Even under Chinese occupation, Tibet is a fascinating place to visit. The Potala Palace, the great monasteries, and the sheer high of being on the Tibetan Plateau call people to Lhasa. Kathmandu is one of the easiest entry points to Tibet, with overland trips and flights readily available.
A Chinese government requirement that all visitors to Tibet be part of an "organized group" means that your program must be planned in advance through an agency. The "groups only" restriction is not as bad as it sounds, even for small parties. In practice, it means only that you must arrange your transportation in and out of the country, and make lodging arrangements, when you apply for your visa. Many packages include some guided sightseeing, which you can take or skip - it's a very small portion of the cost. Best of all, as few as four people constitute an "organized group", and we can usually match you with others on popular trips, even if you are a solo traveler.
Most people who want to trek should go to Nepal or Bhutan. While Tibet is high, it is mostly a flat plateau, with relatively uninteresting trekking. Two exceptions are worth noting: Eastern Tibet, the Kham region, is very interesting and very much off the beaten path, and the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash involves a three-day trek around the holy mountain. The trip to the North base camp of Everest and Rongbuk Monastery is mostly overland, with a short hike to the base camp and surrounding hills.
The trips to Lhasa, by air both ways and by air and overland, (below) operate every week from April until late October. They are the best bet for solo travelers as the trips almost always attract a small party. North Base Camp, Kailash, Eastern Tibet and custom programs all require a minimum of four people, per Chinese rules. Sometimes the rules can be stretched, but always at higher cost.
Main attractions in Lhasa
The Potala was the palace of the Dalai Lama. It was originally built in the 7th century by King Songtsan Gampo and rebuilt to the present size by the 5th Dalai Lama in the 17th century. Situated atop a hill, it consists of thirteen stories including some 1,000 rooms and is divided into the Red and White palaces. The red Palace, which is mainly for religious use, includes funerary stupas of the Dalai Lamas, audience halls, and various shrines. The White Palace, which is for governmental use, includes offices, treasure rooms, and the Dalai Lama's living quarters. The Potala is the comprehensive example of Tibetan architecture, wood carving, painting, sculpture, and more.
It is the most sacred and oldest temple in Tibet, built in the 7th century particularly for the enshrinement of the Sakyamuni image brought by Princess Wencheng, which is believed to have been in existence during the lifetime of the historic Buddha. Pilgrims are always seen at the main entrance prostrating and paying homage to the Sakyamuni image and asking for blessings from it. The annual Great Prayer Festival, participated by all monks of the three great monasteries, held here since 1409, is a ritual of services are performed as if this Sakyamuni image was the living Buddha himself. Philosophical debates are held by the candidates for the Master of Metaphysics degree.
Situated at the heart of the old section of the city, Barkhor Street is the liveliest and best preserved section of the old city. Pilgrims in crowds here make circumambulations around the temple, lips unceasingly murmuring prayers.
This monastery was founded by Jamyang Choje, a disciple of Tsongkapa, in 1416 and is the biggest monastery in Tibet. It is said to have once harbored ten thousand monks, though the normal population was 7,700 monks. Main relics: (1) Image of Maitreya (the Future Buddha), which is said to be so passionate and vivid that merely seeing it will release one's sufferings: (2) White Conch Shell, which is said to have been dug out from under the earth by Tsongkapa at the temple's construction site: (3) the funerary stupas of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Dalai Lamas.
Founded by Sakya Yeshe, another disciple of Tsongkapa, in 1419, it is the second biggest monastery in Tibet and housed 5,500 monks. Main relics: (1) The Horse-necked One, or Hayagriva in Sanskrit. It is a guardian deity, a wrathful emanation of Avalokitesvara, which is said to be very fierce in destroying evil and guarding good. Pilgrims line up in queues praying for protection: (2) A set of Kagyur (the translation of the main Buddhist commandments) and Thangka (scroll painting) presented to Sakya Yeshe by the Ming Emperor.
Norbulingka, or "Jeweled Garden", was the site of the Dalai Lamas' summer palace. From the mid 18th century, each successive Dalai Lama moved to the park during the summer season and carried out all their religious and political affairs from there. The site of the Norbulingka was originally chosen for its lush green scenery.
About Traveling in Tibet
"Cold and dusty" is the comment of many people who have visited Tibet. In fact, the trip to Tibet is not easy and is an adventure in the real sense of the word. Tibet was opened to tourism in 1985. Before this it avoided influence from the western world, and the country developed its unique culture and religion independently. Since it was governed by the spiritual leaders, monasteries and institutions were the backbone of power The importance and prestige of the monasteries were shown by the size and magnificent architecture of these buildings. Tibetan Buddhism contains many elements of their older religion, "Bon Po," which worshipped the sky, moon, sun, fire, soil and even evil spirits. A monastery such as Tashi Lumpu contains thousands of unique statues, paintings (thangka), religious and historical books: To visit in detail could take weeks. Monasteries are crowded by pilgrims who often travel a long distance in fulfillment of vows Their emotions show that religion still holds a very important place in their daily lives.
Overland Tour From Kathmandu to Lhasa
The Kathmandu-Lhasa highway was opened to foreigners in 1986, and now about 60 to 70% of tourists traveling from Nepal prefer the overland route. The journey by road gives an opportunity to visit the old towns and monasteries along the way. Also it provides some of the best landscapes in Tibet. There are 5 passes of over 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) high to cross in the 950 km (600 miles) from Kathmandu to Lhasa. The sheer vastness of the landscape seems to dwarf even the huge Himalayan range, giving rise to the feeling of standing on the Roof of the World.
We advise our clients to take lots of liquid and avoid exertion at altitude. Do not strain yourself. Some people also use Diamox which can be helpful if irregular breathing is encountered while trying to sleep. Sleeping pills must be avoided. You will be on the high passes only for a brief period; enroute sleeping elevations vary between 3,650 and 4,300 metres so those people who suffer from heart ailments, or other medical problems which could be adversely affected by exposure to high altitude conditions in Tibet must consult their physician before attempting this journey.
Breakfast is included in the tour price. For lunch, bread, biscuits, cheese, sardines, dried fruit etc should be taken from Kathmandu to last 4 to 5 days. Dinner can be ordered once at the hotel or eaten at small restaurants. Due to the high altitude and dry climate, you may feel more thirsty than normal, therefore, a litre size water bottle, mineral water (1 or 2 bottles) and perhaps cans of juices will be useful during the day. The hotels usually stock beer and some soft drinks and provide boiled water which can be mixed with powdered drink sachets. The Lhasa Holiday Inn has a coffee shop and restaurant where a variety of meals can be ordered.
At the time of booking these details must be submitted - passport number, full name as in passport, date of birth, nationality, occupation and sex of the client.
* The Embassy of the Peoples Republic of China to Nepal is open from 10 to 11 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday. So passports MUST be given to us 4 days before departure for visa processing.
* The itinerary can change without notice due to circumstances beyond our control - e.g. political unrest, epidemics, natural disasters, road damage, vehicle breakdown, cancellation of flights, changes to the itinerary by Chinese authorities.
* Clients are responsible for complying with all formalities required by Nepalese and Chinese law and authorities en-route. Any client carrying unlawful drugs, political propaganda pamphlets or firearms will immediately be excluded from the tour and responsible for their repatriation and costs.
* No liability will be attached to the tour organizers or to any other members of the tour in respect of death, personal injury, illness or delay, loss or damage of property during the course of the tour howsoever caused.
Exchange of Money
FEC (Foreign Exchange Certificates) are the tourist currency in which all expenses in Tibet must be paid. It is very difficult to change money back however.
China time is 2 hours 15 minutes ahead of Nepal time in winter and 3 hours 15 minutes in summer - since the whole country is run to the Beijing time zone.
Tibet is not a particularly good place for shopping. Most of the things which hawkers sell in Lhasa are made in Nepal including thangkas & prayer wheels. Sometimes it is possible to buy real Tibetan carpets in places like Xigatse, Gyangtse and Lhasa.
Film is best bought in Kathmandu although print film is available in Tibet. Photography is allowed in most places except security areas. The monasteries usually charge for photographs, often quite a lot. Rates will be given by the guide. Video cameras are allowed in China. All valuables must be declared at customs including cameras and video cameras. Do not lose the customs declaration form which is needed at the time of leaving China.
The road between Kodari (Nepal border) and Zhangmu is often washed away by landslides in the monsoon. So if conditions are bad, there is a 3 hour walk from the Friendship bridge to Zhangmu. We provide porters to carry your belongings. With the opening of new road from Xigatse to Chusul along the Brahmaputra River, there are 3 motor able roads between Xigatse and Lhasa. The most interesting and scenic is the southern road via Gyangtse. The roads are often very rough.
We take care of your visa in Kathmandu. Your passport should be valid for more than 6 months. A group visa and travel permit are normally issued. For those people who will be leaving the group in Lhasa for whatever reason, we will have to also obtain a separate visa for which there will be an additional charge of US $10.