Discover Tibet, a mystical country

Tibet offers fabulous monasteries, breathtaking high-altitude treks, stunning views of the world's highest mountains and one of the most humble, likeable peoples you will ever meet.
  • Tibet, China
    © iStockphoto.com / Bartosz Hadyniak
  • Tibet, China
    © iStockphoto.com / Idealnabaraj
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination China

What to do

Hiking is the reason that most tourists visit Tibet. The roof of the world continues to be accessible to seasoned hikers looking for the extreme. From the snowy mountain tops of the Himalayas to the monasteries of the capital, Lhasa, a trip to Tibet takes you on the tracks of Tintin and the yeti, to a civilisation influenced by Buddhism for many centuries.

What to pack

The average elevation of Tibet is 4,000m so be sure you pack warm. Bring sunglasses (there is sun there for most of the year) and a 4-season sleeping bag for when you sleep in monasteries and refuges. Make sure that you bring a full medical emergency kit.

Tours & Permits

There's no getting away from politics in modern Tibet. Whether you see Tibet as an oppressed, occupied nation or simply an underdeveloped province of China, the normal rules for travel in China simply don't apply. Travel restrictions mean that independent travel is currently not possible, as foreign travellers need to pre-arrange a tour with a guide and transportation for their time in Tibet.

Insurance

Tibet is a remote location, and if you become seriously injured or very sick, you may need to be evacuated by air. Under these circumstances, you don't want to be without adequate health insurance. Be sure your policy covers evacuation.

Health

Tibet poses some unique and particular risks to your health, mostly associated with altitude. Sensible travellers will rely on their own medical knowledge and supplies. Outside of Lhasa there is very little in the way of expert medical care available. Make sure you travel with a well-stocked medical kit and knowledge of how to use it. Make sure you bring spares of things like glasses if you wear them and enough medication to last for the duration of your stay. To avoid problems, have a legible prescription or letter from your doctor to show that you legally use the medication.

Money

The Chinese currency is known as Renminbi (RMB) or ?people's money'. The basic unit of this currency is the yuán, and is designated by a ?Ą'. In spoken Chinese, the word 'kuŕi' is almost always substituted for the yuán. Ten ji?o (commonly known as máo) make up one yuán. A reserve of travellers cheques (and US dollars) are useful to carry with you in Tibet and can be exchanged at the Bank of China in Lhasa, Shigaste and Ali.

Tibet: the key figures

Surface area : 1220000.0 km2

Population : 5800000 inhabitants

  • Contact with a people who are both tough and warm.
  • A civilisation influenced by Buddhism and artistic expression engendered by faith for centuries.
  • Tibet is to approach the "Roof of the world".
  • The air is completely pure. The changes of light provide grandiose scenery containing villages and monasteries with architecture that is very beautiful.
  • The omnipresence of the Chinese makes any substantial contact with foreign visitors impossible and dangerous for the Tibetans.
  • Altitude sickness can affect any traveller who is not used to going through passes more than 13,120 feet or 16,400 feet high or who takes long tiring trips on a bus, 4x4 or lorry.

Tibet: what to visit?

Landscapes

  • The oases , Oases , China
    The oases
  • The lakes , China
    The lakes
  • The Kongpo and the Dakpo , China
    The Kongpo and the Dakpo
  • Mount Kailash , China
    Mount Kailash
  • Mount Kailash , China

Arts and culture

  • Buddhist Art , Buddhist art , China
    Buddhist Art
  • A culture in peril , An endangered culture , China
    A culture in peril
  • A culture in peril , An endangered culture , China

Monuments

  • The Drepung monastery , Drepung Monastery , China
    The Drepung monastery
  • The Sera monastery , Sera Monastery , China
    The Sera monastery
  • The Ganden monastery , Ganden Monastery , China
    The Ganden monastery
  • Labrang Tibetan Monastery , China
    Labrang Tibetan Monastery
  • Labrang Tibetan Monastery , China

Tibet: what to buy?

The Barkhor, a big market near the Jokhang temple (Buddhist sanctuary), offers the biggest choice of souvenirs and Tibetan objects. The Barkhor is a pilgrimage trip lined by stalls, tea houses, and full of travelling salesmen. Pilgrims stock up on various religious objects, statuettes, shrines, prayer banners, amber and silver jewellery, and incense sticks here... You have to bargain and be aware that these items are not antiques (export is very controlled), but have often been recently manufactured in Nepal. In Shigatse you can find a few Tibetan items in the market and carpets in the interesting factory to visit. Shops are open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM on week days.

Tibet: what to eat?

Gastronomy is extremely limited, due to difficulties with farming. The bases of food: tsampa, barley flour cooked in the oven, yak butter and black tea. These three ingredients, plus salt, are mixed in one bowl to form one single meal. The mixture obtained is fairly substantial, and rancid butter is very appreciated. Try the momos, (pasties stuffed with vegetables and meat) and thukpas (meat noodles). Tibetans favourite drink is chang; a type of beer made from fermented barley. In Lhasa, you will find a number of Chinese, Indian and Nepalese restaurants and can order a yak steak, a pizza, or a cheesecake. Numerous small restaurants serve mutton and pasta around the mosque, in the Muslim district.

Tibet: what are the cultural particularities?

Re. The big monasteries are places for incessant pilgrimage. Offering a khata (white scarf) or a statue to a lama is an essential ritual. It is the same for the yak butter used to feed the lamps. Some Tibetans continue to greet each other by sticking their tongue out, a custom going back to the 7th century. You give and receive something with the right hand, while holding your elbow with the other hand. Masked dances mark the anniversary of each monastery, evoking the struggle between the good and evil spirits. Forbidden for a long time, these spectacles have been authorised for some fifteen years.

Tibet: travel tips


Choose to stay in the Tibetan part of Lhasa, or the Old Town district, around the Jokhang. The western part of the capital resembles all recent Chinese towns, with their concrete architecture, shops, karaoke, and even their prostitution.

Good maps and last minute information on the condition of the roads and traffic conditions are exchanged between individual travellers at Tashi's Restaurant in Lhasa, and in the Tibetan hotels.
On the plus side, new airports, boutique hotels and paved roads offer a level of travel comfort unheard of just a few years ago. If the rigours of high-altitude Tibet travel have deterred you in the past, now might just be the time to take the plunge.

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