LIFE UNDER SHADOW: LONELY PLANET AND IMPOSSIBLE BEAUTY OF TIBET
My Life is Under Shadow. It means that I am a Prisoner of the Circumstances. I live as a Slave in Free Country. I am not “FREE” and so, the Beauty of Tibet remains Impossible.
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Lonely Planet: Impossible beauty of Tibet | Stuff.co.NZ
Tibet offers fabulous monasteries, breathtaking high-altitude walks, stunning views of the world’s highest mountains and one of the most likable cultures you will ever encounter.
A Higher Plain
For many visitors, the highlights of Tibet will be of a spiritual nature: magnificent monasteries, prayer halls of chanting monks, and remote cliffside meditation retreats. Tibet’s pilgrims – from local grandmothers murmuring mantras in temples heavy with the aromas of juniper incense and yak butter to hard-core professionals walking or prostrating themselves around Mt Kailash – are an essential part of this experience. Tibetans have a level of devotion and faith that seems to belong to an earlier, almost medieval age. It is fascinating, inspiring and endlessly photogenic.
Restrictions require foreign travelers to pre-arrange a tour with a guide and transport for their time in Tibet, making independent travel impossible.
The Roof of the World
Tibet’s other big draw is the elemental beauty of the highest plateau on earth. The geography here is on a humbling scale and every view is illuminated with spectacular mountain light. Your trip will take you past glittering turquoise lakes, across huge plains dotted with yaks and nomads’ tents, and over high passes draped with colorful prayer flags. Hike past the ruins of remote hermitages, stare open-mouthed at the north face of Everest or make an epic overland trip along some of the world’s wildest roads. The scope for adventure is limited only by your ability to get permits.
Politics & Permits
There’s no getting away from politics here. Whether you see Tibet as an oppressed, occupied nation or an underdeveloped province of China, the normal rules of Chinese travel simply don’t apply. Restrictions require foreign travelers to pre-arrange a tour with a guide and transport for their time in Tibet, making independent travel impossible. On the plus side, new airports, boutique hotels, and paved roads offer a level of comfort unheard of just a few years ago, so if the rigors of Tibetan travel have deterred you in the past, now might be the time to reconsider.
The Roof of the World.
The Tibetan People
Whatever your interests, your lasting memories of Tibet are likely to be off the bottle of Lhasa Beer you shared in a teahouse, the yak-butter tea offered by a monk in a remote monastery or the picnic enjoyed with a herding family on the shores of a remote lake. Always ready with a disarming smile, and with great tolerance and openness of heart despite decades of political turmoil and hardship, the people truly make traveling in Tibet a profound joy. Make sure you budget time away from your pre-planned tour itinerary to take advantage of these chance encounters.
This is an edited extract from the first edition of the 10th edition of Lonely Planet’s Tibet guidebook
Tibet’s Top Five
- Mt Kailash, Ngari
Worshipped by more than a billion Buddhists and Hindus, Asia’s most sacred mountain rises from the Barkha plain like a giant four-sided 6714m chörten (Buddhist stupa). Throw in the stunning nearby Lake Manasarovar and a basin that forms the source of four of Asia’s greatest rivers, and who’s to say this place really isn’t the center of the world? Travel here to one of the world’s most beautiful and remote corners brings an added bonus: the three-day pilgrim path around the mountain erases the sins of a lifetime.
- Barkhor Circuit, Lhasa
You never know quite what you’re going to find when you join the centrifugal tide of Tibetans circling the Jokhang Temple on the Barkhor Circuit. Pilgrims and prostrators from across Tibet, stalls selling prayer wheels and turquoise, Muslim traders, Khampa nomads in shaggy cloaks, women from Amdo sporting 108 braids, thangka (religious painting) artists and Chinese military patrols are all par for the course. It’s a fascinating microcosm of Tibet and a place you’ll come back to again and again.
A valid Chinese visa is required to travel to Tibet.
- Potala Palace, Lhasa
There are moments in travel that will long stay with you, and your first view of Lhasa’s iconic Potala Palace is one such moment. A visit to the former home of the Dalai Lamas is a spiraling descent past gold-tombed chapels, opulent reception rooms, and huge prayer halls into the bowels of a medieval castle. It’s nothing less than the concentrated spiritual and material wealth of a nation. Finish by joining the pilgrims on a walking kora (pilgrim circuit) of the entire grounds.
- Jokhang Temple, Lhasa
The atmosphere of hushed awe is what hits you first as you inch through the dark, medieval passageways of the Jokhang, Lhasa’s most sacred temple. Queues of wide-eyed pilgrims shuffle up and down the stairways, past medieval doorways and millennium-old murals, pausing briefly to stare in awe at golden buddhas or to top up the hundreds of butter lamps that flicker in the gloom. It’s the beating spiritual heart of Tibet, despite some damage caused by a fire in 2018. Welcome to the 14th century.
- Views of Mt Everest
Don’t tell the Nepal Tourism Board, but Tibet has easily the best views of the world’s most famous mountain from its northern base camp. While two-week trekking routes on the Nepal side offer only fleeting glimpses of the peak, in Tibet you can drive on a paved road right up to unobstructed views of Mt Everest’s incredible north face framed in the prayer flags of Rongphu Monastery. Bring a sleeping bag, some headache tablets and a prayer for clear skies.
The scope for adventure is limited only by your ability to get permits.
When to Go
High Season: (May–mid-Oct)
The warmest weather makes travel, trekking and transport easiest. Prices are at their highest, peaking in July and August. Book ahead during the 1 May and 1 October national holidays.
Shoulder: (Apr & mid-Oct–Nov)
The slightly colder weather means fewer travelers and a better range of vehicles. Prices are 20 percent cheaper than during the high season.
Low Season: (Dec–Feb)
Very few people visit Tibet in winter, so you’ll have key attractions largely to yourself. Hotel prices and many entry tickets are discounted by up to 50 percent, but some restaurants close. Tibet is closed to foreign tourists in March.
Currency: Rénmínbì, or yuán (¥)
Language: Tibetan, Mandarin Chinese
Visas: A valid Chinese visa is required. A Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) permit is also required to enter Tibet.
Money: ATMs are available in Lhasa, Shigatse and a couple of other towns. Credit cards can be used in Lhasa. Otherwise, bring cash US dollars and euros.
Mobile Phones: Buy an inexpensive local pay-as-you-go SIM or data card for cheap local calls, but get it before arriving in Tibet. Buying a mobile phone in China is cheap and easy.
Midrange Budget: US$75–150
A one-way flight to Lhasa from Kathmandu: US$280–400
A one-way flight to Lhasa from Chéngdū: US$180–260
Daily shared vehicle rental per person: US$50–60
Double room with bathroom: US$30–60
Potala Palace entry ticket: US$30
This is an edited extract from the 10th edition of Lonely Planet’s Tibet guidebook, curated by Stephen Lioy, and researched and written by Stephen, Megan Eaves, and Bradley Mayhew, © 2019. Published this month, RRP: NZ$44.99; www.lonelyplanet.com