Tibet is the homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpa, Qiang, and Lhoba peoples and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han Chinese and Hui people. Tibet is the highest region on Earth and it is called the ROOF OF THE WORLD. The Tibetan Plateau stands an average elevation of 4,900 meters and its highest elevation is Mount Everest, Earth’s highest mountain, rising 8,848 meters above sea level.
The Tibetan Empire emerged in the 7th century, but with the fall of the empire the region soon divided into a variety of territories. The bulk of western and central Tibet was often at least nominally unified under a series of Tibetan governments in Lhasa, Shigatse, or nearby locations; these governments were at various times under Mongol and Chinese overlordship. The region maintained its autonomy until 1951 when it became incorporated into the People’s Republic of China, and the previous Tibetan government was abolished in 1959. Today, China governs western and central Tibet as the Tibet Autonomous Region while the eastern areas are now mostly ethnic autonomous prefectures.
The economy of Tibet is dominated by subsistence agriculture, though tourism has become a growing industry in recent decades. The dominant religion in Tibet is Tibetan Buddhism that is the primary influence on the art, music, and festivals of the region. Tibetan architecture reflects Chinese and Indian influences. Staple foods in Tibet are roasted barley, yak meat, and butter tea.
The Tibetan plateau has the third largest storage of water and ice in the world. Tibet is the source of many of Asia’s rivers. Tibet’s glaciers, rivers, forests, lakes, and wetlands provide key environmental resources to Asia. 47% of the world’s population depends on the flow of fresh water from Tibet.
WHAT TO DO IN TIBET
Tibet is formed with various natural wonders, as soaring snow-capped mountains, translucently sapphire-azure lakes, wild prairies, deep valleys, verdant forests, grand ice glaciers, rare animals and many other different types of scenery. Besides, Tibet houses magnificent palaces and monasteries and always displays a splendid blue sky with white clouds. If you want more information, contact us.
WHEN TO VISIT TIBET
Tibet can be visited all year round, but the best time to visit is from April to October, that is spring and summer. During these seasons, the weather in Tibet is not very severe and most areas of Tibet are accessible. Winter, when temperatures can be extreme at such high altitudes, is the low season of travel.
Buddhism is the foundation of Tibet’s culture and everyday life. In Tibet, Buddhism is not just a religious belief; it is a way of life. You can see the influence of Buddhism throughout this region. Tibetans view the environment as a place where humans and nature coexist; therefore most of their land is colorful and pure. There are a great amount of sacred sites, such as monasteries, nunneries, and palaces, to explore while in Tibet.
All over Tibet, pilgrims travel to the most holy of places to walk a route around the site, as a ceremony of prayer to the gods of Tibetan Buddhism. These pilgrimages around the sites, known as “kora” are a huge part of Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and an integral part of any Tibetan Buddhist’s life. Buddhists believe that when they walk the kora around a sacred site, it gives them merits on their journey towards enlightenment, and as a way to shield themselves from misfortune.
WE HAD – FOR DECADES – A GREAT DESIRE TO TRAVEL TO KNOW NEPAL. WHEN THIS TRIP HAPPENED, IT WAS AS IF A DREAM HAD BECOME REALITY. TIBET IS EXTREMELY BEAUTIFUL AND DESPITE THE DIFFICULTIES TO VISIT IT, IT IS REALLY WORTHWHILE TO KNOW IT!
TRY THE UNEXPECTED VISITING THE AMAZING TIBET!
WE TRAVELED TO TIBET IN THE MIDDLE OF APRIL.
LET’S GET TO KNOW IT…
DAY 1 – In the middle of April, we flew from Chengdu (China) to Lhasa. After clearing immigration and customs at Lhasa Gonggar Airport, Mr. WANG DUI, an excellent English speaking guide met and transferred us to our hotel in Lhasa city. The temperature was minus 2º C when we arrived. We took a two hour drive to cover the 93 km. On the way to the hotel, we visited the Nietang Buddha, a Stone Giant Buddha engraved in the mountain facing the route to the city.
Nietang Buddha is the biggest stone statue engraved on a cliff in Tibet. Located at the north foot of Nietang Mountain, facing the route to the city, the Buddha statue is one of Sakyamuni sitting under a bodhi tree to capture evils. The statue is 8 meters in width and 9.8 meters in height. With its striking color it can be seen clearly several miles away. Sakyamuni is one of the titles of the Buddha, deriving from the name of Sakya where he was born. If you want more information, contact us.
BE AWARE – Due to the government policy in Tibet, the guide in Lhasa is not allowed to meet people inside the hall of the airport, just outside the airport.
Lhasa, which means the Place of the Gods, is hidden deep in the enormous Himalayan Mountains. Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, houses a treasure trove of palaces, monasteries and temples. The symbol of Tibet, the dominating red and white Potala Palace is the first sight you will see when you enter the holy city of Lhasa. Jokhang Temple is the spiritual center of Tibet. The city has several of the most important monasteries in Tibet: Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Ganden Monastery, Tsurphu Monastery. Lhasa represents the essence of Tibet and is the best place to start the trips through Tibet.
LHASA IS A SACRED PLACE THAT HAS A FABULOUS ENERGY!
We stayed in the BRAHMAPUTRA GRAND HOTEL (Section B, Yangcheng Plaza, Gongbutand Road) which occupies a space between boutique hotel and ethnographic museum. When we arrived, we were greeted by traditional Tibetan music and staff dressed in sheepskin robes. For us, it was clear that the Brahmaputra was no ordinary hotel. FANTASTIC!! If you want more information, contact us.
BE AWARE – To prevent altitude sickness, after checking in, we had a good rest. There is a chance of suffering from symptoms of altitude sickness, including abnormal tiredness or headaches. Because of that, on the first day we did no activities in order to give ourselves time to acclimatize. After checking, try to rest to get adapted to the high altitude.
DAY 2 – The next day, Mr. Wang Dui, our excellent English speaking guide, met us at the hotel to take us to visit the main sights of the city. We visited:
Potala Palace, the symbol of Lhasa, is an imposing structure that commands a view of the whole city from the top of the Red Hill. The construction was started in 641 AD and it was rebuilt by the Fifth Dalai Lama in three years, while the Thirteenth Dalai Lama extended and repaired it into what it is now. As the religious and political centre of old Tibet and the winter residence of Dalai Lamas, the palace witnessed the life of the Dalai Lamas and the important political and religious activities in the past centuries. The Potala Palace also houses great amounts of rare cultural relics including the gold hand-written Buddhist scriptures, valuable gifts from the Chinese emperors and a lot of priceless antiques. It was built like a giant fortress and it is a vast, awe-inspiring maze of corridors and stairs leading through countless rooms of richly decorated statues, tombs, murals and antiques. If you want more information, contact us.
BE AWARE – Be fit for the long stairways.
Sera Monastery is known as one of the three greatest monasteries of Tibet and was built in 1419, by one of the eight disciples of Tsong Khapa who was the founder of the Gelugpa Sect. The Sera Monastery houses three colleges built in the 15th and 16th centuries. It is famous for the “Buddhism Scriptures Debating” which is the debates on Buddhist doctrines. The monastery was named Sera which means “Wild Rose Garden” in the Tibetan language, because the hill behind it was covered with wild roses in bloom when the monastery was built.
We had lunch at TIBET STEAK HOUSE (Yutuo Rd, Chengguan Qu) that is one of the most famous western food restaurants in Lhasa.
Jokhang Temple is the spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism and many locals pray regularly there. Yak butter lamps burn in front of rich statuary that includes the Sakyamuni Buddha brought to Tibet by Princess Wen Cheng in the 7th Century. The main hall, which is the oldest in the temple, is over, 1,300 years old. The walls of the main passageways are covered with frescos, completed when the temple was built and depict the construction of the temple. The Temple is surrounded by Barkhor Street and thronged with pilgrims and visitors. If you want more information, contact us.
Barkhor Street is the street that surrounds the Jokhang Temple. Pilgrims can be seen, wearing local dress from many different parts of Tibet, day and night walking this street in a clockwise direction spinning prayer wheels, or prostrating them on the ground near the front gate of the temple. But, this street is also one of Lhasa’s main shopping streets and the best place to purchase Tibetan arts and crafts. Over 120 shops and 200 individual booths are there for shoppers to check.
BE AWARE – Walk through Bakhor Street in a clockwise direction as it goes around the temple, since it is disrespectful to walk around anti-clockwise.
BE AWARE – For your safety, don’t stroll around the street too late at night.
DAY 3 – The next day, our guide, Mr. Wang Dui, met us at the hotel to take us to get a new permit that would allow us to travel through the interior of Tibet. After that, we took the Toyota Land Cruiser 4500, with driver, four wheel drive, air conditioning, heater and oxygen, to begin our adventure. We visited:
Kambala Pass (4794m) is located on the way from Lhasa to Gyantse. From there, we had dazzling views out from the deep turquoise waters of holy Yamdrok Lake to the snowy summit Nazin Kang Sa. If you want more information, contact us.
Yamdrok Lake is one of the three largest lakes of Tibet and one of the three holy lakes. It is located on the north bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River surrounded by mountains. Lake Yamdrok, Lake Nam, and Lake Manasorova are the three sacred lakes of Tibet. It is said that the Lake Yamdrok is able to help Tibetans find the reincarnated soul of the Dalai Lama. After a Dalai Lama passes away, the senior monks are responsible to find the boy in whom the reincarnated soul of the Dalai Lama has gone to abide. They come to Lake Yamdrok to chant and pray, and throw hada (a piece of silk used as a blessing object) and other holy articles into the lake to get the reflection of the specific location of the Dalai Lama’s soul.
Yaluzangbu River is the largest river on the Tibetan Plateau and becomes the Brahmaputra when it flows into India. Life along the fertile plains of the Yaluzangbu revolves around the river. At the shores of the Yalunzangbu, it is possible to see Tibetans engaged in boating, fishing and going about their daily lives. Lhasa and Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet, lie along the coast of the Yaluzangbu.
Across the plain is the village of Nakartse (4500m), where the ruins of the ancient fortress bear the grandeur of its former rulers and the monastery of Ngonga overlooks the old village. It is the birthplace of the mother of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama. Our lunch in this village was a typical Tibetan food. If you want more information, contact us.
The drive from Nakartse Village to Gyantse was absolutely amazing since we passed through many of the MOST BEAUTIFUL TIBETAN LANDSCAPE.
We crossed the KHARO LA PASS (5,045 m) which provided us stunning views of the Himalayan range and Tibetan landscapes. Besides, we came face-to-face with the marvel Kharola Glacier. Then, we crossed the KANG LA PASS (5,100m). THAT WAS A FASCINATING EXPERIENCE! We had fantastic views of the majestic glaciers and of the towering snow peaks. We continued to the S307 down the fertile NYANG CHU VALLEY to the town of Gyantse.
Gyantse (3,980m) was once considered to be Tibet’s third largest town behind Lhasa and Shigatse, but it has preserved much of its old-world atmosphere and the Tibetan rural life. It lies against a backdrop of magnificent 14th-15th century fortresses and temples. Gyantse is located on a historic trade route between India and Tibet and it has long been a crucial link for traders and pilgrims journeying across the Himalayan plateau. If you want more information, contact us.
GYANTSE DZONG & GYANTSE KUMBUM
Gyantse Dzong or Dzong Fortress is also called Palcho Monastery and it looks like a castle. The monastery was founded in 1418 and became an important centre of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Standing out on a rocky hill in a basin, it is truly eye-catching. The wall paintings and Buddha statues in the monastery are worth seeing. Palcho Pagoda makes Palcho Monastery even more attractive.
Gyantse Kumbum or Palcho Pagoda is not a simple pagoda. It has 108 chapels and 77 rooms in its four floors, housing some 100,000 statues of Buddha, so it is famed as the “100,000-Buddha Pagoda”. It is a unique treasure in Chinese architecture, and a museum containing noteworthy religious paintings and art. No other one could ever compare with the style and grandeur of the Gyantse Kumbum. If you want more information, contact us.
We drove up halfway and climbed through a footpath to the top. It was a steep climb! The FABULOUS VIEWS of the Monastery Pelkor Chöde and the whitewashed old town of Gyantse are worth the effort. We entered the kumbum and followed a clockwise route that leads murmuring pilgrims up through the six floors, taking in the dozens of rather tiny chapels that recede into the walls along the way. WHAT A SPECTACULAR VISIT!
This day, from Lhasa to Shigatse, we drove about 330 kilometers.
Shigatse (3,836m), located in alluvial plain at the confluence of the Nyang-chu and Brahmaputra rivers, is Tibet’s second largest city. Tibet’s ancient capital has a history of 600 years and was the former seat of the Panchen Lama, head of the “Yellow Hat” of Tibetan Buddhism. It is named Shigatse in Tibetan and Rigaze in Chinese, originally meaning “a manor of the most fertile soil”. If you want more information, contact us.
We stayed at the Shigatse Hotel (12 Shanghai Middle Road) that has a good location in the center of town and near the Thashilunpo Monastery. Hot water is supplied 24 hours a day and there is room heater.
DAY 4 – The following day, our guide, Mr. Wang Dui, met us at the hotel to take us to have ANOTHER DAY OF ADVENTURES! We started by visiting the main points of Shigatse. We visited:
The free market and the gift market is located in Shigatse Old Town, on Tomzigang Lu Street. It bustles with vendors offering an array of practical and souvenir items. There it is possible to buy local handicraft embedded with coral and turquoise, Tibetan daggers, fake antiques and religious objects. Since it is the center for transportation and distribution of agriculture and other products, these products are also in this market.
Tashilumpo Monastery was built 1447 and it is the oldest and largest Gelugpa monastery in Tibet. It is the seat of Banchen Lama. Painted in red and white, the buildings in the kloster stand closely together in terraced rows, offering a grand and majestic view. The most amazing image in this monastery is the giant statue of Maitreya (Future Buddha). It is the largest such statue in the world with 26 meters in height and was erected by the 9th Panchen Lama in 1914. It is covered in solid gold and inlaid with a number of precious jewels such as pearls, turquoises, corals and ambers. If you want more information, contact us.
We had Chinese food in the PALACE RESTAURANT, at Zhufeng Lu Street, in front of the Monastery. After lunch, we went to Baber.
We drove, almost all the way, through the FRIENDSHIP HIGHWAY, also known as the China-Nepal Highway, which is an 800-kilometre scenic route connecting the capital of Tibet, Lhasa, with the Chinese/Nepalese border at the Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge between Zhangmu and Kodari. From Shigatse to Barber we crossed two passes through this way: the TROPU-LA PASS (4,950 m) and the GYATSO-LA PASS (5,200 m). The landscape is amazing throughout the journey on Friendship Highway: with clear skies, the Himalayas stand ahead on the horizon of the plateau, like icebergs in a sea of sand. THIS ROAD IS OUTSTANDING!
We stayed in Qomo Lang Ma Hotel (4,771m), which is very simple. This hotel is located half way between the highway connecting China and Nepal in Tingri County. It’s close to the foot of Mt. Everest. Its name means “the highest hotel of the world”.
This hotel is located middle of the highway between China and Nepal in Tingri County. It’s near to the foot of Mt. Everest. Its name means “THE HIGHEST HOTEL OF THE WORLD”. If you want more information, contact us.
DAY 5 – The next day, very early in the morning, our guide met us at the hotel to take us to AN UNBELIEVABLE ADVENTURE!
We drove to the SHEGAR CHECKPOINT to check our documents. Then, we crossed the QOMO LANG MA NATURE RESERVE and the GOUL LA PASS (5,160m).
QOMOLANGMA NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
Mt. Qomolangma Nature Reserve (QNNP), also known as Chomolungma Nature Reserve (QNP), was created in 1989. “Qomolangma” is the Tibetan name for Mount Everest. Located on the “Roof of the World,” it was one of the first nature preserves in the world to be administered and protected entirely by local volunteers. It protects millions hectares of the central Himalaya in the Tibet Region.
The remainder of the journey leading to Everest Base Camp was on unpaved dirt roads. We stopped in another check point at Everest Base Camp. After that, we visited the RONGBUK MONASTERY (4,960m), stopped at EVEREST BASE CAMP (5,100m) and enjoyed this ENCHANTED PLACE!
Rongbuk Monastery is located at the foot of Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world, and it is said that it is the highest Buddhist shrine on the planet. It was founded in 1899 and it is not only a spiritual destination, but also offers some of the most magnificent and breathtaking views.
Rongbuk Monastery is situated on the north side of Mount Everest. Climbers on expeditions attempting Mount Everest via its north face must hike past this monastery to reach the summit; because of that the monastery is considered as the gateway to Mount Everest. Due to its unique location, the Monastery offers THE MOST SPECTACULAR VIEWS OF MOUNT EVEREST and its surrounding peaks of Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, and Gyachung Kang. This panorama is particularly glorious at sunrise and sunset.
Mt. Everest, also called Mount Qumulangma in Tibetan Language, is the highest peak of the Earth (8,844m) and probably the most coveted mountain in adventurous travelers’ eyes. It is located on the border of China and Nepal and it is the tallest Mountain Range of the world. The north slope of Mount Everest is situated in Tibet, China, while its south slope is located in Nepal. The first recorded efforts to reach Everest’s summit were made by British mountaineers. As Nepal did not allow foreigners into the country at the time, the British made several attempts on the north ridge route from the Tibetan side. Around Mount Everest, there are three peaks above 8,000 meters: Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyu; and 14 peaks above 7,000 meters; which form the amazing vista of MOUNT EVEREST NATURAL SCENERY AREA. The temperature there was minus 9 degrees Celsius! It was freezing…
There are some classic viewing spots to view the landscape of Mount Everest. The Everest Base Camp is the best place to gaze the magnificent summit on the north face of Everest. When we reached there and we saw Mt. Everest right there in front of us, it was exciting! IT WAS REALLY AN ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME EXPERIENCE FOR US!
The best time to go is May, June, September, and October, because there is not so much rain and cold. Photographers prefer April, as it is the best time to shoot the flag-like cloud floating above the peak.
BE AWARE – Before visiting Mt. Everest, ensure you are in good physical condition. Seek medical advice in advance. If you have asthma, high blood pressure, or similar conditions you should be advised against going.
BE AWARE – Remember that traveling to Mt. Everest in Tibet, you should prepare documents of Tibet Travel Permit, Alien Travel Permit and Boarder Permit, apart from Chinese Visa, issued by different departments. Contact a travel agency consultant to know details. If you want more information, contact us.
Then, we spent almost three hours in a mixture of paved and uneven roads around mountains to reach Old Tingri (4,350 m), where we had lunch. The day was perfect and we had some fantastic views along the way.
Gangkar Town is also known as “Old Tingri” due to the fact that it used to be the seat of Tingri County and it is the gateway to Everest Region in Tibet. It is a small town just over 50 km from the Nepali border. Tingri used to be an important trading post where Sherpas from Nepal exchanged rice, grain and iron for Tibetan wool, livestock and salt. We had lunch at the SNOW LEOPARD RESTAURANT, which is very decorative inside, as are most restaurants in Tibet.
After lunch we went to Zhangmu. As the day was clear, we had a lot of very beautiful views of Mt. Everest in the distance. After crossing the Tong-la Pass(5,120m), also called Yarle Shung, we arrived at Zhangmu (2,255 m).
Zhangmu is a customs town and port of entry located on the border between China and Nepal, up the hill and across the Bhote river of Koshi from the Nepalese city of Kodari. As a port, Zhangmu is very noisy and modernized, with many grandiose buildings, an immense amount of cargo trucks and crowded with tourists and businessmen. We stayed in the Zhangmu Hotel which is located near the customs post. and that was the worst hotel we have ever been to.
DAY 6 – The next day, early in the morning, our guide met us at the hotel to take us to the border of Nepal. We walked accross the neutral area between the two countries and we met another guide, from Kathmandu, who escorted us from the border to our hotel in Kathmandu. If you want more information, contact us.
DAY 1 – Flew from Chengdu to Lhasa
DAY 2 – Lhasa
DAY 3 – Drove from Lhasa to Shigatse
DAY 4 – Drove from Shigatse to Barber
DAY 5 – Drove from Barber to Zhangmu
DAY 6 – Crossed the border to Nepal
TIBET – TRAVEL TIPS
TIBET ENTRY PERMIT – All foreign citizens (non-Chinese passport holders) need a Tibet Entry Permit to enter Tibet. Foreigners are not allowed to apply for Tibet permits independently, so it is mandatory to find a travel agency based in China to help do so. In addition, foreign citizens are not allowed to travel to Tibet independently. We, foreigners, must be accompanied by a tour guide. It is suggested that you print at least 2 copies. The original permit will be checked at the departure airport or at departure train station. It is also suggested that you give a copy of the permits to your Tibet tour guide to keep it safe.
ALTITUDE SICKNESS – The capital city Lhasa itself stands at 3,550m above sea level, and Everest Base Camp looms at 5,088m. At such dizzying heights, it can be easy to suffer from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) if you don’t take the time to acclimatize to the conditions. Tibetan people on the other hand are genetically adapted to living at higher altitudes. They have more red blood cells than most of us and that helps them to live with the limited oxygen at high altitudes. Acute Mountain Sickness symptoms include light-headedness, nausea, shortness of breath and headaches.
Before travelling to Tibet, ask a doctor to prescribe a medicine to prevent altitude sickness. The most popular altitude medicine among foreigners is Diamox (Acetazolamide). It is recommended that during the first 2 days after arriving in Tibet, travellers should keep warm, avoid taking a bath, and refrain from smoking or drinking alcohol. Drink plenty of water before going out and when you have reached a higher altitude, and eat lots of vegetables and carbohydrates. Slow down, even if you feel energetic. Moving slowly is the best way to avoid altitude sickness.
TIBETAN FOOD – it is not only sustenance, but it also helps Tibetan people survive the harsh climates. Their food keeps them warm, gives them energy, helps them with the high altitude, and gives them nutrients essential to the harsh climate. Due to the high altitude of Tibet, water boils at 90 degrees making cooking with water impossible, so Tibetan food has become very specialized. The Tibetan diet consists mostly of meat, milks and other high protein foods. TSAMPA, which is a staple found in at every Tibetan meal, is a dough made with roasted barley flour and yak butter. Another staple of Tibetan’s diet is buttered tea. Tibetans drink butter tea because it warms them up. BUTTERED TEA is quite salty. Some people think it tastes more like soup broth than tea. Tibetans live on beef, mutton and milk products. BEEF AND MUTTON contain high heat energy which is helpful in fighting the cold. Many Tibetans often eat raw meats. TIBETAN NOODLES are usually served in a simple vegetable or meat broth. MOMOS are the favorite foods of most visitors to Tibet. They are dumplings made with either meat or vegetables.
CURRENCY – As in the rest of China, the Renminbi (RMB) is the legal currency in Tibet. Only the Bank of China, exchange facilities and in certain high-class hotels offers foreign exchange services. Credit cards can only be used in some hotels.
LANGUAGE – The main language spoken in Tibet is the Tibetan language. Apart from the Tibetan language languages like English are also used in the tourism business and other languages like Hindi and Nepalese are spoken by the Indian and Nepalese merchants. Tibetan language is also spoken in Nepal (in the Nepal-Tibet border areas), Bhutan and India (mainly in Sikkim). This language is classified by the linguists as a member of Tibeto-Burman subgroup of the Sino-Tibetan languages but its origin goes back to the mother language Sanskrit.
POWER – In Tibet the standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.