A land of natural and man-made wonders, Tibet is one of the best offbeat destinations to visit. From the monasteries in Lhasa to natural scenic landscapes of Mount Everest and Kailash, the place offers a blend of nature and spirituality. Tibet takes you across some of the most rugged terrains in the world whereas on the other hand, it takes you to some of the most famous Buddhist pilgrimage destinations, the major one being the Potala Palace. If you plan a trip to Tibet, let this travel guide be your mentor as it will take you across top places to visit, best historical sites, and several Himalayan hideouts.
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Under the administrative control of China, Tibet is open to the public. However, there are certain rules and restriction you should be aware of before visiting Tibet.
Visa for Tibet is issued by China and you would need to get it issued from either the Chinese Embassy in Nepal or in China itself. It would take 7-8 days to get your visa processed. Visa requirements for international travellers include a letter of invitation from your tour operator. Also for Indian visiting Tibet, you would have to specify if the purpose of your travel is pilgrimage (Mt Kailash) or tourist sightseeing tour.
Tibet can be reached through all major means of transportations including air, rail and road. The only international airport in Tibet is in Lhasa. Flights to Tibet can be boarded from Kathmandu, Beijing, Xining and other Chinese cities.
You can also board a train for Tibet from one of the seven gateways in China, including Guangzhou, Chongqing, Lanzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, and Xining. Train ride to Tibet is believed to be the best way to reach Tibet, taking you across the scenic Tibetan plateau.
You can also travel to Tibet overland from Kathmandu. You will be greeted by your tour operator at the immigration point while entering the border.
Tibet can be visited at any time of the year. The moderate weather allows for comfortable excursion all throughout the year. However, during the festival of Losar in late February or early March is the only time Tibet is closed for foreign tourists. Each season in Tibet has got its own charm.
This unique castle has the privilege of being the oldest surviving royal residence in the world. Nestled at an altitude of 3,750 metres and rising 100 metres above the city of Lhasa, Potala Palace has been an icon of Tibet since its construction. Built in 637, the palace was home to King Songtsen Gampo. The palace was reconstructed in the 16th century by 5th Great Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Potala Palace is a must visit destination in Tibet. Exhibiting the history and heritage of Tibet, this must see place has been a symbol of Tibet’s individuality. Visit the Red Palace and White Palace, and The Golden Roof.
Another one of the four monasteries belonging to Gelugpa Sect of Buddhism, Sera Monastery is a popular tourism attraction in Tibet. Part of every Tibet sightseeing tour, the monastery is nestled in the suburb of Lhasa city. The monastery was named Sera, which implies wild rose in the Tibetan language, signifying the presence of wild roses at the slopes on the back side of the monastery. It is one of the most important spiritual places in the country.
Also known as ‘Place of Buddha’, Jokhang Temple is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tibet in the city of Lhasa. The temple is a principal seat of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Believed to be built around 647 AD, it is one of the most sacred sites in the country. The legends say that the site for the temple was picked by the wife of famous King Songtsen Gampo. It is also said that the queen saw the site and the lake which resembled “a friend’s heart” and she wanted the temple to be built here. The lake is said to spread positive energy, fighting all the evils around the region.
Just 2 km from the Potala Palace lies the hidden tourism attraction of Norbulingka. A part of the expansion plan of Potala Palace, the place is recognised by UNESCO as a site of prime cultural importance. Signifying as the “treasure garden” in the local dialect, the construction of it started in the 18th century and today’s structure is a result of continuous expansion. The three sections of Norbulingka – the patio before royal residence, the main castle and woodland are all in sync with the Tibetan culture and heritage.
One of the top tourist destinations in Tibet, Sakya Monastery is famous for its collections of Tibetan wall paintings, Buddhist parchments, droning ministers and books. The monastery is a sanctuary to the Sakyapa order of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery is home to more than 40,000 consecrated parchments. This collection also includes the extremely valuable Burde Gyaimalung. Witness the Tibetan heritage and history exhibited in the monastery.
One of the best places to visit in Tibet, Tashilhunpo Monastery is one of the oldest surviving structures. It is one of the six large monasteries of Gelugpa Sect and the other name for the monastery is “Heap of Glory”. Nestled at the feet of Tara’s mountains, the monastery is a sacred place for Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery was established by first Dalai Lama in 1447, it is one of the most prominent spiritual retreats in Tibet. Guests who visit the monastery get a chance to explore the rooftops and white dividers.
Nestled in the Shannon region of Tibet, this must-see Buddhist monastery is referred to as the sanctuary to the Tibetan identity. Resonating the three integral principles of Buddhism – Buddha, Sangha and Sharma, this monastery has grown to become one of the most popular attractions for tourism in Tibet. Built on the direction of Padmasambhava, the structure was built by Trisong Detsen, during his rule of 742-798.
The monastery is also home to “Seven enlighten disciples of Samye”, which was also founded by Detsen.
Situated at an elevation of 4,718m, Namtso lake is the highest altitude alpine lakes in Tibet. Namtso alongside Mansarovar and Yamdrok Tso is considered sacred by the locals. A sight to behold, Namtso Lake is also referred to as a heavenly lake and this natural water body extends up to 70 kilometres. It is the second biggest saltwater lakes in China. The lake also holds the record of the highest natural lakes in the world. This pristine water of this must see attraction reflects the skyline perfectly, visiting this site can be a mystery as you won’t be able to distinguish between water and sky.
Lake Yamdrok alongside Mansarovar and Namtso Lake is a holy site for the local Tibetan population. A natural wonder, the lake is of prime religious importance and is said to have the capability to find the next Dalai Lama. Once a Dalai Lama passes, the friars rely on Lake Yamdrok to help them discover his resurrected soul, which has drifted into a new body. The rituals state that the senior friars offer hada (silk utilized as a gift) and other heavenly articles. This helps them find the next Dalai Lama. While it is of great religious and cultural importance, the lake is also a natural wonder. If you wish to experience the picture-perfect beauty of the lake, head to the top of the mountain.
Offering a cultural tour across the rituals and festivals of Tibet, Shoton festival is a must-see for every tourist. Organised in the month of August or September, the festival celebrates eating of yoghurt and marks the end of the Tibetan ministers’ meditation session. One of the most popular festivals of Tibet, Shoton is followed by traditional music and dance performance. A festival celebrating the local Tibetan culture, it has also become a way for outsiders to witness and get acquainted with the unique culture of Tibet.
One of the best things to do in Tibet is indeed circumambulating Mount Kailash to bring prosperity and happiness in your life. Mount Kailash holds religious significance for Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus. Hindus believe it to be the abode of Lord Shiva and Buddhist and Jains consider the mountain home to sacred deities. Summiting Mount Kailash is not allowed, however, it is said that if a devotee can circumambulate all around the base of Mount Kailash, all his/her prayers would be fulfilled.
The perfect trekking destination in the world, Everest Base Camp is hands down one of the best trekking places in Tibet. The highest peak in the world, Mount Everest has forever been the final frontier on Earth and many adventurers venture onto this journey. Well, if you wish to step into the shoes of many legendary climbers, trek to Everest Base Camp. You can also opt for summiting the Everest. If not, you can explore the base camp area, which is no less than a summit itself. You would need a special permit to enter Everest region, but your tour operator can get the permit for you if you mention it in advance.
If you are seeking adventure getaways in Tibet, the place has got many options for you. One of the best places for adventurers, Tibet offers you a chance to explore the Himalayan ranges on a bike. The difficult and rugged terrain of Tibet makeup for an excellent adventure and if you manage to successfully cycle across some of the most dangerous and remote terrains, you would definitely come out a stronger individual. Giving you a tale to tell for ages, mountain biking in Tibet allows you to test your own limits and push yourself to the extreme. You would need to acquire permits from Lhasa and authorities have made the process even simpler than before.
Holding the record of being the deepest canyon in the world and slightly longer than Grand Canyon in the US, Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon is a natural wonder and you can trace the human presence in the harshest conditions. Situated at an elevation of 5,000 metres and higher, the canyon offers the perfect setting for an adventure getaway. Explore the deepest of pits or relax at the monasteries in the region, Yarlung Grand Canyon would give you a sense of the immense power of nature.
One of the must-visit places in Tibet and arguably the best destination in the country, Bakhor street in Lhasa has got it all. From local markets to temples and monasteries. Bakhor street gives you a glimpse into Tibet’s culture. If you wish to shop or explore the culture and traditions of the locals, Barkhor street is the place for you. You will find many Buddhist monks as well as tourists flocking the markets and the streets of Barkhor. It is also a popular religious spot with Buddhist followers traversing Jokhang Temple.
Tibet is a land of absolute bliss. From serene monasteries to tranquil landscapes, the country has a lot of options for visitors to choose from. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and plan your next trip to Tibet and have the time of your life. Also, do share your experience with us.
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