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Tibet Tour

Tibet Tour

About Tibet

The Tibet Autonomous Region situated in the west of China, has a total area of 1.2 million sq. km. It is the second largest region in China. To the north lies Xinjiang and Qinghai, Sichuan to the east and Yunnan to the southeast. It shares a border with India, Nepal, Burma, Sikkim and Bhutan to the south and Kashmir towards the southwest. Tibet has a boundary line that is 4000km long. Lhasa is not only the capital of Tibet, but the largest city in Tibet, second largest being Shigatse. Tibet is known as “the roof of the world”. But millions of years ago this was covered by sea and geologists call it “the ancient sea of Turish”.

Tibet has a varied topography divided into three different natural parts: the northern Tibetan Plateau is vast and lies between the Kunlun and the Tangula and the Gandise and the Nyanqin Tangula ranges, covering two-thirds of the total area of the Tibet Autonomous region. The river valleys in the southern part of Tibet lie between the Gandise and the Himalayan ranges; the eastern part of Tibet belongs to an area of deep gorges where a series of mountain ranges from east to west criss-cross mountain ranges running from south to north. This is a part of the Hengduan mountain range, which can be divided into six types of terrains such as ultra-high mountain, high-mountain, medium-high mountain, low mountain, hills and plains. There is also an ice-filled Karst topography, wind-sanded and volcanic land.  

The Himalayas to the south of the Tibetan Plateau is the youngest and highest range on earth, which consist of a series of parallel ranges running from south to north. It is 2,400km long and 200-300km in width.  The highest mountain in the world – Mt. Everest (Qomolangma in Tibetan), stands in the middle of the Himalayan range and its northern face lies in Tibet.  

Within the boundary of the Tibet Autonomous Region there are over 20 rivers whose flow coverage is over 10,000 sq.km and 100 rivers whose flow coverage is over 2000 sq. km. The famous rivers are the Yangtse, Gyalmo Ngulchu, Zachu, and Yarlung Tsangpo. The source of famous rivers like the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, and the Mekong rivers, all lie here. The waters of Tibet’s rivers come from rainfall, snow and aquifers. There are 1,500 lakes, big and small, in Tibet and they cover more than 2,400 sq. km of land which is one-third the total land mass in China. Tibet is not only the biggest in size and possesses the most number of lakes, but also has the highest number of lakes in the world. The water in these lakes is salty.  

The climate in Tibet is unique and complicated. Generally speaking, the air here in thin, has lower pressure and is also low in oxygen. The sun is strong and sunshine lasts long. Temperatures here vary greatly between day and night. There is a great difference in climate between northern and southern Tibet. Influenced by the humid air current from the Indian Ocean, a number of valleys in the south of Tibet have a warm climate with little rainfall. The average temperature is about 8 degree C, the lowest temperature drops to –16 degree C. The highest temperature in those months rises only up to 16 degree C. The rainy season is between May to September. The north of Tibet has a typical continental climate. The average temperature drops below 0 degree C, the freezing season lasts half of the year. Its highest temperature in July doesn’t even rise to 10 degree C. There is more rainfall in the night during the rainy season and strong winds in winter. The Tibetan year can be divided into two different seasons: the dry season (usually from October to April) and the rainy season.


Before the 7th century, there were many tribes in Tibet and often at war with each other in their quest for more territory. Among them, the Tubo tribe owned large tracts of land during their peak period in Yarlung. The earliest capital city of Tubo was where Nedong County is in Lhoka today. After Namri Songtsen, the thirty-second generation Tubo prince inherited the throne and consolidated Tubo’s territories. Namri Songtsen later moved his capital from Nedong to the Gyama area, present day Medro Gongkar County, and built the Gyama Palace. In the early 7th century when, Songtsen Gampo, the son of Namri Songsten came to power he accomplished what his father had initiated-- the unification of the Tibet plateau and set up the central slave regime – the Tubo Kingdom.  
In order to consolidate his emerging power, Songtsen Gampo adopted a series of important measures. For instance, in the year 633, he moved the capital of the Tubo Kingdom to Lhasa where he built the Potala Palace at the summit of the Red Hill and rebuilt the road and some other houses around the palace. Slowly over the years, Lhasa became the economic, political and cultural centre of the Tubo Kingdom. To consolidate his regime, Songtsen Gampo advocated the advanced methods of the Tang Dynasty and set up a system for civil and military officials and appointed officials to control the garrisons in other areas. He developed agricultural production and promoted economic prosperity. He sent people to ancient India to learn scripts and created the Tibetan script and calendar and contributed immensely to the development of Tubo culture.  


During Songtsen Gampo’s time, the development of the Tubo Kingdom led to great prosperity. In order to develop the relationship between Tubo and the surrounding countries, he sent envoys to Nepal and then to the Tang Court in China to make an offer of marriage. The Tubo Kingdom became the strongest military power in the west of China since the Qing and Han Dynasties.  

Songsten Gampo is the most well-known as well as the most important king in the history of Tibet. He died of an illness in 650 and the Tubo Kingdom gradually declined after his death. During the reign of Trisong Detsan, the people suffered because of his excessive campaigns against outside forces and his large-scale constructions which put a heavy burden on his subjects. There was social upheaval which eventually led the slaves to launch a large scale uprising. Their persistence brought the aristocrats down and put an end to the Tubo kingdom.

The Yuan Dynasty incorporated Tibet into Chinese territory and brought an end to the divisions among the Tibetan people paving the way for a peaceful life. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the central government of China strengthened its administrative grip on Tibet although the country remained independent. But after the communist regime came to power in China, Tibet slowly lost its sovereignty and the Dalai Lama went into exile to India. The Tibet Autonomous Region was established in April 1956. 


The population of the Tibet Autonomous Region is over 2,600,000. There are four prefectures and one municipality in the southeast of Tibet such as Chamdo, Nyitri, Lhoka, Shigatse and Lhasa, which make up 42% of the territory and 85% of the population of the region. The two north-western regions, Nakchu and Ngari, cover a land area that is 58% of the whole region, but has a population that accounts for only 15% of the total population.


Tibetans still enjoy a majority in Tibet but there are many other ethnic groups of people such as the Lopas, Sherpas, Tengpas and muslims. These groups form a small minority. The majority of Tibetans are Buddhists while some still follow the ancient Bon practices.

Food and Beverage

Food and drink in Tibet are related to the climate, local products, religion and local customs. Butter tea, barley flour, sweet tea, beef, mutton, barley, pea, horse bean, potato, round root, white lotus are all traditional food. The butter tea is the most common drink in Tibet. It is made of brick tea with butter and salt added together to give a unique Tibetan flavour. Tibetans love to drink beer made out of barley, which tastes a bit sour. This barley beer is used extensively in all kinds of happy occasions.  

The main traditional food in Tibet is sampa or fried barley flour. It is eaten with a generous helping of butter and sugar stirred together. Tibetans often carry sampa in small leather bags when they go out or while travelling as its ready to eat any time. The other common Tibetan foods are: noodles, bread and cakes, which have a special taste of their own.  

Tibet is rich in beef and mutton. They are not only meant for income generation but are also consumed. In Lhasa, people like to fry the meat in shallow oil. During the winter, Tibetans cut beef and mutton meat into slices and hang them up outside their houses to make dried meat.  

Tibet is vast in territory and rich in a variety of products such as, carpets made in Gyangtse, aprons from Giongkar, the tweeds of Dranang, religious artifacts made of gold and copper from Chamdo, Tibetan knives from Lhatse, jade wares of Rinpung, wooden bowls from the Himalayas etc. A lot of Chinese herbal medicines are also produced in Tibet.  


Lhasa, the capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region is considered to be the centre of politics, economy and culture, communication as well as tourism. It is located in the northern bank of the Kyichu River, the main tributary of Yarlung Tsangpo river. It is also an ancient cultural city with a history that goes back 1300 years.  

In ancient times, Lhasa was known as Rasa, literally meaning “goat earth”. At first, the Jokhang Temple was constructed with earth carried by white goats after the arrival of Princess Wencheng who suggested the building of the city. After Songtsen Gampo set up the Tubo Kingdom, he moved the capitol to Rasa. It was renamed Lhasa in the 9th century and means “the Holy Land”, or “the sacred land”. The rapid growth of Tubo politics, cultural activities, Buddhism and economic prosperity saw the proliferation of new constructions such as the famous Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple and the Ramoche Temple which formed the nucleus of the old city with the Jokhang Temple as the centre. Today, the total area of the Lhasa municipality is 30,000 sq. km with the urban area covering 523 sq km. The population of the city is about 474,500. There are more than thirty nationalities such as Tibetans, Han, and Moslems of which Tibetans make up 87% of the total population.  
Potala Palace

In the middle of Beijing road, perched on the Red Hill, the Potala Palace is known as the highest palace in the world. It was built in the 7th Century and later destroyed in the 8th century. In the 17th Century, the fifth Dalai Lama spent three years to reconstruct it. The palace consists of two main parts: the Red Palace and the White Palace. The main building is 13 stories high, 117m in height with the Red Palace in the middle. The main structure includes tomb stupas of successive Dalai Lamas and Buddhist halls. The White Palace formally became the office of successive Dalai Lamas.

Jokhang Temple

Situated in the heart of the old town of Lhasa, the Jokhang Temple was built in the 7th century. It is said to have taken three years for Songtsen Gampo, Princess Bhrikuti and Princess Wencheng to jointly build it. The main chapel is a four storied building and integrates Han, Tibetan, Indian and Nepali architectural styles. The whole temple is centred on the big chapel which symbolizes the core of the universe. The Shakyamuni chapel is the Jokhang Temple. 

Sera Monatery

Located at the foot of Sera Utse mountain to the north of Lhasa city, the Sera Monastery is one of the three largest monasteries in Lhasa and one of the six biggest monasteries of the Geluk sect of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet. Sakya Yeshi, the famous disciple of Tsongkapa, built it in 1419. On the 27th of the twelfth month in the Tibetan calendar is celebrated the grand “Sera Monastery Festival”. Pilgrims from all over congregate for this festival.  


Drepung lies 8 km west of Lhasa along the main road and 3 km north on a steep, unpaved road. Drepung means "Rice Heap", after its jumble of white buildings piled up against Mt. Gyengbuwudze.


Norhulkingka or ‘The Jewel Park’ - consists of wooded greenery and three palaces once used by the Dalai Lamas as a summer retreat. Successive Dalai Lamas, reflecting centuries of Tibetan artistic styles built several different wings. The current Dalai Lama has often said he preferred staying in the Norbulingka: it felt warmer, more human in scale, and more inviting. When you stroll through the peaceful gardens, you may well empathize with his preference.
Samye Monastery

At an altitude of 3,550m (11,650 feet) the Samye Monastery was the first great Buddhist monastery to be built in Tibet. It was founded in 775 A.D. during the reign of King Thrisong Detsen. On the advice of Guru Rimpoche and a visiting scholar from India, the King ordered Samye to be built as a three dimensional model, or mandala, of the Buddhists universe. This is deservedly the most popular destination for travellers. The monastery, built in the middle of the sandy Samye valley is reached after a beautiful river crossing. It is home to monks from the Sakyapa and Gelugpa sects. 


Yambulakhang 3,500 m (11,480 feet) is the oldest known dwelling in Tibet and the home of the Yarlung kings. Legend has it that the castle was built by King Nyatri Tsenpo around 130 B.C. This is a remarkably impressive sight with a lovely setting, and not to be missed.  

Ganden Monastery

At an altitude of 4,500 m (14,760 feet) – the Ganden Monastery lies 40 km north-east of Lhasa, and was the first Gelugpa monastery founded by the Panchen Lama in 1409. It has remained the main seat of power of this important Buddhist order ever since. With its stupendous views of the surrounding Kyi-chu valley and fascinating kora, Ganden is an experience unlike the other major Gelugpa monasteries in the Lhasa area. In its heydays, it housed 6,000 monks. The Chinese razed it during the Cultural Revolution and its ruins cover an entire hillside. The important buildings were rebuilt by 1985; today 300 monks reside there. The vast complex of ruins gives a powerful image of what Tibet was like before 1959.  

Tsurphu Monastery

At an altitude of 4,480 m (14,700 feet) – Tsurphu Monastery lies 70 km west of Lhasa, and is the seat of the Gyalwa Karmapa, the leader of the Karma Kagyupa School of Tibetan Buddhism. The first Karmapa founded the monastery in 1189. Tsurphu is in relatively good condition, and is one of the most important remaining monasteries in Tibet. Tsurphu celebrates an annual festival around the time of the Saga Dawa festival in the fourth lunar month of the Tibetan calendar. There is plenty of free–flowing chang (Tibetan barley beer), as well as ritual cham dancing by monks and lamas. 


Gyantse 3,800 m (12,465 ft), is about 210 km from Lhasa and used to be Tibet's third most important city. Once a fort, it was the centre of Tibet's wool trade and a gateway to the outside world. Gyantse was the main centre for Tibet's wool trade with India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim. Historically, it was in a position of great economic and strategic power. A high rocky ridge topped by a ruined fortress runs through the middle of Gyantse, dividing it into two parts. To the west is a large monastery complex and part of the original city with the main market street. 

The small town of Gyantse sits on the Nyang River and has not suffered from modern expansion. It still retains the character of a traditional Tibetan frontier town. The exquisite Kumbum is elaborately painted with some of the finest frescoes in the history of Tibetan art. It depicts the distinct Newari style brought to Tibet from Kathmandu, by Newari artisans of Kathmandu valley.  


Shigatse 3,900m (12,800 ft.) is Tibet's second largest city and the administrative centre of a vast area.  Shigatse stands near the confluence of the Yarlong Tsangpo and Nyangchu rivers and is one of Tibet's richest farming areas. 

The Tashilhunpo Monastery
, built in 1447, houses a 26m high statue of Maitreya (the future Buddha). The other buildings house images of the Sakyamuni (the historidal Buddha) and embalmed bodies of lamas. Tashilhunpo is one of the most well-preserved monasteries in Tibet, and also one of the most imposing constructions. Before the Cultural Revolution, it housed more than 2,000 monks at a time. The Panchen and Dalai Lamas have historically helped to find each other’s incarnations. It is the residence of the Panchen Lamas. 

Sakya Monastery

The Sakya Monastery at an altitude of 4,280 m (14,045 ft) is an immense, thick walled southern monastery and the main attraction of the monastic town of Sakya, It is the central base of the Sakyapa School of Tibetan Buddhism, and one of the most impressive gompas in Tibet today. Sakya's fortress-like walls dominate the surrounding landscape. Portions of the monastery date back to the 11th century and 40 unique pillars support the roof, among which one was a gift from Kublai Khan.  
Rongphu Monastery

The Rongphu Monastery was established at 4980 m (16340 ft), in 1902 by a Nyingmapa lama and is considered the highest monastery in Tibet and therefore, the world. The monastery makes a fabulous photographic shot with Everest thrusting its head skyward in the background. 

Everest Base Camp

The views from Everest Base Camp in Tibet are simply astounding. Everest completely dominates the surroundings, yet she is 21km away from here! On the right-side of the mountain is the long snowy arm of the West Shoulder; the West Ridge is in profile. The rocky ridge skyline running to the summit is the infamous Northeast ridge, whose ‘pinnacles’ were first cracked by Harry Taylor and Russell Brice in the 1980’s. The entire ridge all the way to the summit was climbed successfully by a Japanese team in the Spring of 1995. The most popular route of ascent, the North Col & North Ridge (which join the Northeast Ridge just below the pinnacles) is hidden from view by mighty Changtse, Everest’s Northern Peak which stands in front and to the left of her higher sister.
Holy Mount Kailash  and Lake Mansarovar
Few mountains in the world rival the grandeur of Mount Kailash (6,714m, 22,028 ft,), the famed holy peak in Western Tibet. Situated to the north of the Himalayan barrier, this legendary snow-shrouded rock dome is revered by four different religions as one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in Asia. The sources for four of South Asia’s greatest rivers are nearby, and at the base of the mountain are two vast lakes, Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal. 
Hindus regard Mount Kailash as the earthly manifestation of Mount Meru, the spiritual centre of the universe, described in ancient texts as a fantastic “world pillar” 84,000 miles high, around which all else revolves. The top of the mountain is recognized as the abode of Lord Shiva, Lord of the Mountains, who shares this lofty peak with his consort, Parvati. Sprawling below is the sacred Manasarovar, where a ritual bath will deliver a pilgrim to Brahma’s paradise and a drink of its waters relinquishes the sins of a hundred lifetimes. For the Jains, a religious sect holding many beliefs similar to those of Buddhists, Kailash is acclaimed as the site where their first prophet achieved enlightenment. Although they look much like Hindu pilgrims, Jains can often be identified by the small cloth bag containing prayer beads clutched in their right hands. 

Mount Kailash is known to the Tibetans as Gang Rimpoche (Precious Jewel of Snow) or by its aboriginal name, Ti-se (also Gang Ti-se). Tibetan Buddhists, like Hindus, recognize Kailash as the manifestation of Mount Meru, the “navel of the world” rising “like the handle of a mill stone” into heavens. The mountain is also associated with the poet-saint Milarepa, who spent several years meditating in caves here. Mount Kailash is sacred to the Bon religion followers as well, as it is the site where its founder, Tonpa Shenrab, is said to have descended from heaven, and was formerly the spiritual centre of Zhang Zhung, the ancient Bonpo Empire that once extended from Persia right up to western Tibet. The Bonpo do the circumambulation of the mountain in their traditional counter-clockwise direction while Buddhists and Hindu pilgrims do it in the opposite direction. 

Lake Manasarovar, 4,560 m, 14,950 ft. or Mapham Yum – tso (‘Victorious Lake’ in Tibetan), is the most venerated of Tibet’s many lakes. According to ancient Hindu and Buddhist cosmology the four great rivers of the Indian subcontinent: the Indus, Ganges, Sutlej and Brahmaputra, arise from Manasarovar.  
Manasarovar is linked to the smaller lake Rakshas Tal (also known as Lhanag–tso) by a channel called Ganga-chu. On rare occasions, water flows via this channel from Lake Manasarovar to Rakshas Tal. This is said to augur well for the Tibetan people. The two bodies of water are associated with the sun and moon, a powerful symbol of Tantric Buddhism.  
Indian pilgrims have been circumambulating Manasarovar since the time the sacred Sanskrit texts known as the Puranas were written some 1700 years ago. One Hindu interpretation has it that manas refers to the mind of the supreme God Brahma, the lake being its outward manifestation. Accordingly, Indian pilgrims bathe in the waters of the lake and circumambulate it while Tibetans generally just walk around it. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha’s mother, Queen Maya, was bathed at Manarovar by the gods before she gave birth to her son. 
The pilgrimage to Mount Kailash and Mansarovar has always been considered one of the most difficult in Asia, if not the world. The distances are great, weather particularly harsh, supplies almost non-existent and bandit attacks are a constant worry. Nevertheless pilgrims come from the far corners of the continent, defying hardships to walk the 32 miles (52 km) circuit around Kailash and to bathe in or circumambulate the sacred waters of Manasarovar.