Tibet Travel Guide
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Tibet enchants tourists from China and abroad with its landscape, religious traditions, culture, and its unsolved mysteries. At any mention of this land, the images of snowy mountains, mirror-like lakes, Potala Palace and Buddhist disciples immediately come to mind.
Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) occupies one eighth of the China’s territory. Due to its high altitude, it is often called the 'Roof of the World' and the 'Third Pole of the Earth'. It boasts the world's highest peak, the splendid Mt. Everest, and the Tibetan Plateau, where the Yangtze River and Yellow River both begin.
History and Religion
The history of Tibet can be traced back by about 4,000 years, during which the Buddhist religion, Zang Language and culture are shaped up. Most of local inhabitants practice Tibetan Buddhism and Bon. They maintain many unique practices, such as pilgrimage prostration and sky burial, where the bodies of the dead are exposed to birds of prey. Potala Palace, Jokhang Monastery and Toling Monastery are among the most famous Buddhist temples.
Language and Culture
Most young and middle-aged people have command of two languages, their own language and Mandarin. The people living in this vast land are mainly Tibetan, an ethnic group with bold and uninhibited characteristics. Most live a pastoral lifestyle, earning a living by raising yaks, farming, as well as by making crafts. Some cultural highlights include the thangka, a style of Buddhist painting on cotton or silk applique, herb medicine, and local operas. The local people celebrate various festivals, such as Tibetan New Year, the Shoton Festival, the Monlam Prayer festival, the Butter Lamp Festival, and the Saga Dawa Festival.
See more about People & Life, Festivals.
It is extremely difficult for non-Chinese citizens to travel independently in Tibet. There are various restrictions on foreign tourists. All foreign visitors are required to join an organized tour operated by authorized travel agencies. Diplomats, journalists, and government officials are not allowed to enter alone or with a tour group. There are also many areas closed to foreign travelers, like the areas near China’s border and military bases.
Tibet Travel Permit
A travel permit is required for every foreign visitor. The only way to obtain a permit is to book a tour package with an authorized travel agency in China, which can help apply for the Travel Permit through the local tourism bureau. No agency can provide "permit-only" service, and overseas tourists must book their tours with a private vehicle, driver and tour guide. Citizens of all nationalities can apply for the permit.
In recent years, the local transportation transportation has improved drastically, particularly so with the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The Lhasa Gonggar Airport also operates flights to the first-tire cities of China, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi’an. A few international flights are also available.
Travel Advisory & Tips
1. High Altitude: The Tibetan Plateau’s elevation can reach about 2 miles (3,000 meters) above sea level. As a result, people will be exposed to stronger ultraviolet radiation, increasing the risk of sunburn. The high elevation also means that the air is thinner, which can result in altitude sickness in those who are not acclimatized to less oxygen. Travelers are strongly advised to bring sunscreen and medication for altitude sickness.
2. Extreme Weather: The extreme climate makes Tibet one of the world’s harshest places to live. Although its summers are cool, winters are viciously cold, and the differences between daytime and nighttime temperatures can be vast. Visitors are strongly advised to prepare appropriate clothing according to the season they are traveling in. Summer and autumn, from June to October, are considered to be the best times to visit.
3. Religious Etiquettes and Taboos: Tashi Delek is a common greeting phrase, which means “Good Luck”. And presenting a Hada or Khata, a type of silk scarf to local people is also regarded as a practice to show respect, give blessings, and hospitality. Travelers are also advised to observe local taboos when visiting monasteries. Spitting, talking loudly, as well as touching, walking over, and sitting on sacred objects are considered taboos. According to the Buddhist custom, one must always walk clockwise around shrines, stupas, Mani stones and prayer wheels or risk bad luck.