Tibet (China)

Tibet Travel Guide and Trip Resources

Dennis Jarvis

The roof of the world

Tibet is a region in western China, north-east of the HimalayasThe underlying tension is still there, ready to flare up at any moment?
Historical homeland of the Tibetan buddhists, but incorporated into the People's Republic in 1951
Magnificent is the word: magnificent monasteries, lakes, canyons, overall scenery

Tibet is a region in China's far west, located on a plateau at high altitude to the north-east of the Himalayas. With its capital of Lhasa set at 3,650m (12,000ft) it is actually the highest region in the world.

Traditionally the homeland of the devout buddhist Tibetan people and a very isolated place for geographical reasons, the region went through decades of upheaval in the 20th century. In the early 1900s the Qing dynasty came to an end, following which the nationalists took control of China but the Tibetans declared their independence.

This came to an abrupt end in 1951 when the army of Mao Zedong invaded and subjugated the region to the rule of the People's Republic of China. It wasn't until 1959 when the Tibetan people rose up, that the Dalai Lama fled Tibet for India (with help of the CIA), something which sadly brought to an end 600 years of Dalai Lama presence in Tibet. (If you are anything like us you will find the current argument going back and forth between the Dalai Lama and Chinese government about who gets to decide about his reincarnation both hilarious and sad).

So much for the history though. A lot of it isn't pretty, and something you will unfortunately be reminded of when applying for your "Tibet permit", a document that will be needed in addition to your regular China visa. It takes about as much effort to get as the visa and includes telling the Chinese government about essentially every single step you will set in the region. But alas.

If you can deal with all of that, and don't mind experiencing some of the underlying tension that obviously still remains, Tibet is one of the most fascinating places on earth to visit. Traditions going back hundreds of years, fantastic snowy scenery with great views, canyons and lakes, friendly people and a mysterious religion make this a place well worth all the effort it takes to get here.

The biggest city is Lhasa, which is home to the world-famous iconic Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple as well as Barkhor Street around it. In the rest of the region you will find hundreds of monasteries and sites of religious significance, so make your pick. Besides religious sightseeing, you need to make your pick of natural sights, all of which almost equally stunning. There is the turquoise Lake Yamdrok and Namtso Lake, the two sacred lakes of Tibet. But then there is the equally sacred Mount Kailash, the canyons of Yarlung Tsangpo... Oh and did we mention Mount Everest? Yeah. [Review by travelindicator]

Key info

  • Tibet is a region in China. It is situated at an altitude of 11975ft and the best airport to fly into is LXA (Gonggar/lhasa, Gonggar)
  • The currency used in China is the Chinese yuan renminbi (RMB) (CNY)



Tibet Weather

Historical average maximum temperature per month (℉):

45 48 54 61 66 73 72 70 68 61 52 46

Historical average rainfall per month (inches):

0 0 0.1 0.2 1.1 2.8 4.7 4.8 2.3 0.4 0.1 0

Other notes

  • With the influx of Han Chinese, the influence of China in Lhasa is growing. If you want to see a more authentic Tibetan city, head over to Gyantse instead
  • For information on how to get your Tibet permit, head over to Explore Tibet or Tibettravel.org. The short of it is that you first need your China visa, then ask a travel agency to arrange your Tibet Travel Permit, and finally book tickets. During check-in for flights into Tibet, you will be asked to show the permit.
  • Free Tibet asks the question of whether you should travel to Tibet at all. The arguments against appear to be longer than those in favor. Included in the pro-arguments are that the Dalai Lama would encourage it and Tibetans welcome tourists. Arguments against are the facts that Tibetan culture is being "Disneyfied" and exploited. Make up your own mind. Save Tibet has a similar angle.
  • A good and long piece about Tibetan Buddhism can be found here. It's quite an interesting read.
  • Apparently there are a number of dates you will want to avoid when traveling to Tibet. March and the early days of October aren't so good. The former for political reasons, the latter because it's a major holiday period in China.

More Tibet travel resources

There's a lot of good stuff about travel to Tibet online, but when it comes to destinations in China, we tend to think that not many can beat places like China Highlights and Travel China Guide. Though for prominent regions such as these, the likes of Lonely Planet and Wikitravel don't do a half bad job. A good place to keep reading is Explore Tibet and The Land of Snows. Following that there is Rough Guides and Fodor's and so many travel blogs that we completely lost count. You could choose to check out Andrew's Travel Blog or the blogs at Tibet Discovery. Finally, we leave you with a piece about budget travel to Tibet and the always solid blog on The Guardian.

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