|Known as ‘the
Roof of the World’, Tibet only opened up to tourists
in 1980. It is possible to travel to Tibet as an independent traveller
(if a permit is obtained), however, it is much easier to go as part
of a tour group with an organised itinerary. The scenery is amazing
and Tibetan culture is uniquely fascinating:
its tradition of esoteric Buddhism is followed all over Asia and
is historically very important. The Cultural Revolution, lead by
Han Chinese, inflicted grave damage on Tibet’s cultural identity,
but still, it has preserved its way of life and religious traditions,
helped occasionally by an apologetic Chinese attempts at restoration.
Visitors should be aware however, that the Chinese government has
been actively settling Tibet with Han Chinese for quite some time,
and many people they come across will not be Tibetans. Some travellers
could experience health difficulties as a result of the altitude,
so it is a good idea to consult a doctor before departing.
Known as ‘city of the gods’, Lhasa
is situated at an altitude of 3700m (12,000ft).
Its great light and clear skies are unique to its high mountainous
terrain, however for 6 months of the year it is extremely cold.
The main attractions for tourists lie in the Potala
or Red Palace, which houses successive
Dalai Lamas, and dominates Lhasa and the valley.
This 7th-century edifice, constructed on a far more ancient site,
is now a spectacular museum whose exhibits include labyrinths of
dungeons underneath the Palace, huge bejewelled Buddhas and vast
treasure hoards, 10,000 chapels containing human skull and thigh-bone
wall decorations along with beautiful Buddhist frescoes, with influences
from Nepal and India.
The Potala Palace boasts UNESCO World Heritage
Site status. Other notable buildings include the Drepung
Monastery, the Norbulingka (Summer
Palace) and the Jokhang Temple, adorned
with its golden Buddhas. Seek permission prior to taking photographs
in Buddhist temples.
Individual visitors desiring to travel to Tibet
should be aware that they must first obtain permits
from one of the Tibet Tourist Authority’s Tourism
Offices (see Contact Addresses and Passport/Visa sections).
Keep in mind that, local border officials occasionally demand additional
fees, sometimes violently. The Chinese authorities do not react
kindly to foreign visitors who become involved with any political
activity for Tibetan independence, including photographing or videotaping
demonstrations, or accepting Tibetan nationals’ correspondence
or parcels to take out of the country.