The isolated Tibet is a world of its own. The unique Tibetan culture, the ancient palaces and monasteries, the Buddhist religious festivals, the high snow-capped mountains, the virgin forests, the clean rivers and lakes as well as the hospitable and modest locals make this remote region in China some of the most intriguing in the world!
Remote autonomous region of Tibet, often called the Roof of the world, is located at the world’s largest and highest plateau, where the average altitude is 4,000 meters above the sea level. Tibet covers almost 13 % of the land area of China, but has just a fraction of its people. The high plateau of Tibet is surrounded by high mountain ranges. The Himalayan mountains in southern Tibet, bordering India, Nepal and Bhutan, have the highest peaks in the world. Tibet remained relatively unknown to the world until the beginning of the 1900s. Since then, it has been a popular destination for adventurous travelers, mainly because of its magnificent scenery, old history and exotic culture, alluring more visitors to Tibet every year.
Sights and activities in Tibet: mountains, historical monuments, trekking and culture
Tibet has unique Buddhist monasteries, artworks and monuments. The largest towns in Tibet, Lhasa and Xigatse, have most of the religious monuments, including the renowned Potala Palace, Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas and Jonkhang Temple in Lhasa and the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Xigatse. There are also sacred mountains and holy lakes, such as Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash in Ngari plateau in Western Tibet that are pilgrimage destinations for both Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists, as well as popular places for trekking in Tibet. Ngari plateau is also good for viewing local wildlife such as the wild yak, the Tibetan antelope and many other rare animals.
Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, has still some traditional architecture left, and the Potala Palace is now a World Heritage Site. Barkhor Street in Lhasa is a good place for shopping handicrafts from all over Tibet. Local festivals are also very attractive for tourism.
Rural destinations. There are five mountains in Tibet that are higher than 8000 meters. Especially southwestern areas have become popular for mountaineering in Tibet. More than 40 peaks in Tibet are open to climbers who come here to challenge themselves. Southern Tibet is also excellent area for trekking as it has old forests, rivers and a bit milder climate than elsewhere in Tibet. One of the most popular trekking destinations is Yarling River National Park that includes the world’s largest canyon.
Tours vs. permits. Tibet is not an easy place for independent traveler because of the amount of permits required to move from place to place. Therefore it is well worth while to arrange your visit through a local travel operator. There are popular jeep tours in Tibet that visit many regions and favorite sights of the region.
Tibet travel tips and practical information
The highest mountain on earth, Mount Everest lies on the border of Tibet and Nepal. Tibet is also bordered by the Karakoram Mountains in the West and Kunlun Mountains in the North, making it a perfect place for mountain climbing in Tibet. The beautiful scenery of Tibet is dotted also with magnificent rivers, valleys and over 1500 lakes. Tibet has a continental mountain climate with cold winters and warm summers. In short term local weather conditions are quite unpredictable.
How to get there. Travel to Tibet is not easy but is definitely worth the bureaucracy. There is now a railway connection and regular flights to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet from other parts of China. However, altitude sickness is a hazard to those who arrive to Tibet by air from lower regions.
Hotels in Tibet are concentrated in Lhasa, and many new restaurants in Tibet are also springing up in Lhasa, but in the more remote regions, the tourism infrastructure is yet undeveloped. The public transport in Tibet is handled by buses, although foreigners will need travel permits when using them. Renting a car is now possible elsewhere in China, but usually cannot be done in Tibet.
Safety & restrictions. Tibet has relatively low crime rates, but political problems are evident in the area. Violent protests have occurred in Tibet in 2008, but the violence has not been targeted at foreigners. More common dangers in the region are harsh weather conditions that you should be well prepared for especially when doing outdoor activities, and the often vicious local dogs. Tibetan people are friendly and hospitable but only few of them speak English. Be careful of not talking about political conflicts while in Tibet, as you might get yourself or the person you are talking with into trouble.
Short history of Tibet
The first royal dynasty in Tibet was started in the 7th century. During its early times, Tibet and China had several wars for the control of the Silk Road. In the 17th century, the Dalai Lama invited Mongols in Tibet to stop the continuous inner conflicts, but the country still retained its independence. The same was repeated in the early 18th century, but this time the emperor of China ordered an invasion to Tibet that expelled the Mongols. The British invaded Tibet in 1904 and China ceded some of the historically Tibetan areas to itself. Tibet regained control of its territory in 1911, although the British maintained certain amount of authority.
Now part of China. In 1950 the newly formed People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet and the former Tibetan government was forced into exile. A lot of cultural heritage of Tibet was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of China in the 1960s and the 1970s. Since then, the political situation in Tibet has calmed down but is still tense. Violent riots broke out in Tibet in March 2008, and China stopped issuing travel permits to the region for some months.
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