Tibet Travel Guide

Tibet is well known as ‘Roof of the World’. An autonomous region of China, it is cautiously opening up to the western world offering travel seekers a fulfilling authentic experience, which can be adventurous and unpredictable due to the lack of infrastructure which is poor to non-existent, making a simple road trip a complete adventure.

History

 

Shamanism was the predominant religion before the introduction of Buddhism in the 7th century. Buddhist missionaries from India came to Tibet and started an alphabet system for the Tibetan language and started translations of Buddhist texts. During this time Tibet was a strong kingdom but by the 10th century, things began to fall apart with Tibet separating into several principalities. In 1206, Genghis Khan included Tibet in his empire and in the mid-1600’s, the Mongols allowed the Dalai Lama to have political power within Tibet. This was done after he was named the head of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the 15th century.

 

China came to control Tibet in the 18th century, but they didn’t maintain their authority for many years. In 1911, Tibetan’s rebelled and started asserting their authority and independence by trying to get rid of China’s officials and military stationed in Tibet. This was completed by 1913, but a meeting was held with Britain, China and Tibet to come to an agreement regarding Tibet’s borders and their status as an independent region. China never came to an agreement and the situation became tense finally culminating in battle in eastern Tibet in 1918. The British attempted to settle the dispute with a truce, but they were largely unsuccessful.

 

Qamdo (Chamdo) was invaded by Communist Troops not more than a year after their control of mainland China. This occurred in October 1950, and by May 1951 the Tibetan government conceded to the Chinese and gave up their independence. They signed a treaty that gave the Dalai Lama (who was 15 at the time) domestic power, but any affairs related to foreign matters or the military was to be deferred to the Chinese government. Improvements were made to communications in Tibet, as well as improving transportation – military highways and airfields were built in a number of areas in the region.

 

Thing began heating up around 1956, when a committee was established to plan for Tibet’s constitution as an autonomous region of China. This caused some rebellions in Sichuan province against the Chinese by ethnic Tibetans. The Dalai Lama was in India at the time and threatened to stay away from Tibet. When the Chinese government halted the process of transferring Tibet into a socialist region, the Dalai Lama returned, even though the eastern rebellion hadn’t been stopped. Things didn’t improve, especially with the US’s CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) involvement. By 1959, with the CIA’s help, the rebellion escalated into a revolt in Lhasa that lasted until 1971. Although it lasted over 10 years, after 1959 it wasn’t really considered to be a threat by the Chinese, just an annoyance. During this time the Dalai Lama went back to India, and the acting head of the region became the Panchen Lama. Tibetans fled the region in the tens of thousands, with most going to India and others going to Nepal and Bhutan. Tibet formally became an autonomous region of China in 1965 and was reorganized to become a socialist region.

 

The Panchen Lama was released from jail in 1978, after serving 14 years for criticizing China’s rule over Tibet, and was put back in his former position. Surprisingly, the Chinese government agreed that Tibet hadn’t been managed well and stated they would be making reforms. Tibetans weren’t satisfied with the reforms and showed their distaste by giving violent protests in 1987. Negotiations failed in 1988 to resolve the conflict when the Dalai Lama wouldn’t renounce the independence of Tibet and China wouldn’t budge on giving Tibet more autonomy.

 

1993 brought about more demonstrations with the addition of terrorism and in 1995 things escalated with the selection of a new Panchen Lama. The Tibetans sent their selections to the Dalai Lama in India, who selected a boy named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a six-year old. Not pleased with their authority being overlooked, the Chinese came up with their own candidate another six-year old by the name of Gyaincain Norbu. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was held in detention with his family and in 1996 they came down on Tibetan monasteries, which caused the injury and death of some monks. The drama ended in late 1996 with the government putting the Panchen Lama leader in prison.

 

Geography

 

Geographically, Tibet can be divided into three major parts, the east, north and south. The eastern part is forest region, occupying approximately one-fourth of the land. Virgin forests run the entire width and length of this part of Tibet.

 

The northern part is open grassland, where nomads and yak and sheep dwell here. This part occupies approximately half of Tibet.

 

The southern and central part is agricultural region, occupying about one-fourth of Tibet’s land area with all major Tibetan cities and towns such as Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse ad Tsetang located in this area, it is considered the cultural center of Tibet.

 

The total area of the Tibet Autonomous Region is 1,200,000 square kilometers and its population is 1,890,000. The region is administratively divided into one municipality and six prefectures. The municipality is Lhasa, while the six prefectures are Shigatse, Ngari, Lhaoka, Chamdo, Nakchu and Nyingtri(kongpo). The People’s Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region exercises the highest administrative authority in Tibet.

People

 

The majority of Tibet’s population of 1,890,000 is Tibetans. Tibet is so thinly populated that it averages out 1.6 8 persons per square kilometers. About 90% of the people live on farming and husbandry. Farmers live in the valleys of Tsangpo River (Brahmapotra) and its major tributaries Kyichu and Nuuang-chu. This area produces barely, wheat, peas and rape-seed, the great northern grassland which occupies a good half of Tibet is the home of nomads, yaks and sheep. Nomads have no fixed abodes, and keep roaming along fine pasture together with all their belongings-tents and Livestock. The remaining populations, approximately 10%, live in towns earning their living mainly on business and handicraft, and many are factory workers and government officials.

 

Ideology of people in this land differs greatly from any other nationality both at home in china and in the world. Religion seems almost everything. Many live for the next life, rather than for the present. They accumulate deeds of virtue and pray for the final liberation-enlightenment. Lips and hands of the elders are never at still, either busied in murmuring of the six syllable mantic prayer OM Ma Ni Pad Me Hum (Hail the Jewel in the Lotus) or in rotation of hand prayer wheels, or counting of the prayer beads. Pious pilgrims from every corner of Tibet day to day gather at Jokhang Temple and Bharkor Street offering donations and praying heart and soul for their own Selves, for their friends, and for their friends’ friends.

 

Frequent visitors to Tibet can make out folks from different regions judging by costumes and dialects. Folks from agricultural regions dress in woolen home-woven gowns, and those from the grassland clad in sheepskin. Men folk from chamdo wear huge tassels of black or red silk which were used in old days for protection in fight, while the Lhasa residents are more stylish and modern. Dialects in Tibetan are in variety, but mainly can be categorized into four such as lhasa., Tsang (Shigatse and Gyantse), Chamdo and Amdo.

 

Language
Tibetan is spoken in Tibet. Tibetan is written in a very conservative syllabary script based on the writing system of the ancient Sanskrit language of India. Used in its present form since the 9th century, it was developed as a means of translating sacred Buddhist texts that were being brought into Tibet from India. The writing system derived from the pronunciation of the language as it was in about the 7th century, and varies in many ways from colloquial Tibetan as it spoken today.

Culture

 

Tibet has richness and the depth of its traditions and cultural heritage. Wisdom, the knowledge about life, compassion, tolerance, peace of mind all contribute in making culture of Tibet. The simply life, the spirituality of minds, give a strong hold to this alpine region which is entirely decorated with its holy charisma. Come experience this magical world of culture.

 

Culture of Tibet which is completely dedicated to Buddhism is arguably the most particular and convoluted of all that have evolved with time and made their presence felt. Everyone in your group can have a taste of the Tibetan culture during the many live performance shows you can catch anywhere, on streets or open fields. These shows equally fascinate young and elderly people as they are full of colours and energy. For a more professional show, check out the tourism department. Most of the shows, by professional troops are held during festivals and fairs. It’s a good exposure to learn about different culture and traditions that will generate awareness and a sense of tolerance towards other religions.

 

Custom
Presenting Hada
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 barley wine. You should sip three times and then drink up. Entertaining guests with tea is a daily etiquette. The guest must not drink until the host presents the tea to you.

 

Greetings
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 Burials
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.

 

Tibetan Buddhism
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 Ge-lug-pa (Yellow) Sect, the Nying-ma-pa(Red)Sec, the Saturday-kya-pa(Variegated) Sect, and the Ka-gyu-pa(White) Sect.

 

Pilgrimage
Immediate motivations of pilgrimage are many, but for the ordinary Tibetan it amounts to a means of accumulating merit or good luck. The lay practitioner might go on pilgrimage in the hope of winning a better rebirth, cure an illness, end a spate of bad luck or simply because a vow to take a pilgrimage if a bodhisattva granted a wish. In Tibet there are countless sacred destinations, ranging from lakes and mountains to monasteries and caves that once served as meditation retreats for important yogini. Specific pilgrimages are often prescribed for specific ills; certain mountains for example expiate certain sins. A circumambulation of Mt. Kailash offers the possibility of liberation within three lifetimes, while a circuit of Lake Manasarovar can result in spontaneous Buddha hood.

The Tibetan climate is not as harsh as many people imagine it to be. It is suitable for travel to Tibet from April to the beginning of November, and the best time is August and September. But if you only stay in Lhasa, you can go there any time of the year.

 

The sunlight is extremely strong in Tibet. In Lhasa it’s so intense that the city is called Sunlight City. The thin air can neither block off nor retain heat, so the temperature extremes can be met in daytime and the same night respectively in Tibet. However it is not impossible to visit the holy snow land. May, June and September are the tourism seasons in east Tibet.

 

Most annual rainfall comes in the rainy season that starts from June to September. Usually it rains at night in Lhasa, Shigatse and Chamdo areas. The rainfall may block roads and make travel difficult but the scenery at the time will be the best.

There are many festivals that are celebrated in its unique style and traditions .The festivals of Tibet reflect the lifestyles. The most important festivals are highlighted below.

 

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, memorable occasions coincide on this day, Buddha’s birth and Buddha’s enlightenment. Almost every person within Lhasa joins in circumambulations round the city to spend their late afternoon on 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, Gyantse enjoys prestige of being the earliest in history by starting in 1408. Contests in early times included horse racing, archery and shooting 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 Chachen 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 colourful 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 creatures are most active in summer. This rule must be carried out till the seventh lunar month then Buddhists go outdoor, accept yoghurt 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 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)
Farmers in Lhasa, Gyantse and Shangnan celebrate their bumer harvest in this time. During that time, people enjoy with horse racing games, custom fashion show, songs and dance Archery and picnic etc.

 

Tibet offers its visitors cultural richness, religious intimacy, mountainous glory and natural beauty.

 

Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse, Qamdo are the major cities of Tibet, worth to visit. Mount Kailash (Ali) is the most popular mountain for travelers in Tibet. Qomolangma National Nature Reserve and Yarlong River National Park are also famous for their natural environment.

 

You can enjoy Ace the Himalaya’s tours to Tibet, such as Everest Overland Tour, Mount Kailash Tour, Tibet Culture Tour, Kathmandu-Lhasa Tour, Tibet Advance Everest Base Camp Trekking and multi country tour (including Tibet).

Best Seasons

 

Listed below we provide more specific information on weather in different areas-

 

Lhasa /Shigatse /Lhatse /Tingri /Nyalan

 

Along the Friendship Highway, generally there is good condition year around. From December to February, you may experience difficulties with the road. Try to avoid August as landslides could occur in the rainy season.

 

Mt. Everest Area

 

Early May and early October are the best times to visit Mt. Everest. Clear weather provides a great chance to see Mt. Everest’s true face (if you are lucky). From December to February, this area is too cold – except if you are real adventure people.

 

Mt. Kailash

 

Even without climate restrictions, this area is already inhospitable. Large amounts of rain and snow could affect your journey. However, for those determined tourists, the appropriate time is in May, June, July, September and October.

 

Eastern Tibet

 

Try to avoid this area in July and August as the rainy season can damage the road, making terrible landslides. 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 (July to August) is the prime time to enjoy the great plain in northern Tibet.

All visitors entering Tibet require a special travel permit. Chinese visa, obtained by the visitors in their home town will not be valid entering into Tibet. The Chinese Government will not give out visas to single people, only groups of 4 people or more. The Chinese government strongly encourages travelers to enter the country in groups. So, all our tours are in joining group basis. You are requested to submit us the following passport information at least 18 days before trip departure for visa procedure. At least 2 days before tour commencement, original passports are required.
1. Name in full (as in passport):
2. Sex:
3. Nationality:
4. Passport Number:
5. Date of birth:
6. Occupation:

Average temperature in Tibet is 5 to 20 degree Celsius in the months of April through October. During trekking season, the night temperature in the mountain areas often falls below freezing.

 

Recommended clothing for Tibet travel

You are required to have adequate warm clothes to save from extreme cold. It’s better to dress in layers that can be easily put on & off as required. It is advisable to carry a raincoat because snow or rain can also occur sometimes.

 
  • Thermal underwear, woolen or silk long sleeve tops & bottoms
  • Woolen shirts, pullover, pants, socks, hat, gloves & scarves
  • Down jacket or wind breaker
  • Good walking boots or shoes
  • Sun hat, sun glasses, suntan lotion, torch light, pen knife
  • Medicine for common colds, headache, diarrhea & Diamox against altitude sickness
It is necessary to be physically fit & healthy to participate on our Tibet tour. Even if there is no particular age limit guideline, children below 10 years or elderly people exceeding 75 years are advised not to take participation. Doctor’s medical certificate is essential for trip participation. Those who suffer from high blood pressure or heart problems require a medical certificate from your doctor.
All the clients traveling to Tibet must have full insurance against medical and personal accident risk, natural calamities, political instability, etc.
Tibet’s time is 8 hours ahead of GMT. Note that Tibet is linked to Beijing time, so when you cross the border to Nepal the time change is considerable. Nepal is 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of GMT.

By Air- This unique land is now easily accessible from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Schedule air services fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa, and back every Tuesday and Saturday with additional flights on Thursdays from July. This flight lasts a little over one hour and gives you a panoramic view of the Himalayas.

 

By Land- The Friendship Highway starts from the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, crossing Hangmu Friendship Bridge (Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge) at Kodari to Neyalamu County in Tibet and crosses Shigatse- the second largest city of Tibet to the capital of Tibet, Lhasa. It covers a distance of more than 900 kms. We are also blessed to easily have a view of Mt. Everest while taking this road.

 

We have different package tour programs to this fascinating land. They will give you a reason to get up early. Please check out programs by clicking link below Travel Service. A trip not to be missed in this lifetime!

Several ATMs in Lhasa and Shigatse accept foreign cards. The Bank of China accepts Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, American Express and Plus. The Agricultural Bank accepts Visa, Plus and Electron. Check before trying your card as many ATMs can only be used by domestic account holders.
The maximum amount you can withdraw per transaction is Yuan 2000 with the Bank of China and Y1000 with the Agricultural Bank.
In Tibet, the only place to change foreign currency and travelers checks is the Bank of China. Top-end hotels in Lhasa have exchange services but only for guests. Outside of Lhasa, the only other locations to change money are in Shigatse, Zhangmu, Purang (cash only) and Ali, and at the airport on arrival
Besides the advantage of safety, travelers’ checks are useful to carry in Tibet because the exchange rate is higher (by about 3%) than it is for cash. The Bank of China charges a 0.75% commission to cash travelers’ checks. Travelers’ checks from the major companies such as Thomas Cook, Citibank, American Express and Bank of America are accepted.
Most of the hotels in Tibet have both 110V and 220V electrical outlets in the bathrooms, though in guest rooms usually only 220V sockets are available.
  • It is estimated that one million Tibetans have died as a result of the Chinese occupation, through imprisonment, torture and executions.
  • What China calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) is only half of historical Tibet, which was about the size of Western Europe.
  • Before the Chinese invasion in 1949, Tibet was a nation with its own government, currency, postal system, language and legal system.
  • The Tibetan plateau holds the world’s third largest store of fresh water in glacier form, and feeds Asia’s largest rivers. One billion people rely on this water source, which is under threat because of China’s policies of strip mining, deforestation, damming and diversion of rivers.
  • After the Chinese invasion, over 6,000 monasteries were destroyed in Tibet.
  • Tibetans are becoming a minority in TAR due to the vast influx of Han Chinese migrants, encouraged by incentives from the Chinese government.
  • Despite China’s claims to have ‘developed’ Tibet, the illiteracy rate for TAR was a staggering 45% in 2005, compared to 10% in China as a whole in 2004.
  • One million nomadic herders have been forcibly moved from their traditional grazing lands, because of China’s re-settlement policy. This is comparable to the treatment of Native Americans and Australian Aborigines by Western colonizers.