Tibet: the Land of Snows, the roof of the world. For centuries this mysterious Buddhist kingdom, locked away in its mountain fastness of the Himalaya, has exercised a unique hold on the imagination of the West. For explorers, imperialists and traders it was a forbidden land of treasure and riches. Dreamers on a spiritual quest have long whispered of a lost Shangri-la, steeped in magic and mystery. When the doors were finally flung open in the mid-1980s, Tibet lay in ruins. Between 1950 and 1970, the Chinese wrested control of the plateau, drove the Tibetans’ spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and some 100, 000 of Tibet’s finest into exile and systematically dismantled most of the Tibetan cultural and historical heritage, all in the name of revolution. For a while images of the Buddha were replaced by icons of Chairman Mao. Today, Tibetan pilgrims across the country are once again mumbling mantras and swinging their prayer wheels in temples that are heavy with the thick intoxicating aroma of juniper incense and yak butter. Monasteries have been restored across the country, along with limited religious freedoms. A walk around Lhasa’s lively Barkhor pilgrimage circuit is proof enough that the efforts of the communist Chinese to build a brave new (roof of the) world have foundered on the remarkable and inspiring faith of the Tibetan people.
For travellers, Tibet is without doubt one of the most remarkable places to visit in Asia. It offers fabulous monastery sights, breathtaking high-altitude treks, stunning views of the world’s highest mountains and one of the most likeable peoples you will ever meet. There’s Gyantse, in the Nyang-chu Valley, famed for the largest chörten (stupa) in Tibet, and hiking in Yarlung Valley, widely considered the cradle of Tibetan civilization. Base yourself in Tsetang and marvel at the monkey cave in Gangpo Ri or walk the monastery kora (pilgrim path). Your trip will take you past glittering mountain turquoise lakes and over high passes draped with prayer flags. Find a quiet spot in a prayer hall full of chanting monks, hike past the ruins of remote hermitages or make an epic overland trip along some of the world’s wildest roads. The scope for adventure is limitless. For many people, Tibet is a uniquely spiritual place. Those moments of peace, fleeting and precious, when everything seems to be in its proper place, seem to come more frequently in Tibet, whether inspired by the devotion apparent in the face of a pilgrim or the dwarfing scale of a beautiful landscape. Tibet can truly claim to be on a higher plain.
This remarkable place is changing fast. Investment and tourism are flooding into the region, inspired by a new train line from China, and GDP is rising even faster than the train tracks to Lhasa. Unfortunately the modernisation is coming first and foremost on China’s terms. China’s current wave of tourists has been dubbed the ‘second invasion’, with a slew of new hotels, restaurants and bars set up and run by Chinese for Chinese. Once the remote preserve of hardy backpackers, it is now local Chinese tourists who dominate the queues for the Potala and Jokhang. Lhasa is booming and even small towns across the plateau are being modernised and rebuilt. With every passing month Tibet looks less and less like itself.
The myths and propaganda that have grown up around Tibet can be so enticing, so pervasive and so entrenched that it’s hard to see the place through balanced eyes. The reality is that Tibet is no fragile Shangri-la but a resilient land underpinned by a unique culture and faith. But you are never far from the reality of politics here. For anyone who travels with their eyes open, a visit to Tibet will be memorable and fascinating, but also a sobering experience. It’s a place that’s likely to change the way you see the world and that will remain with you for years to come. And that’s surely the definition of the very best kind of travel.
Green tourism and Highlands of Tibet
Wrapped in knots of mountains rising 13,000-15,000 feet above sea level, the Highlands of Tibet are regal desolation exemplified. Everywhere here at the thin heights of southeastern China, water gives way directly to sand, sand to rock, and rock to snow. Forbidding elements. Proud Tibetan people have populated this plateau long enough to be part of the land and reflect its quiet poise. Muddy villages— foremost among them the magical capital city of Lhasa— of squat white-washed homes and clay red-painted Buddhist temples keep to the low southern and eastern plains where the Upper Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Huang Ho, Mekong, and other rivers have their headwaters, the first two spilling early into wide fertile valleys. The broad northern expanse is far less hospitable, especially the Tsaidam Basin, a dry wasteland of gravel, sand, and clay. A visit to the plateau — thought of more as a visit to Tibet — is unforgettable.
Travel Advice for Tibet
Tibet permit is actually a secondary travel document to a special zone besides China visa with which you can come to China for the first step of your travel though you must get approved by Tibet Tourism Bureau before you obtain China visa. It is a certificate only for the travel, and there are a few names about it such as Tibet permit, Tibet travel permit, Tibet entry permit, Tibet tour permit, and etc, while correct one is Tibet travel permit. Tibet travel permit is classified in to a few kinds if you travel through all over Tibet. To start your trip to Tibet, you must get the first permit to get in to Tibet no matter how many or how less places you want to visit, and whatever how long or how short you want to stay in Tibet. This kind of permit is also named as Tibet entry permit, but it is not only for the entry in to Tibet. With which you can also travel to some places within its power limit.
Anybody who holds the common passports can go to Tibet for a visit through any of the local travel agencies, except for the following three kinds:
1. Those who holds the passports relating to embassy or ambassador or working in there
2. Government officials
These three kinds of persons can take a trip to Tibet via governemt office, Foreign Affair Office, Economic Development Committe, etc. but not through the travel agency.
Best Time to Travel In Tibet
The climate in highland Tibet belongs to the typical downy special climate. Climates are much different in different areas in Tibet and temperatures vary greatly within a single day.
Climate in southeastern Tibet (e.g. Nyingchi) is gentle and temperate with the average temperature of eight degrees. In western Tibet (e.g. Nagqu), the average temperature is below zero degree. While in Lhasa and the central part of Tibet, the climate is rather normal and seemingly nice for travelers. Visitors would not feel too cold in winter or hot in summer, especially from March to October, the best seasons for traveling. Most annual rainfall comes in the rainy season that starts from May to September, when the precipitation covers 90 percent of the whole year. Usually it rains at night in Lhasa, Shigatse and Chamdo area. The precipitations gradually decrease from 5000 millimeters in the lower part of southeast to just 50 in the northwest.
So generally speaking, the best time to travel Tibet is between April and October, and peak season is from May to September. The best months are May, June, September or October as July and August are rainy months. Those who travel in their own car or on foot should avoid the rainy season especially when entering Tibet along the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, and the sections between Lhasa and Nyingchi and between Lhasa and Ngari. There will be mudslides, cave-ins and mire on certain sections of the road, blocking the passage of vehicles. However, if you are only planning several days in and around Lhasa and getting there by air, there will be no problem for you to travel at any time from April to October.
How to get to Tibet?
There are a few ways for tourists to accomplish their dreams to Tibet:
- By plane
To take a flight into Tibet is really fast and one can soon acclimatize in Tibet. But it is costly especially to those who can only afford a budget travel plan.
See also, Tibet Flight Information
- By Train
To take Tibet Railway into Tibet is really very cheap compared to take flight or by overland. People often assume that get into Tibet by train will help them acclimatize eventually. But to many peoples surprise, the truth is just the opposite. According to our observer and experience, they will suffer from an ongoing headache and dizzy through out the whole long journey.
There are two kinds of sleepers on the train, the hard berth and the soft berth. There are six bunks in each compartment, while there only four bunk in one compartment for soft berth. Generally speaking, the conditions are much better in soft berth than that in hard berth.
It is really a long journey to get into Tibet by train. It will spend your time from at least 24 hours (from Xining to Lhasa) to more than 50 hours (from Guangzhou to Lhasa).
We recommend you to get into Tibet by plane and get out of by train. Because all the trains leave Lhasa in the morning, travelers can enjoy the best sceneries of Tibet Plateau from sunrise to sunset on the first day staying in the train. After a nights sleeping, Qinghai Lake is waiting for you the next day.
See also, Tibet Train Timetable
- By Overland
There are five highways into Tibet, roughly corresponding to the cardinal directions:
North: The road from Golmud is the easiest legal land route at present. The landscape is beautiful but difficult to appreciate after the long rough ride.
East: There are two highways to Tibet from this side. One starts from Yunnan, and another one from Sichuan. The sceneries you can see along the way are the most beautiful.
West: From Xinjiang to Tibet. It is the hardest one. There are many interesting things for the tourist to see on the way and it is worth considering traveling this way instead of via Mount Kailash.
South: You can get into Tibet through the Friendship Highway linking Nepal and Tibet.
- By overland you can enjoy the natural beauties and astonishing landscapes on the way. But it requires a good and strong body. If you are not sure with your health, please consider this way over and over.