One of the most remote, pristine and high altitude regions in the world. Tibets impressive scenery, complicated history and colourful monasteries will leave you mesmerised. Visit the Jokhang Temple which melds Tibetan, Nepalese and Han architecture and is considered to be the heart of Tibet. See the remarkable Potala Palace, once the winter home of the Dalai Lama and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The city of Lhasa is truly unique, with an allure all of its own. This is partly due to its remoteness (its high altitude at 3,650 metres means limited accessibility), but also because of its impressive heritage of over a thousand years of cultural and spiritual history that has helped to create the romantic and mysterious Tibetan religion. Highlights of the city include the Jokhang Temple, Norbulingka Palace and Barkhor market, the oldest market in the capital.
The former seat of the Tibetan Government and the Dalai Lama’s winter residence before he fled to India in 1959. An architectural wonder, Potala Palace towers over Lhasa and thousands of grand rooms are filled with elaborate shrines and striking frescoes to further enhance its appeal.
Gyantse A heritage town which is the third largest town in Tibet and home to the Pelkor Chode Monastery, a complex of structures which includes its Kumbum (a multi-storied aggregate of Buddhist chapels), believed to be the largest of such structures in Tibet.
A 600 year old town which houses the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, founded in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama it is a historic and culturally important monastery, and the second-largest in Tibet. The monastery contains many treasures, including the giant Future Buddha Statue, precious Buddha Stupas, manuscript Buddhist texts and numerous murals. The Future Buddha Statue is the world’s largest gold gilded bronze statue.
Without a doubt the best time to visit Tibet is spring through autumn (June to September). It may turn cool at any time of the year (especially at night). Tibet should definitely be avoided during winter (Dec to March) when it is bitterly cold and often snowbound.
First impression as you get off the plane in Lhasa is one of a little breathlessness due to the fact you are at nearly 3500 metres. Provided you don’t suffer from significant heart or blood pressure issues then acclimatization to this higher altitude will normally take about 24 hours. During this time it is important to take things quietly and just move slowly. It is surprising how quickly your body adjusts and some visitors swear by Diamox or one of the other medications available to assist you at high altitude. Talk to your doctor about this.
Memories of my visit to Lhasa will remain with me always. Dominating the city is the impressive Potala Palace, once the home to the Dalai Lama and today standing watch over his former capital. But there are many other wonderful monasteries also worth visiting. Perhaps the most beautiful is the 1300 year old Jokhang Temple with its many religious artifacts. Chanting of the Buddhist monks and the prostrating pilgrims provide an almost mystical experience. The nearby Drepung Monastery, once housing more than 10,000 monks, is also well worth a visit. Prayer flags are a colourful reminder of the Buddhist religion which is staunchly surviving since the takeover of Tibet by China in 1959. If you can travel outside of Lhasa into the surrounding countryside, the mountains dominate a stark and beautiful landscape. The people are fantastic and the yak butter an acquired taste! Chris
Tibet Travel Guide and Facts
Currency The unit of currency is the Chinese Yuan and this may be exchanged for major currencies through the hotel desk (in many countries around the world you are penalized by changing at a hotel – in Tibet they offer almost exactly the same rate as the banks.
Language Mandarin is widely spoken by the Han Chinese ‘immigrants’ and the Tibetans speak their own language (although are also required to learn Mandarin).
Why we love it Tibet is an awesome land. Known as the ‘Roof of the World’ or ‘Shangri-la’, it sits high in the Himalayas and from almost everywhere in the country you can enjoy stunning mountain views. Lhasa, the capital has some wonderful monasteries. The very best is the incredible 7th century Potala Palace but also impressive are the Sera and Drepung Monasteries nearby. The people also make the country – dignified, kind, colourful and hospitable, the Tibetans are a special breed. Buddhist monks, sassy street vendors and smiling children will make your visit memorable. But everywhere is the scenery is stark and beautiful with broad horizons ending in the highest mountain range on earth. Trekkers and adventurers find special delight in the landscape of Tibet. If taking photographs of people, it is courtesy to ask their permission first. There is a new train service that runs from Beijing (or Xian) to Lhasa. Comfortable sleepers are available and the journey which is the highest commercial railway on earth covers 4000km of ever changing scenery. This will become one of the great train journeys of the world.
Weather Without doubt the best time to visit Tibet is spring until autumn. It should definitely be avoided in winter (December – March) when it is bitterly cold and often snowbound. Probably the very best months to visit are July to September. It may turn cool at any time of the year (especially at night).
Social customs & quirks You will find the Tibetan people friendly and welcoming. The Buddhist religion is most important to the native Tibetans and this rules the way they live. If visiting a home you may be presented with a Hada (usually a white silk scarf that embodies purity and good fortune). When greeting someone don’t forget to add the world “la” after saying “hello” to the Tibetan people to show respect. Make way to others in the street and try not to make any sounds while eating and drinking. Bargaining is the norm if buying any of the colourful souvenirs available in the markets. It is impolite to photograph locals without asking their permission first. You should also be aware that openly discussing religion or politics with the local people in Tibet is unwise – there is still tension between China and Tibet regarding these matters. Discreet discussion on this vexed matter is OK but don’t push the issue with those unwilling to talk.
Festivals & events Tibetans love a festival and there are several held throughout the year. These include Losar (new year festival); Saga Dawa – the holiest festival of all held every May or June. At the same time of year the Gyantse horse race and archery festival is held. In August the important Opera Festival (Shoton) is held a few weeks before the Harvest festival in September. These events along with many other smaller festivities, are wonderfully colourful and a delight if you are lucky enough to happen across one.
Health* There are currently no health requirements entering Tibet. However you need to be aware that you will be entering a high altitude situation (Lhasa is at 3650 metres – nearly 12,000 feet). If you suffer from heart or respiratory problems then discuss these with you doctor. It is wise to take with you from New Zealand any medication you may need whilst in the country. The sun can also be VERY strong so sunscreen and a good hat are essential. Please contact your health practitioner for full and current details on the health situation.
Notes *Please be aware that Health information is subject to change at any time and you should always double check these requirements at the time of booking and before travel.