With pristine mountain plateaus, a rich culture yet to be disturbed by the modern world, and ancient heritages, Tibet is a marvelous travel destination. Also known as “The Roof of The World”, it is a paradise for backpackers and travelers. What adds on to its beauty is the untainted Tibetan culture that has made an identity of Tibet to be one of the richest countries in terms of culture.
Tibet is welcoming to travelers who make their way to the holy lands decorated by Tibetan Buddhist culture and traditions. Lhasa and Shigatse are the prime tour destinations to observe and study Tibetan culture from a closer perspective. From the vast expanse of land irrigated by the Brahmaputra River to the pristine Mt. Kailash, Tibet is also full of natural wonders. Catching the interest of both young and old alike, Tibet is a holy grail for travelers all over the world.
- Location: Tibet lies in South Asia, also in the southwest region of China, bordering India, Nepal, Burma, and Bhutan.
- Geography: The northern parts of Tibet are filled with huge nomadic grassland which turns into deep valleys and mountains as we travel towards the east. Tibetan Plateaus cover most parts of Tibet and the Great Himalayan Range border the country to the south.
- Capital: The capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) in Lhasa.
- Area: The total area covered by Tibet is 1,228,400 square kilometers.
- Population: The population of Tibet is 3.18 million.
- Political System: TAR lies completely under the governance of China. However, Tibet claims to be an independent state under unlawful occupation.
- Major Religion: Tibetan Buddhism is followed by a large number of Tibetans.
- Time Zone: Tibet follows the official time zone of UTC +8.
- Official Language: Tibetan and Mandarin are the official languages in TAR.
- Electricity: The standard voltage used in TAR is 220 V, and the electricity is well available in Tibet.
Since Tibet is an autonomous region of China, you will need a Chinese Visa to enter Tibet. The Chinese Visa can be applied for at the Chinese embassy situated in foreign countries. Travelers entering Tibet from Nepal need to have a Tibet Group Visa. To obtain this visa you will need for your travel agency in Tibet to send you a Visa invitation letter through the Tibet Tourism Bureau. Apart from Visa, you will also need to have Tibet Travel Permit to board flights and cross the border to reach Tibet in general. For specially protected regions you will also need to have Alien Travel Permit (ATP) or Military Permit.
How to reach Tibet
You have three options for traveling to Tibet, namely, via air, land, and train. All of these options require for you to have Tibet Travel Permit along with other necessary permits provided to you by your travel agents.
There are two options to enter Lhasa via air travel. One is from Kathmandu, Nepal and another from different cities in mainland China. There are more options of flights from cities of mainland China but all of them require for travelers to have the Tibet Travel Permit (TTP).
The travel option via road contains three routes. The northern route drives through Golmud in mainland China and is filled with the striking scenery of the mountains. The southwestern route will take you through the Mt. Kailash (6636m), Lake Manasarovar, and surrounding valleys. The southern route is from Nepal via Kerung or Kodari. This route requires you to procure a Chinese visa via a travel agent along with other travel permits.
The Qinghai- Tibet railway, operating from Golmud to Lhasa is also one of the travel options to reach Tibet. It is one of the most convenient ways to reach Tibet as you will slowly acclimatize to the altitude of Tibet, drastically decreasing the risk of altitude sickness. Direct trains can be taken from Beijing, Xining, Lanzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, and Chengdu to reach Lhasa.
Popular Destinations to Visit
There are a plethora of places to visit while in Tibet. With its sublime mountains, serene lakes, deep valleys, and arid plateaus, the natural diversity of Tibet is amazing. Similarly, Tibet is also quite rich in terms of cultural and religious heritages like traditional shrines, palaces, Gumbas, and temples.
The ancient capital Lhasa holds one of the most famous and most prized places in all of Tibet. One of the attractions in Lhasa is the home of Dalai Lama, Potala Palace rich with traditional Tibetan artifacts and monuments. The ancient Jokhang Temple built in 647 AD is one of the oldest and also the holiest places in all of Tibet. Encompassing the Jokhang temple is the Barkhor Street, surrounded by mesmerizing traditional Tibetan buildings.
Apart from the monasteries, temples, and shrines, Tibet is also known for its marvelous mountain ranges and high altitude lakes. One among the many famous lakes in the Namtso Lake which is the highest saltwater lake in the world standing at the height of 4700m. Tibet also houses the Northern Everest Base Camp which is the trail-head for the expedition to the top of the Mt. Everest (8848m).
The holy Lake Mansarovar and the youngest mountain in the world Kailash are one of the most visited sites by people following Hinduism as well as Buddhism. The Kailash Mansarovar Kora is known to cleanse your soul and rid you of your sins. It is one of the travel destinations suitable for people of all ages.
Internet and Communication in the Country
Internet service is quite good and reliable in the Tibet Autonomous region and cell phone data coverage around the region is also well facilitated. Most of the hotels and restaurants give out free Wi-Fi services in the major cities. Telephone services are also well established. However, international calls are costly using telephones and the services are also hard to find in rural areas. Not to worry though, cellular service is really good even in higher altitudes. Mobile phone coverage is generally good even in rural areas of Tibet like the far- western region of Tibet.
Travelers should be aware of the fact that the government of China has banned several social media sites including Facebook, WhatsApp, and many websites of Dalai Lama. So, you will not be able to use these sites while in Tibet. Travelers will have to download a VPN app to use these banned sites discreetly.
Local Currency and Foreign Exchange
Just like any other region in China, Renminbi (RMB) is the official currency in Tibet. The only place to exchange your foreign currency into local currency is the branch of Bank of China that is located in Tibet along with some upmarket hotels. Bank of China has the facility of cashing travelers check as well as offers cash advances on major credit cards. However, there is a lack of conversion outlets so you might have problems while converting RMB into foreign currencies. While exchanging your currency into Chinese Renminbi, it is necessary to know about the currency exchange rates. You can refer to the information available at the official website of Nepal Rastra Bank at https://www.nrb.org.np/fxmexchangerate.php.
Likewise, it is better to have some local currency at hand while you are traveling to rural areas Tibet to buy daily necessities and other items.
Weather and Climate
The climate of Tibet is generally dry and with low humidity. The Himalayas act as a kind of barrier for the monsoon rains which is why the climate is usually dry. The days are mostly warm but the nights are cold due to the coursing wind that flows through the deep valleys in the mountains. Lower valleys and the southeast region of TAR are warmer and pleasant but the higher you go up the altitude, the bitter cold rises dramatically.
In general, the weather of Tibet is mild. You will not feel too hot in the summer either too cold in the winter. However, for some regions, the temperature is below 0 degree Celsius throughout the year. The best season to travel to Tibet is from April to the start of November. Since the region faces heavy rainfall and clouded skies from May to September, these seasons are generally avoided by travelers.
People Culture and Festivals
Tibetans are known to be of friendly and welcoming nature and will greet you with warm smiles. Likewise, Tibetans have great regards for their religion and culture. As such, the rich Tibetan Buddhism still has its roots strong in Tibet. Travelers need to keep in mind to respect their religion and belief, especially when you are visiting holy shrines, temples, and monasteries. The monasteries and shrines give you a look into the rich cultural history through their marvelous Thangkha paintings, dances, music as well as their customs and rituals.
Lhosar celebration i.e. celebration of the Tibetan New Year is enjoyed on full blast every year. Monasteries, temples, stupas and small chapels are decorated at dawn with offerings from each house and the rest of the evening is enjoyed with loved ones. The Smomlam festival, 3 days after the New Year is also celebrated with enthusiasm, along with the anniversary of Lord Buddha’s birth.