‘Go to Tibet and see many places, as much as you can; then tell the world’ – His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Tibet: the roof of the world, the land of snows; the mysterious Buddhists Kingdom for centuries; locked away in its mountains fastness of the Himalaya, has exercised a unique hold on the imagination of the outer people. For explorers, traders and imperialists it was a forbidden land of treasure and riches. Dreamers on a spiritual quest have long whispered of a lost Shangri-la, steeped in a magic and mystery.
The myths and propaganda that have grown up around Tibet can be so enticing, so pervasive and so entrenched that it’s hard to see the place through balanced eyes. The reality is that Tibet is no fragile Shangri-la but a resilient land underpinned by a unique culture and faith. But you are never far from the reality of politics in Tibet. For anyone, who travels with their eyes open, a visit to Tibet will be memorable and fascinating, but also a sobering experience. It’s a place that likely to change the way you see the world and that will remain with you for years to come. And that’s surely the definition of the very best kind of travel.
There are Four Major things you will need to know about getting into Tibet
1. Permit: You will need a Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) permit to be able to enter Tibet by plane, train or bus by land. For this you will need to go through a travel agent and HimalayanWindows is always at your service to make your plan successful at a very reasonable budget.
2. Traveling from Mainland China: Traveling Tibet via Mainland China, you will need issue Chinese Tourist Visa earlier to process the permit; while sending your passport copy to the agent, you must send your China visa copy.
3. Traveling from Kathmandu: Travel Tibet via Kathmandu, Nepal, Embassy of China in Kathmandu does not issue individual visa to any travelers going to Tibet. The Embassy issues Group Paper Visa only after receiving Invitation or Confirmation Letter from Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB). If you turned up with a Chinese visa already in your passport, it will be cancelled (Prefer traveling from Mainland China if you do not want to cancel your China visa in your passport). A group visa is separate sheet of paper with all the names and passport numbers of the group members. It is important to get your own individual group visa (a ‘group’ can as small as one person), as otherwise come the end of your tour in Lhasa, you will either have to exit China with your companion or split from the group visa with additional cost and hassle. Inform the travel agent about your plan after Lhasa while making a booking plan and allow at least 2-3 working days in Kathmandu for group visa procedure.
4. Gateways: You can enter Tibet either from Mainland China or Kathmandu by flight or land/road. Many visitors to Tibet will transit through Either Beijing/Chengdu or Kathmandu. Traveling from Mainland China, you can either take flight or train to Lhasa. Make sure that you are with your original permits before boarding on to Lhasa. The original permit is couriered by your travel agent at your address in China (Not at your home); it is important to send your exact address in China including phone number and room number of the hotel you stay.
Traveling in Tibet is not as difficult as you would think- at least once you have worked your way around the latest Tibet permit update and have acclimatized to the altitude. It is important to book a trip with a travel agent and the tour needs to be properly organized.
When to Go
Spring, early summer and late autumn are probably the best times to visit Tibet. March is politically sensitive month and every year in March, Tibet is remaining closed for years. April to May brings reliable weather in eastern Tibet including Mount Everest. From July through the end of September the monsoon starts to affect some parts of Tibet. Traveling western Tibet becomes slightly more difficult, the roads to the east are temporarily washed out and friendship highway (also called; Araniko highway) sometimes becomes impassable on the Nepal side or on the Kodari border itself. In 2017, organizing press meet by the Chinese authority, another border crossing (Kerung/Kyirong) has opened to the international travelers and can be used to enter Tibet. However, the road condition at Nepal side still yet to be improved.
Mount Kailash Mansarovar tour can be undertaken from April to October, although August, September and October are considered the best months. October is also best time to make a trip out to the east. Lhasa and its surroundings don’t get really cold until the end of November.
However, it’s worth trying to make your trip with one of the Tibet’s festivals. New Year (Losar) in January and February is an excellent time to be in Lhasa, Saga Dawa Festival (Full Moon) in April/May or Shoton Festival in August. Check Festivals in Tibet for more details to make your trip more fun.
The major aim of travelers is Lhasa itself, the spiritual heart of Tibet, resident of the Dalai Lamas and excellent range of monasteries and temples. People reach Lhasa by train or flight from Mainland China (Beijing, Chengdu) and by flight from Kathmandu. There is enough to see in and around Lhasa to occupy at least a week. Highlights include the Potala Palace (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Jokhang Temple, the Barkhor Pilgirmage circuit. The huge monastic institution of Drepung and Sera lie on the edge of town, and Ganden Monastery is a fantastic day trip away (50KM); you will need at least 4 to 5 days to explore these highlights.
There are plenty of excursions to be made from Lhasa. Day trips to stunning Namtso Lake (4719m); which offers glimpse of the nomad life of the north and gives a good look of Tibet in a short time. You can also add a day or two to visit Reting Monastery which avoid backtracking. If you add another couple of days, you can visit atmospheric Drigung Til Monastery and Tidrum Nunnery, both east of Lhasa.
The friendship highway between Lhasa to Kathmandu is one of the popular travel routes in Tibet. This route offers number of excellent detours, combine it with the train route into Tibet for an epic overland tour.
You can head straight from Lhasa to the coiling scorpion –lake of Yamdrok-Tso and take in the views from Samding Monastery before heading over the glacier-draped Karo-La pass to Gyantse. Gyantse town is well worth full day the Khumbum (literally 100,000 images) Chorten is a must see , Phalkhor, and there are several adventurous adventures in the nearby areas. A 90 KM drive from Gyantse to Shigatse with its impressive Tashilhunpo Monastery and Shalu Monastery is a worthwhile half –day trip from Shigatse, especially if you have an interest in Tibetan art.
The most popular excursion from the road is Rongbuk Monastery and Everest Base Camp. After stating a night at Tingri town you head to Kodari border crossing (Temporarily closed after 2015 Nepal Earthquake) or Kerung/Kyirong border crossing and drive further to Kathmandu via Rasuwagadi highway (150KM). You can allow at least 8 day traveling from Lhasa to Kathmandu or doing it vice versa from Kathmandu to Lhasa.
Mount Kailash sits out in remote western Tibet, most foreigners get Kailash as a pilgrim as it is considered the remotest and most sacred pilgrimage sites of Asia. Most of the pilgrims do Kora (Pilgrimage circuit) around Mount Kailas for 3 days from Darchen to Darchen. You should allow a day to relax at Lake Manasarovar or at Chiu Gompa. If you just want to visit Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, the most direct route is the southern road (870KM), a four day drive from Lhasa along the northern spine of the Himalayas. An ambitious but rewarding alternative is to travel out from the longer (1700KM) northern route to Ali and back along the southern route, a loop that will take almost three weeks. This route lets you visit Tagyel-tso, Pangong-tso, Rutok Monastery, Zanda and Tholing Monastery, Guge Kingdom ruins at Tsaparang. From Tholing, it’s a day drive to Mount Kailash, most of the group overnight at Tirthapuri en route, though.