Tibet, Roof of the World
I don’t like to quote Wikipedia too often, but on this occasion it’s really quite apt – “‘Tibet’ names and definitions are linguistically and politically loaded language.” In context of this discussion, the Tibet we refer to is the official Tibet Autonomous Region. It is a natural geographic wonders, the world’s longest and highest plateau full of gorgeous scenery that has been dubbed ‘the roof of the world.’ While the country is filled with unique historical sites, natural phenomenon, and brilliant experiences, here are just a few ideas to get your next Tibet adventure started.
Capital Culture in Lhasa
Lhasa is Tibet’s capital and cultural center. The city has a long history dating back to the 7th century; some of the post popular sights to see today include –
Potala Palace. Photo credit – reurinkjan.
Potala Palace – this massive, earthquake-proof building is the largest collection of Tibetan relics. Inside are jewelry, murals, and priceless antiques. The palace is 14 stories tall so it’s a strenuous tour that will take the better part of a half day at least.
Bakhor Street. Photo credit – vwsluk.
Bakhor Street – Bakhor (or Baghor) is the oldest street in Lhasa, and today is a virtual open air market with each side of the old lane filled with shops and storefronts. You can pick up everything here, from a tacky souvenir to household goods to food and drink. The street is always quite crowded because it is one of the “circumambulation circuits,” a route that goes around the temple and is a method of showing devotion.
Jokhang Temple. Photo credit – Matthew Winterburn.
Jokhang Temple – the Jokhang monastery was originally built in 647AD and was expanded several times to reach the size you see today. Inside is a statue of Jowo Sakyamuni Buddha which is considered one of the most highly regarded religious in the country.
Get out of the cities and you’ll find yourself with some of Asia’s most dramatic natural sights. Beyond the fame and glory of scaling Mount Everest, at Tibet’s border with Nepal, you’ll also find these show stopping stops –
Yarlung Zangbo – this is a canyon waterway on the Parlung Zangbo River which packs in a number of great viewpoints along the crystal-clear waters. Ra’og Lake is beautiful and takes a different persona during each season – it has been called “Switzerland in Tibet.” There are also a number of glaciers that can be reached with some effort, such as the Midui glacier whose icy façade appears to just hang down the side of the cliff face.
Yamdrok Lake – one of the three largest sacred lakes in Tibek, Yamdrok is also the source for Tibet’s largest hydroelectric power station. Local legend says that if Yamdrok dries up, Tibet will no longer be habitable. Surrounding the lake is a series of sharp mountain peaks and several small villages. The lake has nine islands – one is large enough to be home to the Samding Monastery.
Mount Kailash – spending three days walking around a mountain may not strike your fancy, but to do so around Mount Kailash is a pilgrimage, this one of the most sacred mountains in all of Tibet. It is the far west, and the mountain’s iconic rounded cap is almost always snow-covered and very inspirational even for non-Buddhists.
If You Go
All tourists require a permit of some sort to visit Tibet, and sometimes the rules change, so you’re best to check with a travel agent regarding the latest information before you travel. At a minimum you’ll need a Tibet Tourism Bureau permit. Some areas (which change frequently) require an Aliens’ Travel Permit (ATP) which is issued by branches of the Public Security Bureau in most larger Tibetan cities. And if you choose to go to some of the most remote areas, you’ll also need a military permit, only available in Lhasa. Typically permits are inexpensive when coupled with a tour package; otherwise you’ll be faced with a high markup.
If it all sounds confusing, it is. But it’s always better to double-check your paperwork than to be faced with disappointment. Also keep in mind the extreme altitude which can exert extreme stress on the body. Give yourself some time to acclimatize – in other words, don’t go trying to see all 14 stories of Portala Palace on your first day or walk around Mount Kailash in only 24 hours.