"After leaving Tibet for the first time I actually struggled to express the beauty and amazement I felt in this land."
"Roads snake their way through deep cut rock formations and climb and descend past reflective lakes, snow encrusted mountains loom in front of you and paths twist around hairpin turns beside rocks streaked with a kaleidoscope of minerals. The Tibetans are like no other people I have encountered. They are open and warm yet so devout and humble. As they smile their eyes glint and every wrinkle on their weather beaten faces creases with a contagious happiness! Their simplicity and religious devotion is admirable – and even more so when you consider their continual struggle to keep their culture alive. Tibet is a country rich in beauty, with people who inspire, liberate, educate and fascinate the visitor. If you’ve been promising yourself you’ll go, let this be the year."
Natalia Cohen, Tour Leader – The Imaginative Traveller
Tibet Country Dossier note: As all of our tours in Tibet begin in either China or Nepal you will need to read both country dossiers relevant to you - China Country Dossier or Nepal Country Dossier - for full details of visa requirements and arrival transfers.
Official Language: Tibetan (various dialects) and Putonghua (Mandarin)
Religions: Tibetan Buddhism. It is very difficult to estimate the number of adherents to this religion
Voltage: 220 Volts. Sockets come in at least four designs – three pronged angled pins (as in Australia), three pronged round pins (as in Hong Kong), two flat pins (American style but without the earth wire) or two narrow round pins (European style). Conversion plugs are worth bringing along.
For Tibet tours starting in Nepal:
It is not necessary to obtain a visa for Tibet/China in advance however it is important that we have all your passport details (name, number, date of issue / expiry, nationality, occupation, date of birth) at least 4 weeks prior to departure. Our local office will then be able to arrange a group visa/permit for Tibet at the start of your tour. The visa/permit fee is currently US$50 for each group member (except American nationals, for whom the fee is US$80) and is payable in Kathmandu (you should also bring two passport photos to obtain your permit). You will also need a separate multiple entry visa to enter and return to Nepal (please see the Nepal Country Dossier for more details)
For Tibet tours starting in China:
Two separate visas are required by all nationalities travelling from China to Tibet: A Tibetan group tourist visa, which is organised by our agents upon your arrival in China (and is included in your tour cost); and a China tourist visa, which you will need to purchase in advance (please see the China Country Dossier for more details).
Note: It is extremely important to avoid stating on your application for a China visa that it is your intention to visit Tibet even if it is included on your itinerary.
Note: Onward Travel to China The group visa which we arrange for this tour does not permit onward travel into China beyond Lhasa. If you plan to travel to China after this tour you will require a separate Chinese visa. If you already have this visa before joining the Overland to Lhasa Tour it is POSSIBLE that the Chinese authorities may cancel this visa when you enter Tibet, in order to prevent onward travel. We recommend that, if you plan to travel in China after this tour, you allow enough time in Kathmandu at the end of the tour to acquire a Chinese visa after completing your journey to Tibet, before continuing to China As a group visa is issued for travel in Tibet, we regret that it is NOT possible to leave this tour in Lhasa and travel on to China from there
If your tour finishes in Nepal, you will need a separate Nepal visa. (Please see your relevant Trip Dossier and/or the Nepal Country Dossier for more details)
The monetary unit in Tibet is the same as in China: the Renminbi (Rmb), literally ‘people’s money’, also known as the Yuan (¥). 1 Yuan can be divided into 10 Jiao or 100 Fen. As two different series of notes are in circulation an unfamiliar note is not necessarily counterfeit (although please see the note below). Approximate exchange rates (as at May 2008) are as follows:
At present there are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency that a visitor may bring into Tibet however sums over US$5,000 should be declared on arrival.
Warning: Counterfeit notes are becoming more common in Tibet. Although the print quality is very good they can usually be detected by the lack of a watermark or poor quality of paper used (counterfeits tend to be smoother than real notes).
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
There is a set exchange rate in Tibet, determined by the Bank of China, the only bank authorised to deal in foreign exchange. Tourist class hotels are often also authorised to exchange foreign currency, but will usually only exchange cash for those staying in the hotel. Cash and traveller's cheques can be easily changed at the Bank of China in Lhasa and oddly the latter attract a better rate than cash. Although there are ATMs in Lhasa, these facilities are very unreliable. Do not rely on a debit or credit card as a source of funds whilst in Tibet. Credit cards are accepted in very few shops and not generally in the restaurants we frequent.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Bring a combination of cash and traveller's cheques (either US$ or GB£). Notes should be blemish free. Scottish pound notes are not recognised. Note: Our Adventurer category hotel in Lhasa does not have a money exchange facility.
Excess Yuan may be converted on departure (again, only at a Bank of China) on presentation of the original exchange certificates.
The Pre-Departure Information that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains general information about organising your spending money. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you on local facilities.
The Pre-Departure Information contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tours in Tibet
Adventurer tours do not include any entrance fees to allow you the freedom to choose what to visit. Entrance fees for the sites we visit in Lhasa cost between US$5-12 each. Details of some popular entrance fees are shown below. Note: Entrance fees are approximate and subject to change without notice.
Your tour will include a guided visit to some of the following: Jokhang Temple, Norbu Lingka, Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery. Entry to each of these sites is US$5-8. The Potala Palace has an entry fee of US$12. There are a few options within the palace costing US$1-2 each. There are additional charges at the sites if you wish to take photographs.
There are options to visit lesser known sites in Lhasa which cost US$1-2. Your Tour Leader can also arrange a day trip out to Yamdrok Tso (Tibet’s Sacred Lake), the cost of which will vary depending on the group size and may be US$12-30.
Note: International student cards are no longer generally accepted for discounts on entrance fees in Tibet.
All of our itineraries include some free time for optional activities. These are sometimes difficult to organise for individuals in Tibet, due to the restrictions placed on travel by the Chinese Government. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of the possibilities available.
You will find the meal plan for your tour clearly indicated in the brochure and on your Trip Dossier. Meals which are not provided are generally arranged by the Tour Leader and take advantage of local specialities. Approximate costs for meals and snacks not included are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in Tibet see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
All drinks (i.e. bottled water, soft drinks) are at your own expense. Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop or local restaurant are shown below.
It is not recommended that you drink the local tap water in Tibet. However, bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available throughout the region.
Taxis are the most effective method of local transport within Tibetan cities. Whilst most taxis do have meters it is a good idea to find out, from your Tour Leader or the hotel receptionist, approximately how much you should expect to pay for your proposed journey.
Note: Taxi drivers do not usually speak English. Your Tour Leader can provide maps or cards with popular destinations in Chinese characters.
The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. There are certain items of equipment (e.g. sleeping bags, towels) that you will need on some tours and not on others. Please note that you DO NOT need to bring a mosquito net on any of our tours in Tibet. Check your Trip Dossier for any special requirements.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Bring a backpack or easy to carry luggage and travel light!
As a general guideline, clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard-wearing and easily washed. At midday in Tibet’s summer months, cotton clothing is much more comfortable than man-made materials like nylon. Be prepared for cooler evenings and early morning starts - for this reason you will generally find it better to pack several thin layers rather than one thick layer. A fleece can be invaluable and double as a pillow. Comfortable walking or hiking shoes are also a good idea.
There are no severe restrictions on dress in Tibet, but the local population tend to dress conservatively. In remote rural areas or holy sites women may attract attention and feel a little out of place with bare shoulders and 'short' shorts.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: It doesn’t go amiss to bring along a set of smart/casual clothes for the occasional night out.
Whilst few of our tours can be described as physically demanding you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active. In Tibet you must be prepared for some long challenging journeys on bumpy roads at high altitude.
If you need to answer the call of nature whilst on a hike or break in a bus journey please burn your toilet paper – do not bury it. If it is not possible to burn it, take it back to a rubbish bin so that it can be disposed of appropriately. Whenever you use a western or squat style toilet please place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – DO NOT flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system. You may also want to carry your own toilet paper or tissues as not all toilets (and no public toilets) will supply it.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: You may find it useful to take along a supply of antiseptic gel (ie water free soap)and plastic bags to put your toilet paper in if it cannot be burnt/placed in a bin.
Many locals think nothing of throwing their rubbish on the floor. This is a habit that stems from the days when there were no litterbins, and the government employed people to continually sweep the streets. However the Chinese government is now trying to persuade people to use litterbins. As a visitor, you should lead by example and hold on to your waste until you find a litterbin or somewhere appropriate to dispose of it.
Tibetan Buddhists believe that giving alms to beggars will gain them merit or karma. It is also traditional for monks to beg for food and money to support themselves and their monasteries. Ultimately donations are a traveller's personal choice, however our recommendation is NOT to give money, pens, gifts or sweets as this encourages a begging mentality and is largely ineffectual. If you do want to help it is probably better to give to a recognised charity. If you choose not to give, simply say no with a smile and keep on walking. If you learn nothing else of the local language, try to learn to say ‘no thank you’.
In many shops prices are not negotiable; however, bargaining is expected for tourist souvenirs. The shop keeper or market trader will start with a high price which you are then expected to bargain down until you reach a fair price (you should always try to bargain in Yuan rather than dollars). Don't be surprised if your purchase price is as little as one tenth of the asking price! Bargaining should always be relaxed and can be a lot of fun but you should remember that if you agree a price then you are expected to follow through with the purchase.
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers. If you have not arranged for us to meet and transfer you on arrival, it is a relatively simple matter to make your own way to the meeting point. If you are arriving in China (including Hong Kong) please see the China Country Dossier for full details of transport options. If you are arriving in Kathmandu please see the Nepal Country Dossier.
Most people find that Tibet is a very friendly and hospitable region and feel quite comfortable wandering around alone during the day. However, as with any area you are not familiar with, it is recommended that you exercise more caution at night. Pickpockets and other opportunists operate around some tourist sites.
Lhasa and much of the countryside are at an altitude that can induce the condition known as ‘altitude sickness’. Symptoms can include:
In exceptional cases, and if untreated, this condition can be fatal.
On arrival, you should ensure that you drink plenty of fluids and take things easy until your body has time to adjust to the rarefied atmosphere. If you have any concerns, speak to your tour leader or seek medical help.
Your Tour Leader’s role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our local agents and a locally based manager.
In Tibet we also use the services of specialist guides at sights listed in the itinerary.
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our main criterion for choosing hotels is cleanliness. In Tibet our Adventurer hotels are simple, but comfortable. Rooms are usually twin share with private bathroom facilities although it may sometimes be necessary to share. Hotels on Traveller tours almost always have private bathrooms, air conditioning and bar / restaurant facilities. Please bear in mind that hotels can sometimes suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At the hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex*. If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
The choice of hotels is extremely limited in some of the towns we stay at overnight during the overland journey between Kathmandu and Lhasa, and the accommodation in these towns can be basic. Bathroom facilities may be shared, and there may not be any heating
*Note: Single supplements are not available on Adventurer tours.
A laundry service is available at most of our hotels in Tibet.
The Tibetan diet tends to be pretty basic, consisting mainly of tsampa (roasted barley flour) and yak meat. Slightly more interesting, are momos (small dumplings filled with meat, vegetables or yak cheese) and thugpa (meat or vegetable noodle soup).
Lhasa has an eclectic population and in recent years its restaurants have started to offer a great range of delicious dishes. Tibetan, Chinese, Indian, Nepali, Muslim and Western meals are now all available.
Most meals tend to be washed down with either chang (local barley beer) or endless bowls of yak butter tea (worth trying at least once for the experience!). A tastier alternative to butter tea is the sweet milk tea.
Tibet does produce a few surprisingly good lager type beers, as well as importing beers from China. Traditional Chinese rice wines are also available, but tend to be extremely alcoholic and not generally rated highly by travellers.
Vegetarians need not be apprehensive about travelling in Tibet; a non-meat alternative is always possible. However, vegetarianism is not something Tibetan people are particularly familiar with. In more remote places, dishes may be more limited in variety. There are quite a few Indian and Nepali chefs in Lhasa who cook up great vegetarian dishes.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Nut Allergies – People with nut allergies should be aware that a lot of food is cooked in nut oil and avoiding this will be particularly difficult. The choice of dishes may be incredibly restricted and it would be extremely hard to guarantee complete nut avoidance.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
Several Internet cafes can now be found in Lhasa. The cost for an hour is usually US$0.5-1.
The Tibetan phone system is reliable. A 3-minute call (to the UK) will cost approx. US$2 from a telephone centre or with a pre paid phonecard which you can buy from shops, hotels and kiosks.
The postal service is good and stamps are available everywhere. An overseas stamp for a postcard will cost approx. US$0.7.
Availability of Film
Camera film can be found almost everywhere. Fast film (ASA 200+), slide film and APS may be harder to find and it is best to bring a supply from home. Remember, fast film will allow you to take photos even when flash photography is not permitted.
Tibet experiences extremes in weather, but the climate is not as harsh as many people imagine. Even so, weather conditions may vary considerably during the tour.
We do not operate our tours to Tibet during the winter months as the country experiences fierce winds and freezing temperatures. Lhasa is generally mild from May through October and overall, spring and autumn are considered the best seasons to travel. Due to the altitude the sun can be quite harsh during the day in summer however temperatures can fall considerably at night. July and August also see the highest rainfall in most parts of the country which makes for a much greener environment and the possibility of roads being washed away.
The following chart shows minimum and maximum daytime temperatures for Lhasa (in degrees celsius):
|-9 / 9||-5 / 9||-2 / 13||2 / 17||7 / 22||10 / 24||10 / 23||10 / 21||9 / 21||2 / 17||-4 / 11||-9 / 6|
Secular public holidays, when banks and government offices are closed, are few and many shops remain open even on these days. The following are official Chinese holidays:
Festivals & Events
(Based on the Tibetan Lunar Calendar)
Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are the two official languages of Tibet. Unlike Mandarin there is, as yet, still no common Romanisation system for Tibetan. The following words and phrases are spelled phonetically to help you with pronunciation.