Travel advice & practical information for travelogue:
Consulate General of People's Republic of China in New York
520 12th Avenue
New York, NY 10036-1003
Tel.: 212-244 9456
49-51 Portland Place
London W1B 1JL
Web Site: Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the UK
11, Avenue George V
Tel: +33-1-49521950 Fax: +33-1-47205946, 47202422, 53758914
Web site: Ambassade de la Republique Populaire de Chine en Republique Francaise
You need a visa for China and a permit for Tibet. Your passport should be valid until six months after leaving China again.
Tibet is a province of China. It was occupied by the Chinese in 1950. Tibet is in the south-west of China. For a long time, people from Western countries were not allowed to visit there. Since the early 1980s Westerners can travel there, usually accompanied by a guide. You need a permit, though. It's not possible to rent a car, though, because Westerners are not allowed to drive in Tibet. This means you always have to hire a driver. Official tourist organizations have to be involved.
The population is 3.4 million. Tibetans are a hospitable and friendly people. They often live in extreme circumstances, especially in villages at great altitudes. In most monasteries it's easy to get in contact with the monks, especially the ones who speak some English.
In the mountains live lots of nomads. They trek with their yak herds and sheep from the winter to the summer pastures. Yaks are well adapted to high altitudes and have a thick fur. It produces milk, of which butter and yoghurt are made. Hides are used for tents and the turds are dried and used as fuel.
There aren't only Buddhists in Tibet, but also many Muslims, recognizable by their covered heads. The men wear fezes, the women headscarves. Tibetans are very religious and make the pilgrimages around the monasteries hundreds of times. During these, they turn their prayer wheels or go through a movement from standing to kneeling to lying.
Climate and nature
Tibet lies at an altitude of 3,000-5,000 meters. It consists mainly of mountains and high plains. The landscape is impressive. The air is still very pure. The views are overwhelming.
Because of its altitude Tibet has a dry mountain climate. There is relatively little rain, usually in the summer. Because of the great altitude there is a huge difference in summer and winter temperatures, as well as between day and night temperatures. During the summer (June-August) the average daytime temperature is 20 degrees Centigrade in the sun. In the shade it's notably cooler. At night, the average temperature in the summer is 0-8 degrees Centigrade.
Visiting in the winter is not recommendable, because you run the risk that mountain passes are closed. Because of the bad weather in winter, there are often landsledes. Roads can be completely washed away. With a landcruiser it's often possible to take an alternative route, but buses can get through.
Good mountain shoes are necessary to take wonderful moutain hikes. The many pilgrim routes often also cross mountainous areas. It's a good idea to also bring good sunglasses. And don't forget to bring sun screen and a hat or sun visor, because the sun is brutal at these altitudes. A windbreaker and warm sweater should also be packed. In the daytime, though, it can be hot. Pants with legs that can be zipped off are handy.
If you plan to hike in Nepal after your visit to Tibet, you can find several outdoor sports stores in Lhasa, where clothes and sleeping bags can be bought for little money. But these things can be bought in Nepal as well.
Travelers checks can be used only in Lhasa and Shigatze. In China are ATMs in airports, so that's probably a good idea.
Tibet is extremely cheap. Especially during our jeep trek, it was hardly possible to spend money. Leftover cash can be exchanged for Nepalese rupis at the border. If you want to change money in a bank, keep the original receipt.
Tibetans are skilled at negotiating. Offer a quarter to a third of what they're asking and you're usually right. Even if they will act as if you're robbing them. Paying more than half of what they ask is ridiculous.
Health and altitude sickness
Altitude sickness is a risk in Tibet. At 3,000 meters there is already a third less oxygen in the air. Altitude sickness occurs when you ascend fester than your body is able to adapt. It's best to travel over land from China to Tibet, instead of taking a plane directly to Lhasa. It gives your body time to adapt. It's important to drink lots of water, preferably 5 liters a day.
The symptoms of altitude sickness are headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, insomnia and decreased performance. In the best case, the symptons stop after a few days. When they don't or get worse, there is only one thing to do: descend to a lower altitude. Avoid strain as much as possible and keep the victim warm. It's unpredictable whether someone will get sick or not. Being in good physical shape is no guarantee. It's important to take it easy during the first couple of days and drink a lot.
For up to date information about health risks, go to the site of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention: China. Always consult your family doctor as well.
Safety and Security
Traveling in some countries or regions can bring risks with it. That shouldn't always be a reason not to go there, but part of a thorough preparation is to find out about possible risks.
A good place to find information is the web site of the CIA World Factbook China. Always seek advice from your own country's foreign department as well.
Plan your trip to Tibet online
Through online reservation systems like À la Carte Vacations you can book airline tickets, hotels, rental cars and holiday houses. You can build a fly-drive itinerary with maximum flexibility, book a flight plus a hotel hotel for a night or weekend. Without the limitations of package deals from travel organisations and most times for a much better price.