Visit Tibet – An Introduction
Want to visit Tibet? Find out all you need to know about this mysterious and enchanting land.
Known as “The Roof of the World”, the Tibetan Plateau is the highest place on earth with an average elevation of 5,000 metres (16,400 feet). It is a magical and ancient land dotted with magnificent lakes, wide pastures and many of the highest mountains in the world.
Tibet is a nature-lovers dream and on any trip it’s impossible to miss a host of wildlife from yaks grazing on hillsides to eagles soaring overhead.
The Tibetan people are warm, friendly and proud of their long traditions. It’s easy to see their connection to the land through their Buddhist beliefs. Marvel at the impressive temples and monasteries clinging to cliff-sides across the land.
Top Places to Visit in Tibet
VISAs and Permits for a Visit to Tibet
The first thing you need for any visit to Tibet is a Chinese Visa. You will need to apply in person at your nearest Chinese embassy as they will need to take your bio-metric data (fingerprints etc). You can download the form online, fill it out and take it to the embassy. Processing time takes around two weeks but you can pay extra for an express service if you wish.
It’s not possible to visit Tibet independently as it is a sensitive political region. You will need to join a tour group who will provide you with a Tibet Travel Permit. The process is straightforward and you will just need to provide the tour company with your passport and VISA details and they will arrange everything.
If you will be flying direct to Lhasa you will need to show the original permit, however if you will take a train from mainland China (the best way to arrive, see below) a photocopy will suffice.
If you will be visiting Everest Base Camp you will need an additional permit for the this border area with Nepal. Again, the tour company will take care of everything. I used Experience Tibet who I would highly recommend due to their low prices but high-quality tours.
Tours start from $450 for four days in Lhasa. I took the 8 day tour which included Everest Base Camp and the cost was $850. The guides were knowledgeable, friendly and professional and I will definitely use them again if/when I return to Tibet!
How to Visit Tibet
There are three ways to reach Tibet. The first is to fly direct to Lhasa, however this isn’t advisable as it means you will not acclimatize properly and may result in altitude sickness (Lhasa is at 3,650 metres/11,975 feet).
If you do wish to fly Trip.com offers some of the best deals on flight to and within China.
By Car from Nepal
It is possible to take a tour from Kathmandu to Lhasa and cross by road now that the Friendship Highway has reopened after extensive damage in the 2015 earthquake.
One of the best ways to reach Lhasa and Tibet is by train on the legendary Qinghai Express, the highest train journey in the world. You can find out how to do this with timetables and fares in my article; Xining to Lhasa by Train
Altitude Sickness in Tibet
Given the elevation of the Tibetan Plateau, there is a very real risk of Altitude sickness for anyone visiting. It is essential not to rush and to acclimatize properly. The best way to to this is to arrive in Lhasa by train so your body can get used to the altitude more slowly.
When booking a tour be aware that some rushed itineraries do not allow for proper acclimatization. If you will be visiting Everest Base Camp it is essential to spend at least two or three days in Lhasa first so your body can acclimatize.
Medication like Diamox can help, but you will not be able to buy this once in China/Tibet. I found that taking an aspirin in the morning and before bed helped (this is not medical advice, just what worked for me, do your own research before you go)!
Top Places to Visit in Tibet
Lhasa is the capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China. With a population of less than 300,00 it is a small city, but no less stunning for it. Lhasa is home to some of the most famous temples and monasteries in the world such as the Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple (See below).
One of the most iconic places in all of Tibet, the Potala Palace dominates Lhasa and is the highest point in the city. The temple was first constructed in the 7th Century and has been added to since. A visit to Potala is included in most, if not all tour itineraries and definitely should not be missed!
One of the three holiest temples in Tibet, Jokhang Temple is situated in the city centre and each day you can witness local people praying outside. Jokhang was built in the 7th century using a variation of styles including Tibetan, Tang Chinese, Nepalese and Indian.
Drepung Monastery is a beautiful collection of buildings hugging the mountain-side on the outskirts of Lhasa. It is one of the three holy sites in Tibet and is well worth a few hours wandering through the small alleyways. You can eat traditional Tibetan fare and sip on yak’s milk tea in the canteen alongside the monks.
One of the highlights of Sera Monastery in Lhasa is the daily display of novice monks honing their knowledge of Buddhist scripture. These lively debates set in a shady courtyard are a must see on any visit to Tibet!
The small town of Gyantse in southern Tibet is the famous site of a British incursion into Tibet from India where they subsequently set up a garrison. The impressive garrison sits atop a large escarpment overlooking the town. Pelkor Monastery with its unique stupa (Buddhist burial monument) is a must-see!
Another monastery built into a hillside, Pelkor (or Palcho) Monastery is a wonderful example of Tibetan architecture. Most of the structures date from around 1400AD.
Shigatse (Xigatse) is the second largest city in Tibet and a useful half-way point for those travelling from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp. The city lies at an altitude of 3,845 metres (12,600 feet) which is similar to Lhasa and a useful stop for acclimatization. Tourist sites include the Tashilhunpo Monastery, Xigatse fortress ruins and colourful markets.
Just off the main Lhasa to Gyantse road it is possible to get up close and personal with the magnificent Karola Glacier. The glacier stretches for about 5km down a mountainside and there is a viewing platform and car park from where to witness this majesty.
One of the most beautiful lakes in Tibet, if not the world, Namtso is a mountain lake 112km north of Lhasa. It sits at a staggering 4,700 metres (15,400 feet) and is famed for it’s vibrant blue waters.
Yamdrok is one of the holiest lakes in Tibet and easily reached on the Lhasa to Gyantse road. There is a viewing platform on the Kangbala Pass (5,050 metres) with panoramic views as the lake stretches from horizon to horizon. The snow-capped peak of Mount Nojin Kangstang rises majestically in the distance. There are plenty of places to stop at the lakeside on the other side of the pass.
The high-point of any trip to Tibet (did you see what I did there?), Qomologma; Mother Goddess of the Earth, or as we know it, Mount Everest is truly a site to behold. One can’t help but be awed in it’s presence and I would highly recommend including it on any tour of Tibet.
Still not convinced? Have a look at these stunning 55 pictures of Tibet and you’ll be booking that trip in no time!