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Tibet Travel Guide

Provincial capital: Lhasa

Population: 3 millions

Geological location: Tibet adjoins Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the province of Qinghai in the north, Sichuan in the east, Yunnan in the southeast, and such countries and regions as Myanmar, India, Bhutan and Nepal in the south and west along an international border of nearly 4,000 km. The 1.22-million-square-km autonomous region accounts for 12.8% of China's total land area.

Map of Tibet

Climate: Undoubtedly, the best time of year to visit Tibet is between June and August. The maximum temperatures in Lhasa reach a comfortable mid 20 degrees Celsius, although evenings can still be rather chilly. Watch out though - these are also the three wettest months.

A green army coat (RMB90 in Lhasa!) may be indispensable if you take a land cruiser tour deeper into the region, even during these months. Snow storms whip up apparently from nowhere and many of the mountain passes far exceed an altitude of 5000m and are easily snowed in.

Something to be aware of due to Tibet's high altitude, is getting Acute Mountain Sickness.

Tourism resources: Tibet has continually developed and exploited its unique tourism resources, both human and natural. The region currently has four tourist areas of Lhasa, the west, southwest and south.

The Lhasa tourist area includes Lhasa, Yangbajain, Damxung, Gyangze, Zetang, Xigaze and Yamzhoyum Co Lake. Lhasa itself is not only Tibet's political, economic, cultural and transportation center, but also the center of Tibetan Buddhism. Major tourist sites include the Jokhang Temple, Ramoche Temple, Potala Palace, Barkhor Bazaar, Norbulingka Palace and three great monasteries of Ganden, Drepung and Sera. The Jokhang Temple, the Potala and Norbulingka palaces and Ganden, Drepung and Sera monasteries are key cultural relics under state-level protection.

Western Tibet is Ngari Prefecture, the so-called "rooftop atop the world's rooftop". The area draws visitors because of its great religious significance. Many tourists and pilgrims from Nepal and India come into Tibet through the Burang port of entry to visit the area's sacred mountains and lakes.

The southwest Tibet tourist district is a place for mountaineers, many of whom are Nepalese who come to Tibet through the Zhamu entry/exit port to enjoy the mountain scenery or do some climbing.

In southern Tibet, centered around Nyingchi, one can pass through the four seasons of the year in a single day. There are snow-capped mountains, dense primeval forests, surging rivers and azalea-covered mountainsides. This beautiful scenery is easy to enjoy given the pleasantly humid and mild climate.

New tourist routes and specialty tours have been added in recent years. New routes are Lhasa-Nyingschi-Shannan-Lhasa (eastern circle line) and Lhasa-Xigaze-Ngari-Xigaze (western circle line). Specialty tours include exploration by automobile, trekking and scientific investigation tours. Other special events include the Shoton Theatrical Festival in Lhasa, the Qangtam Horseracing Festival in the North Tibet Plateau and the Yarlung Culture and Arts Festival in Shannan.

By Air: Flying is the most widely used means of transport to and from Tibet. There are flights to Lhasa from Chengdu, Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Xi'an and Kathmandu. Chengdu in Sichuan Province is the main starting point for travelers (especially foreign travelers) going into Tibet. Except for Wednesday and Friday, there are two flights per day from Chengdu to Lhasa. There are also flights departing from Beijing for Lhasa. A third option is to fly from Chongqing, which is possible on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Flights to and from Shanghai via Xi'an operate on Wednesdays and Sundays. The only international destination to and from Tibet is Kathmandu in Nepal, leaving three times a day on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Luckily, leaving Lhasa is a lot easier. All tickets can be purchased at the CAAC office at 88 Niangre Lu. Gonggar Airport is 100 km south of Lhasa. Tourists arriving at the airport can take a bus to the CAAC ticket office in the city center. The journey time is one and a half hours and the cost is RMB25. A taxi costs about RMB120.

Note: It is hard to get plane tickets from Chengdu to Tibet during peak season (Summer). The easiest way to get tickets is to book through a travel agency. In the same way, bookings in July and August should be made 5 to 7 days in advance.

By Train: The new Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the highest in the world. It climbs to 3,641m at Lhasa, but its highest point is 5072m (16,640 feet) above sea level, at Tanggula Pass. Due to the changing altitude during the trip, the train's carriages are pressurized and oxygen is available to passengers that need it.

As of the 1st July 2006, trains to Lhasa run from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou and Xining. Trains from Shanghai and Guangzhou should also be available soon. See Lhasa transportation overview for a timetable.

By Bus: All foreigners have to be part of a "tour group" departing from Chengdu to visit Tibet. Once in Lhasa, the Public Security Bureau allows you to roam freely in the city. However, no independent travel outside Lhasa is allowed. Itineraries must be submitted to the PSB if you wish to leave Lhasa. If you wish to travel outside of Lhasa, we recommend that you take advantage of various tours offered by Lhasa tourist agencies. While it can be very expensive, you won't have to worry about legal issues of getting permission to visit the spots you wish and you will have adequate transportation throughout your journey.

You can travel from Golmud in Qinghai Province to Lhasa, given that you have the required permits issued by the local PSB. There are two long-distance stations in Golmud. Qinghai Bus Station (in Golmud) is just opposite the railway station and the station for Tibet is a little farther away. The bus ticket prices are about RMB120 or RMB170 for a sleeper. Many travelers complain that this traveling to Lhasa from Golmud is not very comfortable and not safe. Nevertheless, it is one of the less expensive ways to travel into Tibet. Check on the legality of traveling by bus into Tibet and make sure you have all required permits.