The Tibetan Kingdom is undeniably on the bucket list of many adventure travellers and spiritual seekers, and in my opinion, a mystical destination to be experienced while we still can.
In today’s Tibet, we can still experience the ancient culture set in a region of lake-filled valleys and mountains, surrounded by stupas, temples, and monasteries. The Himalayan Mountains flank Tibet’s endless peaks, giving it its iconic profile. In testament to the enduring spirit and mystery of Tibet, the old and sacred Tibet can still be found in spite of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1950. Tragically, thousands of Tibetan sites were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution after the Tibet Autonomous Region of China was formed but the most important and sacred Tibetan monuments remain, and you can explore them as you travel through the country.
Is travel to Tibet ethical?
There is no easy answer to this question. Although China controls Tibet’s tourism, visiting means contributing to the preservation of Tibetan culture and experiencing the forms of spiritualism unique to Tibet that you cannot find anywhere else. The Dalai Lama encourages travel there to see the country first-hand and bring those stories home.
In spite of these imposed restrictions, this kingdom of extremes offers mystery and magic, overwhelming beauty of the world’s highest mountains, haunting images of Buddhas, deities and demons, intricate colourful Tibetan art, poignant devotion of the pilgrims and improbable ancient architectural wonders clinging to perilous hillsides. Tibet is not for the faint-hearted but it is a rewarding destination in itself, one that will surely be vividly remembered after memories of your average get-away have long faded.
Keep in mind
• Foreigners can no longer travel independently in Tibet
All travel has to be organised by a Tibetan (or Chinese) travel agency. You have to be accompanied by a tour guide for all monastery and historical site visits. You can however wander around Lhasa freely, go to restaurants, etc.
• You can only enter Tibet via Mainland China or Nepal
There are trains and direct flights from many Chinese cities and direct flights from Khatmandu, Nepal to Lhasa.
• Entry Permits are required
A Tibet Entry Permit is required to enter Tibet. This can not be applied for independently and has to be organised by a local travel agency such as China Highlights.
• Not all sites are open to foreign travellers. You can’t enter Tibet during the Tibetan New Year
The Tibetan New Year is arguably the most important date on the Tibetan calendar and falls in February or March. The country is closed to all foreign tourists during that time
• You need permission to climb Mount Everest from the Tibetan side
If you’re a climber and plan to conquer the highest mountain in the world, you have to apply for a climbing permit via a professional mountaineering company.
• Best to steer clear of discussing local politics or the Dalai Lama
In light of the tumultuous past, the history and politics of the region are understandably a very sensitive subject for both sides.