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Discovering Tibet

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Mysterious, spiritual and perched 4,900 metres (16,000 ft) above sea level, Tibet has been nicknamed “The Roof of the World” and attracts adventurers from all around the globe. Whether you are lured by the exploits of Tintin in Tibet or eager to test the legend of the Abominable Snowman first hand, here’s what you need to know about this enchanting oasis in Northern Himalayas.

Tibet is the highest region on Earth and home to the world’s tallest mountain — Mount Everest, rising 8,848 m (29,029 ft) above sea level. Tibet’s capital is the city of Lhasa, sitting atop Red Mountain and home to Potala Palace, once the winter home of Dalai Lama. Tibet has a population of 3,1 million people, including Tibetans and several ethnic groups.

Economy

The Tibetan economy is mainly based on agriculture, that is wheat, cereals, vegetables and fruit cultivation, as well as yak, camel, horse, sheep and cattle breeding. Construction and food production also contribute to the region's economy, among other industries. Tibet also has many natural resources such as lead, zinc, dry coal, copper, oil and gold, as well as countless water resources. Moreover, forests are exploited for timber production and export.

Tourism

Tourism is one of the pillar industries in the region, accounting for over 20% of Tibet’s GDP with more than 330,000 people (11% of the population) employed in the tourism sector. The region was first opened to foreign visitors in 1984 and is reported to have welcomed a staggering 6.8 million visits (visits constituting the visit itself rather than the number of individual traverllers) to its various cities in the first half of 2016 alone. Foreigners visit Tibet mainly for its environment, landscapes, as well as the Tibetan culture and architecture.

Climate and the best time to visit

As with most highland regions, the climate of Tibet varies from area to area and even within a single day temperatures have been known to fluctuate a lot. Southeastern Tibet boasts a temperate climate with the average temperature of 8°C (46°F) while the west is colder at the average of 0°C (32°F). Lhasa and Central Tibet are considered as the most travel-friendly in terms of weather conditions.

The best time to visit Tibet varies depending on the purpose of your travel. April through October offer the best weather conditions with most areas easily accessible, including Mount Everest and Lake Namtso. For those wishing to witness some of Tibet’s popular festivals like Tibetan New Year or Shoton Festival, it would be necessary to consult the Tibetan lunar calendar for updated festival schedules. Winter is the low-cost season with cheaper accommodation, flights and tours. You will also get a chance to bear witness to an incredible sight: Tibetan pilgrims pouring into Lhasa, namely the Jokhang Temple.

Travelling to Tibet: Travel permit

In addition to a valid passport and Chinese visa, non-Chinese nationals require a permit to go to Tibet. The permit is issued only for group tours with a Chinese guide — you cannot explore the region on your own. Journalists, diplomats, media photographers and government officials are not allowed to enter the region. Acquiring the permit may take from 7 to 20 days and can be done through any Tibetan travel agency where you will be required to book a tour first. Tibet travel permit only grants visitors access to Lhasa city, and another permit (Aliens’ Travel Permit) is required for travel to further areas like Shigatse and Nyingchi.

Main attractions

Potala Palace is known as the symbol of Tibet; this majestic white building is home to numerous historical artefacts and religious jewellery. The attraction is included in almost all tour itineraries.

Barkhor Street is part of the pilgrimage circuit and houses an abundance of street stalls selling souvenirs from the region and the neighbouring Nepal.

Monasteries and temples: Jokhang Temple is considered the most sacred among Tibetans and the focal point of winter pilgrimage. Sera Monastery is a popular destination offering a unique inside look into the traditional monks’ debate taking place in the courtyard. Samye Monastery is the birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism and the region’s very first monastery. Surrounded by cliffs and sand dunes, it’s also a popular destination for breathtaking views.

Lake Yamdrok is known for its striking natural scenery and deep turquoise waters surrounded by traditional farming villages.

Traditions and taboos

Tibet’s unique culture and traditions dictate a certain way of conduct that visitors are encouraged to follow.

You are advised not to take photos of people without permission and photography in most monasteries is also forbidden unless you pay a fee.

Some of the other don'ts include: not stepping on the threshold when entering a home or monastery, not touching a person’s head (the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body) and not shooing away or hurting eagles (Tibet’s holy birds).

When addressing the locals, adding the particle “la” at the end of their name is a sign of respect.

And don’t be surprised when Tibetans stick their tongue out at you — it’s a traditional form of greeting.

As more and more tourists visit the region, the local people are getting more accustomed to foreign habits. However, it’s still recommended to keep in line with the local way of life and be polite and respectful to Tibetan customs.

 Useful links:

China Tibet Information Centre
Tibet travel service and information

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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expat.com Your favourite team
Member since 01 June 2008
Small earth, Mauritius
2 Comments
halocutout
halocutout
2 years ago

My Friend went there this year and he strongly recommend me to pay a visit. sky and water is so clear there and look like heaven. i will def go there for my next holiday trip.

Reply
markrevick
markrevick
3 years ago

very interesting. i wish to travel tibet right i can!

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