High in the Himalayan mountains there is an ancient Buddhist culture struggling to survive under modern influences. Witness first hand the reality today.
Travel to the Roof of the World
So long off-limits and shrouded in mystery, Tibet is now attracting inquisitive travellers looking to experience the rich culture, traditional ways of life and magnificent landscapes of the high plateau. The holy monasteries and vacated palaces of Lhasa and Shigatse leave a profound impression, holding the keys to the past and offering a window on modern day life. Venture further afield to find turquoise lakes, dramatic mountain passes adorned with prayer flags and a flourishing river, along which herds of yaks graze and locals gather for afternoon picnics. Keep going south and you’ll reach the fabled Everest Base Camp and glorious views of the world’s highest peak.
The Holy City of Lhasa
Lhasa is the cultural, religious and historical centre of Tibet and, despite decades of Chinese rule, we still find Tibetan culture and Buddhism thriving in the beautiful old town. In the Barkhor, monks and devout pilgrims in traditional dress spin prayer wheels, or prostrate themselves on the floor as they circle the sacred street and enter the Jokhang Temple, the region’s spiritual centre. You don’t have to wander far from here to soon be drinking sweet tea with the locals in a bustling teahouse, shopping for local handicrafts or sampling the rich Tibetan cuisine in a cozy family-kitchen restaurant.
In Lhasa we also find the poignant former palace residences of the Dalai Lama, where you can relive his daily routine and feel the ghosts of the past in deeply thought-provoking visits. Head to the 15th century Sera Monastery to see the resident monks take to the courtyard for their famous debating sessions and find scenic hills in which to hike through small forests to a remote nunnery.
Everest Base Camp
For intrepid travellers, venturing out of the capital to Everest Base Camp is a wonderful way to fully appreciate the natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of Tibet. The landscape on the way is characterised by sacred turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountain passes and rural yak herding communities, whilst the small cities of Shigatse and Gyantse offer timeless monasteries, among Tibet's most important.
The highlight of the journey is the magical moment that you get your first glimpse of Mount Everest as the early morning sun illuminates the world’s highest peak. To have the best chance of seeing Everest, you should stay close by - either in the simple Rongbuk monastery guesthouse, offering a small number of private rooms, or alternatively the spacious communal tents. Both sit at just under 5,000 metres above sea level and are a short shuttle bus ride from Base Camp. In the winter you can stay at a lower altitude in a small town and drive to Base Camp and back, with clear views all but guaranteed all day.
Overnight train to Lhasa
A great way to reach Lhasa is by taking the scenic overnight train to the Tibetan capital. The journey starts at Xining, 2,275 metres above sea level, and passes the majestic Qinghai Lake soon after. It continues across the remote plains of the region, before you settle into your soft sleeper berth and awake to the glorious mountain landscapes of northern Tibet. The 22 hour journey ends in Lhasa at midday, now at 3,656 metres. The train is not luxurious, but is a comfortable way to see remote parts of the high plateau, build anticipation and slowly adjust to the altitude.
Hiking in Tibet
A number of hiking routes allow you to immerse yourself in the raw beauty and nomadic culture of Tibet. A half-day option is the circular hike from Sera Monastery in Lhasa through forested hills to a remote nunnery and sky burial site. The most popular 4-5 day treks are the 50 mile pilgrimage route between Ganden and Samye monasteries and the 42 mile trek from Tingri to Everest Base Camp. On these you will be accompanied by porters, yaks and your experienced guide and all food will be prepared for you. Accommodation is a mix of camping and small guesthouses. These treks are rather demanding and at high altitude, so a good level of fitness and hiking experience is vital.
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