocopy of your passport but you must need your original passport to apply for Chinese visa which is collected by Nepal Vision once you arrive in Kathmandu.
If you would like to head out to mainland China after your Tibet travel, the group visa will allow you to enter but once you are in mainland China this visa will be replaced with an individual Chinese visa. (If the duration of your group visa covers all your programs in mainland China also, you can use it during your stay in mainland China or it can be replaced by individual visa, it depends on Chinese officials’ decision). Itinerary and the places to visit in Tibet must be stated clearly and finalized in advance because while applying for a Chinese visa from Kathmandu, a copy of this should be attached. The visa is issued accordingly. According to the places mentioned in the itinerary, travel permit from the Tibet Tourism Bureau (Lhasa) is obtained. Nepal Vision will do this for you.
Actually, it is very hard to get your group visa extended, so better to let us know about your programs very clearly during your trip planning phase so according to that, we will try to arrange your visa and permit. However, the rules and regulations regarding Chinese visa and Tibet travel permit get changing very often, therefore we suggest our customers to consult with our travel consultant to be sure regarding the visa issues so that your all programs and plan goes smoothly without any obstacles.
Tibet - Weather and Climate:
Most of Tibet is a high-altitude desert plateau over 4000m (13,123ft) and many passes exceed 5000m/16,404ft. Days in summer (June to September) are warm, sunny and dry, from low to mid 20°C (70-75°F), but temperatures drop quickly at night. Winter is not as cold as you might expect, still averaging around 7°C (44°F) during the day in January but plunging to around -10°C (14°F) at night. The best time to visit depends on what part of Tibet you're heading to, but for most areas May, June and October are the best months.
Basically, the Tibetan climate is not as harsh as many people imagine it to be. The best time of year to be in Tibet is from April to the beginning of November, after which temperatures start to plummet. The central Tibet, including Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse and Tsedang, generally has very mild weather from April to November, although July and August can be rainy - these two months usually see around half of Tibet's annual rainfall. October and November often bring some dazzling clear weather and daytime temperatures can be quite comfortable at Tibet's lower altitude.
The coldest months are from December to February. It is not impossible to visit Tibet in winter. The low altitude valleys of Tibet (around Lhasa, Shigatse and Tsedang) see very little snow. Spring does not really get underway until April, though March can have warm sunny days and is not necessarily a bad month to be in Tibet.
Lhasa - the border of Nepal/China: The Friendship highway is basically in good conditions year around. But from December to February, the thawed road could make some trouble Besides, try to avoid August - landslide could happen in the rainy season.
Mt. Everest Region: Early May and early October are the best time to visit Mt. Everest. Due to the clear weather, you have great chance to see Mt. Everest's true face. From December to February, it's too cold to go to this region. But the magnetism of Mt. Everest always attracts people any time of the year.
Mt. Kailash: Even without climate restrictions, this area is already inhospitable. Big rain and snow could make the journey worse. However, for those determined tourists, the appropriate time is May, June, July, September and October.
Eastern Tibet: Don't touch this area in July or August, the rain could ruin the road, and make terrible landslides. While in winter, the road could be frozen.
Northern Tibet: With the average altitude of 4,500m, this area offers very limited time for tourists. Summer is the prime time to enjoy the great plain in northern Tibet.
Tibet - Nature and Environment:
The great difference of altitudes and rainfall in Tibet creates an ecosystem that varies from tropical cloud forests to high altitude deserts. The Tibetan plateau is the world’s highest ecosystem and one the world’s last great untouched wildernesses.
Many mountain ecosystems are disappearing as result of excessive use of resources, inappropriate infrastructure development, deforestation and natural hazards.
The Dalai Lama has spoken out on environmental issues and abuse of the Tibetan environment by the Chinese. He has raised the idea of turning much of the plateau into the world’s largest national park. Currently, about 20 percent of the Tibet Autonomous Region is a nature reserve. Most of these reserves are in name only. There is little protection. Poaching occurs.
The Himalayas were declared a Biodiversity Hot Spot in 2005.
Buddhism is a very environmentally-friendly philosophy. It denounces waste, consumption and forbids the killing of animals and promotes the idea that the natural world and the human world are interconnected and thus should be revered and treated well.
Buddha told his disciples in the 5th century B.C. that mankind must embrace all living things "as a mother cares for her son, her only son." He also said, “The forest is a unique organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends protection to all beings, offering shelter, even to the axeman who destroys it.”
Tibetan culture developed under the influence of a number of factors. Tibet's specific geographic and climatic conditions- its altitude, short growing season, and cold weather- have encouraged reliance on pastoralism, as well as the development of different cuisine from surrounding regions. Contact with neighboring countries and cultures- including Nepal, India, China, and Mongolia- have influenced the development of Tibetan culture, but the Himalayan region's remoteness and inaccessibility have preserved distinctive local influences. Buddhism has exerted a particularly strong influence on Tibetan culture since its introduction in the 7th Century. Art, literature, and music all contain elements of the Buddhist religion, and Buddhism itself has adopted a unique form in Tibet, influenced by the Bon tradition and other local beliefs.
Bon was the indigenous religion of Tibet that, when partly absorbed by the Buddhist traditions introduced in the 8th century, gave Tibetan Buddhism much of its distinctive character.
Bon was the indigenous religion of Tibet that, when partly absorbed by the Buddhist traditions introduced from India in the 8th century, gave Tibetan Buddhism much of its distinctive character.
Tibetan Buddhism combines the essential teachings of Mahayana Buddhism with Tantric and Shamanic, and material from an ancient Tibetan religion called Bon.
Although Tibetan Buddhism is often thought to be identical with Vajrayana Buddhism, they are not identical - Vajrayana is taught in Tibetan Buddhism together with the other vehicles.
Buddhism became a major presence in Tibet towards the end of the 8th century. It was brought from India at the invitation of the Tibetan king, Trisong Detsen, who invited two Buddhist masters to Tibet and had important Buddhist texts translated into Tibetan.
First to come was Shantarakshita, abbot of Nalanda in India, who built the first monastery in Tibet. He was followed by Padmasambhava, who came to use his wisdom and power to overcome "spiritual" forces that were stopping work on the new monastery.
Tibetan New Year (February or March)
It is the greatest festival in Tibet. In ancient times when the peach tree was in blossom, it was considered as the starting of a new year. Since the systematization of the Tibetan calendar in 1027 AD., the first day of the first month became fixed as the New Year. On the New Year's day, families unite “auspicious dipper" is offered and the auspicious words " Tashi Delek" are greeted.
Butter Oil Lantern Festival (February or March)
It's held on the 15th of the first lunar month. Huge yak-butter sculptures are placed around Lhasa's Barkhor circuit.
Saga Dawa Festival (May or June)
It is the holiest in Tibet, their memorable occasions coincide on this day, Buddha's birth and Buddha's enlightenment. Almost every person within Lhasa join in circumambulations around the city and spend their late afternoon on the picnic at " Dzongyab Lukhang" park at the foot of Potala.
Gyantse Horse Race & Archery (May or June)
Horse race and archery are generally popular in Tibet, and Gyantse enjoys the prestige of being the earliest in history by starting in 1408. Contests in early times included horse race, archery, and shooting on gallop followed by a few days' entertainment or picnicking. Presently, ball games, track and field events, folk songs and dances, barter trade are in addition to the above.
Changtang Chechen Horse Race Festival (August)
There are many horse racing festivals in Tibet, the one in Nagqu of Northern Tibet is the greatest. August is the golden season on Northern Tibet's vast grassland. Herdsmen, on their horsebacks, in colorful dresses, carrying tents and local products, pour into Nagqu. Soon they form a city of tents. Various exciting programs are held, such as horse racing, yak racing, archery, horsemanship and commodity fair.
Shoton Festival (August)
It is one of the major festivals in Tibet, also known as the Tibetan Opera Festival. The founder of the Gelugpa (Yellow Sect of Buddhism), Tsongkhapa set the rule that Buddhists can cultivate themselves only indoor in summer, to avoid killing other creatures carelessly. Because; the creatures are most active in summer. This rule must be carried out till the seventh lunar month. Then Buddhists go outdoor, accept yogurt served by local people, and have fun. Since the middle of 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama added opera performance to this festival. Famous Tibetan opera troupes perform in Norbulingka (Dalai Lama's summer palace).
Bathing Festival (September)
It is believed when the sacred planet Venus appears in the sky; the water in the river becomes purest and cures diseases. During its appearance for one week, usually the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth lunar months, all the people in Tibet go into the river to wash away the grime of the previous year.
Kungbu Traditional Festival (November or December)
Long long ago, when Tibet was in danger of large-scale invasion, the Kongpo people sent out an army to defend their homeland. It was in September and the soldiers worried that they might miss the New Year, highland barley wine and other good things. So people had the Tibetan New Year on 1st October ahead of time. To memorize those brave soldiers Kongpo people present three sacrifices and stay up at night from then on. And now it has become the Kongpo Festival for entertainment like Kongpo dancing, horse race, archery, and shooting.
Harvest Festival (September)
The farmers in Lhasa, Gyantse and Shangnan to celebrating their bummer harvest at this time. During that time, people enjoy horse racing games, costume fashion show, songs and dance Archery and picnic etc.
Getting in Tibet:
Traveling to 'Roof of the World' is no longer just a dream. With their center in Lhasa, the road line networks of Sichuan-Tibet Highway, Qinghai-Tibet Highway, Yunnan-Tibet Highway, Xinjiang-Tibet Highway and Friendship Highway Nepal connect all these neighbors with each other. It has also become possible to reach Tibet by railway or airplane.
Dining in Tibet:
Tragic as the Chinese takeover may be, many Tibetans will nevertheless admit that at least it brought some decent restaurants. The traditional Tibetan diet is largely limited to barley, meat (mutton or yak) and dairy products, with very few spices or vegetables. By comparison, Chinese restaurants in villages often put out some excellent food. Some travelers find that Hui (ethnic Chinese Muslim) places are cleaner because of halal food laws. They are easily identified with green flags and crescent moons on their signboards. While on Wind Horse Tours, most of our tours provide breakfast at the hotel. Other meals are included with the combination of local restaurants, picnic lunches, and some dinners at your overnight hotel.
What to Pack:
Due to its unique geographic and climatic features, we have to pack many things before we leave for Tibet. However, it is impractical to take too much baggage as it will weaken us on the plateau. What to pack then becomes an important issue. (Please see our Checklist mentioned on every tour package)
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