One of the most unique lands on the planet, Tibet is unlike any place you have ever visited. Lying on the high-altitude Tibetan plateau, this beautiful land is filled with lakes and mountains, rivers and valleys, and a people with the most unique religious culture in history. A hugely devout Buddhist region, the Tibetan people have taken their religion to heart, weaving it into the very fabric of Tibetan society, with everyday practices tinged with Buddhist devotion.
However, traveling to Tibet is like no other, for its unique location, culture and religion. For the first timers to Tibet, if you fail to follow the certain rules for Tibet travel, you long-awaited journey can easily run into trouble. To help you avoid the pitfall, let’s learn the important tips below and learn from other travelers’ mistakes.
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Visit Tibet without a Pre-booked Tour
As a unique part of China, Tibet can only be visited on a pre-booked tour with a registered tour operator. Independent travel, which used to be the preferred way of getting around Tibet, is no longer permitted, and without the assistance of a tour operator, travelers cannot even get onto a train or flight to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.
Entry into Tibet is allowed through the issuance of a permit known as the Tibet Travel Permit. Issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa, it can only be applied for once you have booked a tour of Tibet through a tour operator. Once booked, however, it is easy to make the application for the permit on your behalf, and we only require scanned copies of your passport and Chinese Entry Visa to make the application. However, as this can take up to 20 days to process, it is best to do so well in advance of your expected travel dates.
Tibet tour operators are also the only people that can make the applications for all other visas for Tibet, including the Alien’s Travel Permit, for travel outside Lhasa, the Frontier Pass, for travel near the Chinese borders with Nepal, Bhutan, and India, and the Restricted Areas permit, for the unopened areas of Tibet outside Lhasa, such as Ngari and Mount Kailash.
The tour operator is also the only person that can make the application for the Group Tourist Visa, which is required for travelers entering from Nepal, instead of the Chinese Entry Visa, for travelers entering through China.
Rush to Visit Attractions after Arrival in Lhasa
Altitude sickness is a serious affliction that can affect anyone and indeed does affect most people visiting the plateau, if only for a short time. Known also as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), it is a set of symptoms that are caused by the change in barometric pressure on the plateau, where the air is thinner. Normal breathing does not allow enough oxygen to enter the blood and be carried to the major organs, resulting in headaches that feel as if you have a hangover or are dehydrated, a feeling of sickness or nausea, actual vomiting, dizziness due to lack of oxygen, and a general feeling of tiredness.
These symptoms usually recede and you will start to feel better after a day or so, as the body adjusts, acclimatizing to the increased altitude and reduced oxygen content of the air. However, there are some things you need to avoid in order to feel better. Smoking, alcohol, and strong coffee should be avoided while acclimatizing, as they can all exacerbate the symptoms, and you should refrain from all forms of strenuous exercise until your body has had time to adjust properly.
Improper acclimatization, or doing strenuous exercise before you are fully acclimatized to the plateau atmosphere, can cause even more severe symptoms of altitude sickness, for which the only effective treatment is to immediately move to a much lower altitude, usually below 2,400 meters. Failure to obtain proper treatment can result in more severe symptoms still, including High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), both of which can be fatal when left untreated or neglected.
For the first couple of days in Tibet, which are normally spent in and around Lhasa, it is best to get plenty of rest, eat healthy, nutritious, and protein-rich foods, and avoid strenuous exercise.
Break the Religious Taboos While Traveling in Tibet
Tibet is a devoutly religious land, and the people take their Buddhist religious very seriously. Unlike many western countries, most Asian countries are devoutly religious, and in Tibet, this is no different. In fact, religion is so important to the Tibetan people that it forms part of the culture. Religious ceremonies or rituals accompany almost everything in the average Tibetan’s day, from the rituals of waking and eating to going to bed at night.
These devout people have many religious beliefs and taboos, and it is important to know what the major ones are, in order to avoid offending anyone inadvertently. Most of the taboos are pretty straightforward and include common-sense things such as staying covered up and not showing too much skin, women wearing trousers or long skirts and no skimpy clothing, and offending the rituals and ceremonies of the Buddhist monks and people by being offensively noisy.
However, there are also a number of more obscure taboos that you need to understand. It is considered rude to:
*Point the soles of your feet at people, statues, and altars when sitting, so keep your feet tucked away underneath you
*Touch a Tibetan, especially monks and children, on the head or their hat
*Step on the threshold of a house or building when you enter
*Entering temples and monasteries without permission
*Clap your hands or spit on the ground behind a Tibetan
Tibetans also have taboos on diet and social courtesies, such as the fact that they are prohibited from eating horse, donkey and dog meat, and some even refrain from eating fish. There are also social courtesies such as asking permission before taking photos, respecting elders and letting them go first, receiving or presenting tea, food, or gifts with both hands, and when presented with Hada (the special silk scarves of Tibet) you should receive it with both hands respectfully.
There really are hundreds of simple and small taboos in Tibet that the local people take for granted, and it is hard to know all of them without having been raised in the region as a devout Buddhist. If you are in any doubt as to whether your actions or words might be disrespectful or rude, then you can always ask your Tibetan guide.
Purchase Wildlife Souvenirs in Tibet
Tibet has an abundance of wildlife, thanks to national parks and preservation efforts in the outlying grasslands and meadows across the plateau. However, several of the species found on the plateau, while not actually endangered, are quite rare and are protected under law in the region. It is prohibited to remove any samples of Tibetan wildlife and plant life from the plateau region as souvenirs.
Some of the more disreputable souvenir vendors try to sell souvenirs made from local animals or plants to tourists traveling in Tibet. These are prohibited from leaving the plateau, and attempting to remove them in your luggage on the way out can get you into a lot of trouble with the Chinese authorities. The same rule goes for religious icons and statues, and anything that is considered to be an antique. For more information on the items that are prohibited, or if you are offered something and are not sure, your guide or driver can assist you.
Pack the Wrong Clothes for Tibet Travel
Tibet has a very variable climate and knowing what to bring with you as clothing can be a little confusing. Many websites state that Tibet is a cold region where you will need to have thick jackets and heavy boots at all times. Actually, this could not be more wrong. The trick is knowing what to bring with you for the time of year that you are traveling to Tibet.
In the spring and autumn seasons, Tibet can be quite warm during the daytime, with pleasant temperatures, little rain and snow, and clear skies. However, the temperatures drop drastically at night throughout the year, and what was a lovely warm day can quickly turn into a freezing cold night. The average temperature differential for Tibet is around 25-28 degrees between day and night, and this can be used as a good guide across the region.
For spring and autumn, warm to mild weather clothing is best, although those decent hiking boots can be a useful addition when walking over the rough ground that can often be found in car parks and monastery grounds. Pant and long skirts are best, instead of short skirts and shorts, even though it may be warm enough. It gets cold quickly in the evening.
If you are traveling in the summer months, then you need less warm clothing, as the days are a lot warmer, reaching highs of around 23-25 degrees in the height of summer. However, it is also the rainy season, and while most of the rain does fall in the evenings and overnight, daytime showers are commonplace, and you will need to bring some waterproof jackets with you, and a decent hat.
Winter is the complete opposite of summer, and light clothing is hardly appropriate in the colder weather, especially around Mount Everest area. Warm clothing, specifically in thinner layers than one thick sweater, is needed most of the time, with a good thick fleece or down jacket at night.
You should also bring a hat for the sun and one for the cold, good gloves to keep your hands warm, sunglasses, sun cream, moisturizer, and lip balm with you, no matter what time of year you are traveling. The sun is strong with UV radiation all throughout the year, more so in the remote higher regions of Tibet, and the winds can be strong and chill even in summer. And while sunglasses are great when the sun is bright in summer in most places, they are necessary all the time in Tibet, as the sun is bright all year round. They are also especially useful when it has snowed, as they can reduce the risk of snow blindness from the sun’s glare off the pristine white surface of the snow.
While Tibet is a great destination to spend your annual vacation in, there are definitely a few rules and guidelines to take into consideration when deciding to go there. Before you do anything else, the best thing to do is come and talk to one of our experts, who can give you all the advice and information you need to ensure that your Tibet holiday is the best you have ever taken.
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