Tibet lies in the shadows of the Great Himalayas to the southwest of China. Known as the Roof of the World, Tibet is located at an average elevation of 4,000 meters resulting in unique geographical and climatic variations.
It is one of the most sought out destinations in Asia because of its secretive lands that hide natural wonders that take your breath away. Its unchartered mountains, serene lakes and gorges, lush alpine forests, and cool temperatures make it the perfect place for travelers to go on a trip of their lifetime. The Tibetan Plateau, Himalayas, and eastern canyons form the majority of the geography in Tibet.
What is even more mesmerizing is the ancient Tibetan culture and heritage which are proudly displayed by the Tibetans. The majority of the Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism along with a small number following Animism and Hinduism.
Country Visa and Entry Procedure
Obtaining a Visa and entry procedures are a little hectic when it comes to traveling to Tibet. If you are planning to travel from mainland China or Hong Kong, you will need a valid Chinese Visa. You need to have a passport with validity of at least six months and will be required to fill a Visa form which includes detailed information of your destinations as well as your travel itinerary.
If you are planning to travel from Nepal, then your only option is a group visa as a Chinese Visa is useless in this condition. Apart from the Visa, you will also need to have a TTB (Tibet Tourism Bureau) Permit to board a train or plane to Tibet. For you to get the TTB permit; you will need to have a pre-planned detailed itinerary, pre-arranged travel facilities, and an official guide for the whole trip.
Popular Destinations to Visit
There are plenty of mesmerizing places to visit in Tibet. Mt. Kailash is one of the most visited sites in Tibet and is revered by both Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims. The nearby Lake Manasarovar and Rakshas Lake are also prominent tourist destinations.
Other must-visit sites in Tibet include the residence of Dalai Lama, the famous Potala Palace, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Jokhang Temple, Norbulingka, and Lulang Forest are some of the best destinations to visit. Namtso Lake, also known as the heavenly lake, is the largest saltwater lake in China. Following closely are the Yamdrok Lake and the magnificent Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon(the deepest canyon in the world). Finally, you can also visit the northern Everest Base Camp and relish the views of some of the highest mountains in the world including the Mt. Everest (8848m), Cho Oyu (8201m), and Lhotse (8516m).
Things to do in Country
Treks and tours are the most popular activities to take part in Tibet. Surrounded by tall mountain peaks and high forested hills, you will find plenty of opportunities to lose yourself among the nature in Tibet. Tibet is located to the north of the Great Himalayan Range and boasts an incredible array of natural wonders. As such, the Everest Base Camp is a brilliant destination for tours and treks. Likewise, Tibet is also the trailhead to some of the most famous mountaineering expeditions. Cho Oyu Expedition and Mt. Everest Expedition are two of the prominent expeditions which begin from Tibet.
You can also enjoy sightseeing the popular lakes and gorges or plan long road trips around Lhasa. Kailash Mansarovar Kora, a journey around the holy Mt. Kailash and Lake Mansarovar to cleanse your soul of evil is an opportunity you shouldn’t miss out on. You can also travel around Tibet and enjoy Tibetan culture, festivals, and cuisine.
Trekking Seasons in Country
March to May signifies the season of spring with blossoming flowers and chirping birds. It is one of the best seasons to trek in Tibet along with autumn which starts in September and lasts till November. During this time, the weather is clearer so you will have more chances of viewing the vast mountain ranges. What is even more inviting is that the temperature is also just perfect as it is warmer even in higher altitudes but the heat is bearable.
Winter in higher altitudes is almost unbearable and the path is dangerous because of heavy snowfall and snowstorms. The temperature in the lower region also plunges low so, people don’t generally trek during the winter. Whereas in summer/monsoon, Tibet experiences heavy rainfall which also increases the chances of landslides. The trekking trails also get slippery during this season as a result, it is better to tour during monsoon.
Altitude sickness is a major health concern for many traveling to Tibet. While in Tibet, you will be traveling mostly above the altitude of 4,000 meters so, the risks of altitude sickness are pretty great. Some of the symptoms of altitude sickness are nausea, difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath, dizziness, rapid pulse, and headache.
What you need to do in case you feel the symptoms of altitude sickness is immediately inform your travel guide and descend to a lower altitude. In severe cases, emergency evacuations and Heli rescue are also options. Remember not to rush and give your body time to rest and adapt to the climate around Lhasa. Also, be prepared with the necessary medication to be used in case of emergencies. It is beneficial for you to have proper information on AMS before you start your trip.
Travel insurance will come in handy in conditions of medical emergencies, theft, and trip or flight cancellations. Since traveling in Tibet requires you to explore destinations around 4,000 meters of altitude, you will need travel insurance that covers all the medical issues on the trip.
Be careful of the policies you choose though and make sure it also covers emergency helicopter evacuations. Likewise, the travel insurance must also cover trip cancellations since some parts of Tibet are closed for any tourism activities without any prior information. Likewise, travelers must carry the necessary documentation with themselves while traveling around Tibet.
Meals and Accommodations
In main cities like Lhasa and Shigatse, you can stay at the accommodation of your choice from star hotels to basic lodges. Thus, the cost of accommodation varies upon the standard. During treks, most of your nights will be spent in tents as there is a lack of accommodation on higher altitudes. However, there is also a fair share of lodges and teahouses.
You can find a variety of foods in Lhasa ranging from traditional local cuisine to western foods as well. You can also find Nepalese and Indian delicacies in the market places. However, Chinese and Sichuan dishes are popular across Tibet.
Banking, ATM’s and Money
Yuan or Chinese Renminbi is the currency that is used across Tibet. Both banknotes and coins are used widely here. As such, it must be noted that the use of foreign currencies is banned in Tibet; so, you must exchange your currency while in Tibet. The rural areas in Tibet only accept Chinese currency so you should stock up on exchanged money while in Lhasa.
The Bank of China facilitates most of the tourists in Tibet. There are branches of Bank of China in Lhasa, Shigatse, and other major cities where you are given facilities of exchanging your currency into the local currency. You can bring along US dollars or Euros with you which are easier to exchange. There are also several ATMs available in these cities which accept foreign cards as well. Credit cards are not that effective except in some five-star hotels in Lhasa.
Internet and Communication
Communication has been steadily improving in Tibet. As such, many hotels in major cities provide Wi-Fi, telephone, and fax services. However, you will not be able to find Wi-Fi services at higher altitudes.
You will also find phone booths while trekking to higher altitudes. Mobile phone connection in areas in lower regions is very good as well. Tibet also offers wide and reliable coverage of 3G and 4G services. However, in higher altitudes, there are still problems with proper mobile phone connectivity.
Travelers must be aware that social media sites like WhatsApp and Facebook are banned in Tibet. So, tourists must install VPN applications before entering Tibet to use these sites and apps.
Internal Flight Delays
The diverse geography of Nepal and Tibet causes flights to be delayed and canceled especially in monsoon and winter because of unclear skies and chances of an accident. During winter, the skies are cloudy or covered with fog and, during monsoon, heavy rainfall causes the flights to be delayed or canceled.
Thanks to the stable weather conditions in autumn (September to November) and spring (March to May) seasons, they experience fewer flight delays and cancellations. Flights are also more frequent during these seasons. Thus, you need to be aware of the weather conditions beforehand while booking flights to Tibet. Taking an early morning flight can decrease the chances of getting your flight delayed or canceled.
Health and Safety Including Traveling alone in Country
When you are traveling to higher altitudes in Tibet, be careful of health issues like AMS, cold, sprains, etc. Altitude sickness is one of the major concerns when traveling to Tibet since most of Tibet lies around and over the altitude of 4,000 meters. If anyone starts to show symptoms of altitude sickness, you must immediately inform your travel guide so that necessary actions can be taken. Travelers should also carry the first aid kits and other necessary medical supplies while traveling around Tibet.
It is prohibited for foreigners to travel alone. Thus, you must either travel in a group or hire a travel guide and driver when you are traveling in Tibet. They will keep you company throughout the trip and provide proper information regarding the various destinations on the trip.