Tibet – what this?
What do people usually think of when they hear “Tibet”?
Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, and yaks…lots of yaks.
In that land bordering Nepal and China, where yaks provide food, milk, smelly butter and smelly fur, tourists often go on pilgrimage to visit more than 1,000 years of history and hope for that thing Buddhist practitioners hope for… enlightenment.
The name “Lhasa,” literally translates to mean “Holy Land.” The heart and soul of ancient Tibet, Lhasa has been witness to 1,300 years of history and a stream of highly blessed men, the Dalai Lamas.
The fifth Dalai Lama made Lhasa his capital and built the Potala Palace over the palace ruins of former Tibet leader, Songsten Gampo. Tibet’s capital since 1642, most of the city’s historical sights may be dated from the second stage of the city’s development.
Located in the Yarlung valley, Tsedang’s claim to fame is the reputation of being Tibet’s “Cradle of Civilization.” Local belief is that the mild weather and fertile valleys of the Yarlung valley gave breath to the great Tibetan dynasty. Legend also has it that Tibet had its beginnings with ancestors born of a monkey and a demoness. Hence, Tsedang actually means “Monkey’s Playground”
A visit to these two cities will not only be a visit to Tibet’s historical origins. It is also a sneak peek at the marvelous landscape of the area beginning with the Yarlung Tsangpo Valley.
Visitors to Tibet are often surprised by the Tibetans constantly walking around and murmuring the mantra “Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum” (Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus.) Religion and the next life are the common ideology here with people concentrating on what happens in the hereafter than in the present. Many try to accumulate “points” with deeds of virtue and prayers for their final reward, supreme enlightenment.
Tibetan Food generally consists of just rice and fish. Expect to eat roasted barley flour, meat or red food and milk or white food. More adventurous travelers could try out the food at the Hard Yak Café where everything is “by yak, and is yak.” As to if it also tastes as “yak” as it sounds, that’s up to you to find out.
By air, there are several routes available: Beijing-Lhasa, Shanghai-Lhasa, Chengdu-Lhasa, Xi’an-Lhasa, Xining-Lhasa, Guangzhou-Lhasa, Chongqing-Lhasa, Kathmandu-Lhasa. By land, the possible routes are: Qinghai-Lhasa, Sichuan-Lhasa, Yunnan-Lhasa and Kathmandu-Lhasa. However, land transportation takes much longer time, and can be very tough, especially the Sichuan-Lhasa route.
Independent tours are not allowed. Sign up with an organized tour group or ask your travel agent to sign you up for one.
Tibet’s climate really isn’t as harsh as most people think. The best time to go there would be from April to October. If you don’t mind the cold, by all means, sign up for a winter tour.
An Alien Travel Permit issued by the Tibetan Tourism Bureau and a Chinese visa which you can get from your local Chinese embassy are two necessary documents you will need in traveling to Tibet.
For cash, US dollars are acceptable in limited circumstances like tip giving for example. It is still best to carry Chinese currency. The Lhasa Hotel or the Bank of China in Tibet can change US currency to Chinese currency. The ATMs at the Bank of China experiences bugs every now and then so always have a fair amount stashed during your stay.
Tibet is rather high in elevation so medicines for ailments associated with such should best be brought along for the trip: cold and flu tablets, throat lozenges, nasal decongestant, Aspirin, Multivitamins. Those with asthma and breathing problems should definitely take along their puffers/medication with them. Moisturizers and good lip balm would also be helpful in the cold, dry weather.
The Tibetans are generally kind and hospitable.
Here are a few tips as to not offend them and cause incident:
- Do not take their photographs without their permission.
- Stay away from sensitive topics like religion and politics.
- Do not eat dogs, donkeys or horses in Tibet!
- Don’t forget to add “la” after saying Hello to Tibetan people to show respect. Make way for others, and try not to make any sound when eating or drinking.
- Some rituals, like the Sky Burial, are sacred and limited to Tibetans only. Visitors should respect this and keep away from such occasions.