Tibet, dream destination for many travelers and adventure admirers from all over the world. One reason is it’s isolated position from the rest the world until the early 20th century. It is host to the world’s tallest mountains with Mount Everest the tallest at 8848 meters, over 1500 lakes, vast plateaus and great river valleys.
Linguists generally classify the Tibetan language as a Tibeto-Burman language of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Although spoken Tibetan varies according to the region, the written language is consistent throughout.
The main religion of Tibet has been Buddhism, which was introduced here 1300 years ago by Guru Rinpoche. It is better known quite simply as Tibetan Buddhism.
The weather in Tibet has similar seasons to China. Lower temperatures though due to the higher altitudes. The atmosphere is very dry most months of the year. The average annual snowfall is only 46 cm. It is one of the harshest places for human existence. Weather is cool in summer but extremely cold in winter, solar radiation is extremely strong. During spring and autumn you need to be prepared for four seasons in one day, including the possibility of snowfall.
There are some regional variations; northern and western Tibet are generally higher and colder. The monsoon affects parts of Tibet from mid-July to the end of September.Summers (between May – September) have warm days with strong sunshine and cool nights. At higher elevations (above 4000m) even summer days can be chilly. Winters (between November – March) are cold but there isn’t all that much snow. The period from April to October is the best time to visit and makes Tibet a dream destination, avoiding the coldest months from December to February.
Regional differences: In northern Tibet, the climate is not favorable with an average temperature of subzero and winter lasts from October through May or June. July and August are the best time to visit the area to enjoy warm temperatures, intense sunshine, beautiful scenery and lots of festivals.
Eastern Tibet enjoys its high season from May to September with the exception of July and August because of the Monsoon season: half of Tibet’s annual rainfall happens in July and August bring. In winter, roads are all blocked by heavy snow. Landslides are no exception making traveling difficult.
Although southern Tibet is mild during May through October most rainfall comes from June to September. Heavy rains during the night block roads and make traveling difficult.
Tibet is high, and flying to Lhasa will be taxing on your body. Who and why some people are affected by altitude differently to others is one of the least understood of medical conditions. There is no predicting how anyone will be affected by altitude and reaction can be different between one trip and another.
It has nothing to do with age or fitness, although general good health seems to make a severe reaction less likely. The most important thing is to take it easy the first few days, drink lots of water and relax and don’t stress about it. You do not need to be first off the plane, first to grab your bag – the only prize is a splitting headache. With stairs, stop every few steps and breathe for the first couple of days (esp. at hotel on arrival).
Often younger fitter people suffer more in the first days as they think they will be fine and overdo it.
Whilst not medically proven, experience with groups over the years strongly suggests that strong expectation of problems leads to problems. In case of real problems the hospitals in Lhasa are very experienced at dealing with altitude and the number of people who are unable to complete their trip as planned are very, very few.
It can be quite cold through April and from early October.
Whilst it is almost always quite warm (often hot) during the day due to the intensity of the sun (Lhasa, whilst high in altitude is at the same latitude as Cairo) temperatures can drop abruptly at night. The wind chill factor is of much greater importance than actual air temperature and icy winds can blast off the mountains at any time of year. Ensure you bring warm clothing as well as sunscreen, sun glasses and hat regardless of the time of year you are traveling.
Depending on your itinerary there may be some long travel days. All land transport is by private vehicle. This is a government regulation. Foreign tourists may only travel in vehicles specifically licensed for tourism (identifiable by their license plate) driven by drivers with a specific license for tourist vehicles.
We have a range of buses, mini-buses, vans and landcruisers available depending on your group size and your itinerary.
Whilst since 2015 these vehicles are government owned, they are permanently leased by a specific driver so all well maintained, as the good condition of their vehicle is integral to their livelihood. Drivers speak varying amounts of English, but can add a great deal to your trip if you take the time to know them – have them teach you the traditional Tibetan game of Sho one evening.
All roads in central Tibet are paved and, with only a couple of minor exceptions, all in good condition. 4WD is not needed for 90% of itineraries and cost of landcruisers is significantly higher than other vehicles.
We regularly stop to take photos and to simply sit and take in the atmosphere.
In remoter areas ome places only have triples or quadruples. We do our best to give couples their own room, but please keep an open mind about sharing. In most places single or twin occupancy is possible.
Washing facilities are limited in remote areas and at times it may be a couple of days between showers. In most places showers and toilets are communal within the guesthouse or you can visit the local bathhouse. Considering plumbing is a recent innovation this can be considered a positive. If you start to get frustrated, remember that Tibetans usually wash once every 6 months!
Food & Drink:
Bottled water is available throughout Tibet. Always make sure you have sufficient supplies for long driving days.
Hotels generally provide a kettle in the room, elsewhere thermos’ of hot boiled water are always provided at hotels and guesthouses and may be used to refill water bottles as well as for tea and coffee. Coffee / black tea is not always available outside main towns so consider taking some with you if these are your preference.
Outside main towns the variety of food available may be limited. Ask your guide for restaurant suggestions and to assist with ordering or invite your guide & driver to eat with you if you are interested in trying unfamiliar foods.
Lunch stops are usually around 1pm, but can be earlier or later depending on road conditions. It is a good idea to carry snacks with you, especially if you are used to regular meal times – this is also good in case of breakdowns which, although rare, can of course happen.
You will be met at Lhasa airport or train station on arrival and accompanied in Tibet by a licensed Tibetan guide.
All our guides are directly employed by us (not freelance). We have trained them and know them well. They are experienced and knowledgeable and speak good English.
Regulations regarding how much you may explore independently or whether you must be accompanied by your guide at all times varies constantly. Your guide will advise you of the current situation and it is a condition of travel here that you abide by these regulations.
Tipping is a personal and voluntary matter and tips are not included in the trip price. If you wish to reward the efforts of those who have worked to make your trip the best they can we suggest CNY300-600 per driver and guide, depending on group size & trip length.
Unless there is a specific reason otherwise, we suggest the same amount to each as whilst your interaction may be more with guide than drivers they play an equally important role in the success of your trip.
Guidelines for Responsible Travel in Tibet:
Tibet is a unique and fragile land that should be visited with a high level of consciousness for the impact of those traveling through it. At Royal Mountain Travel we encourage all travelers to be aware of the responsibilities of traveling in Tibet; to understand social and political concerns; to respect cultural differences; cause as little impact as possible and to make a positive contribution. The following guidelines are designed to assist you in gaining a better understanding of these responsibilities and to help make your trip a positive experience for you, your traveling companions and the local people you come into contact with.
This is the basis of every great travel experience, and its lack the cause of the bad ones. Showing respect for everyone around you, traveling companions and locals alike is essential. This applies to behavior, attitudes, religious beliefs, actions, concepts of personal space and cultural differences – many of which you may find alien or unpleasant. In Tibet we expect this respect to extend to ethnic Chinese living in Tibet. Whatever your personal views on the political situation, remember that shop keepers and restaurant owners are not responsible for government policy. Be aware that many of the Chinese you will meet have been born in Tibet and it is their home – in many cases either they or their families have been sent or exiled here or moved for economic reasons much the same as Siberia or the American West were populated.
Tibetan Buddhism is absolutely central and essential to the lives of all Tibetans. There is little ceremony surrounding visits to Buddhist temples and they are generally open and welcoming places. Smaller places may be locked but often a caretaker will be around & can let you in. Basically show respect and watch how local devotees behave. You might see other tourists behaving inappropriately, but there is no reason for you to follow them. Tibetan offerings include incense, prayer flags, butter, kataks, repetitious mantras & the spinning of prayer wheels to invoke the gods. The basic rules for visiting temples are:
• Don’t take photos inside monastery buildings – outside is OK unless there are signs prohibiting it; many monasteries charge a fee to take photos inside. Views on the appropriateness of this vary. If you decide to take photos please pay the advertised fee. If no signs allowing or prohibiting photos inside, please ask.
• There is no need to remove your shoes, but please do not cover your head inside buildings.
• Don’t turn your back on the Buddha.
• Only walk clockwise around the halls in temples.
• Always keep your voice low in and around the temple.
• Do not touch the monks.
• Always dress in long trousers (or shorts below the knee) and shirts covering the shoulders. Carry a sarong to wrap around you if you prefer to wear briefer clothing when traveling.
It is highly offensive and inappropriate in Tibet, especially in monasteries, for women to wear skimpy string tops. Not wearing a bra or wearing tight, body-hugging attire is also not acceptable. Men should always wear shirts and long pants (shorts below knee length are OK).
Tibet is a relatively pristine and unpolluted environment that should be preserved. There are problems though which need to be addressed – particularly litter and waste around the cities and towns. We can not change this, but can set an example, try not to add to the problem and help locals develop awareness that will benefit the future of the environment.
Many Tibetans won’t mind having their photo taken, but some in rural areas are not happy to be photographed, particularly older generations. Please respect their right to not be photographed. Never take photos inside monastery buildings unless you have received permission or of/near Police and Military structures/personnel.
Begging, Gifts and Donations:
Begging is an accepted practice in Tibetan society and you will see old people put out by their families in sunny spots to attract tips. It is also common for beggars to make the rounds of local tea houses & restaurants. There are also a large number of pilgrims around the Barkhor in Lhasa, many begging for money to assist them in their pilgrimage.
Giving is entirely up to you. If you say no, they generally leave without pushing further. if you choose to give 0.5 to 1 rmb is the normal amount.
Never give money or sweets to children – they do not all have access to dental care (especially in village areas) and poor parents may see it as more beneficial for children to collect money than attend school. If you have brought pens or school supplies we can donate them collectively to a small rural school so teachers can sort out the neediest children to receive them. Royal Mountain Travel supports a small school at Samye by purchasing school supplies in Lhasa and delivering them to the head teacher. Other worthwhile projects are a privately run orphanage in Lhasa and a vocational training center teaching blind children from all over Tibet Braille and giving them a chance to make a living for themselves. By visiting these and making donations you are assisting not only the child, but a whole family.
Politics and Human Rights:
These subjects are well documented and covered by a large number of publications and websites. While we encourage all of our travelers to be as fully aware of these issues as possible before traveling to Tibet NO political activity may be undertaken by travelers under any circumstances. This includes taking photos of police, military personnel or installations; public political comment or displaying photos or flags associated with exile groups. These are the legal government regulations for travel in Tibet and, regardless of your personal views, by booking with us you agree to abide by these regulations whilst in Tibet.
Be aware that it is your guide who will be held primarily responsible for your actions – resulting in fines, loss of guide license, even imprisonment depending on the severity of the offense – along with the agency so affecting the livelihood of all employed. Remember also that political issues may have affected your guides and drivers personally, please be sensitive – if they avoid discussion of personal political or spiritual beliefs please respect their privacy and do not push the issue. Questions of a sensitive nature should not be directed at local guides or other Tibetans in monasteries or public areas – keep them for within your vehicle. Political discussions can lead the local into a lot of trouble if they are overheard.
Similarly distributing photographs of the Dalai lama or Tibetan flag is illegal and can lead to serious consequences for a local found receiving or in possession of such items and may result in the detention and possible deportation for a foreigner. Please always be conscious of these problems when talking about these subjects with your local guide for their own protection.
Visas and Permits:
All travelers will require visas for The People’s Republic of China and permits for the Tibetan Autonomous Region – these include TTB permit (needed to enter Tibet), PSB permit and up to 5 others ( inc. military & foreign affairs) depending on your itinerary.
This itinerary is specified in your paperwork so last minute changes to your planned route are generally not possible. Permits are issued to the agency arranging your travel for your specific group & itinerary – not to you as an individual. Your TTB permit will be sent to your arrival city (unless Kathmandu) for you to show to board flight/train to Lhasa. It will be collected back by your guide on arrival and your guide will carry all permits throughout your trip and is responsible for all local registrations. We will need scanned copies of your passport photo page and of your Chinese visa (except if entry from Kathmandu) at least 2 weeks prior to your arrival in Tibet in order to apply for all permits and approvals.
Whilst Chinese visa regulations don’t actually change often, the severity with which they are enforced does. Regulations for arriving in Tibet from Kathmandu are different from arrival from within China.
Arrival from within China
You will require a single entry China visa to cover the entire length of time you intend to remain in China (including Tibet). This should be arranged in your home country or Hong Kong.
Standard visas are valid for 3 months (ie you must use the visa / enter China within 3 months of issue) and good for a stay of 30,45 or 60 days from date of entry.
Depending on the embassy at which you apply for your visa, on the visa application form you may be asked to list the places you intend to visit. Do not mention Tibet on this application, as the visa will be refused. The reason for this process is that regulations have changed and are now contradictory so embassies take the safe/easy option and say ‘no’.
Simply list major cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Suzhou, Guilin, Chengdu. There is no reference on your visa to places you intend to travel.
Most embassies now require a return flight ticket in/out of China. If you do not have a ticket out of China, state you will be exiting to Hong Kong by land – include Guangzhou on your “itinerary” and train to HK.
For address / inviting organization use hotels you have bookings for in your arrival city and any other places you will visit in China outside Tibet.
Entering China/Tibet from Nepal
To enter China from Nepal your visa MUST be pre-authorized in Lhasa and issued in Kathmandu.
We must have your confirmed itinerary & passport copy at least 2 weeks before your arrival in Kathmandu in order to make the authorization. Then is visa issued in Kathmandu takes 2 business days. This is a group visa and is issued on a separate paper, not stamped into your passport.
You cannot enter China/Tibet from Nepal with a visa issued by any other embassy.
Only authorized agents are allowed to the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu (no individuals). Passports + 1 photo must be submitted at our office by 09:00 (Mon-Fri). We will receive the visa on the next working day after 16:00.
Nepal visas are available at Kathmandu airport and at the Kodari border for all travelers entering Nepal from Tibet. USD30 in USD cash + 1 photo per person.