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Tibet:The Roof of the World

Tibet:The Roof of the World

If it is the Himalayan mystic you want to experience then nothing matches the stunningly beautiful and truly rustic Tibet. It is a backpackers’ paradise and has a dream-like landscape that allures thousands of travelers to set foot on this land. We had wanted to cover this enchanting country for quite some time and our search for an expert brought us to Tenzin Woaber who is a tour guide and lives in Lhasa. When we started gathering information we realised that there is so much about this country that people need to know that we had to split it all up in a series. Here is the first one where Tenzin gives you his top 10 picks in this amazing country which will be followed by some more. In this edition, we have monk debates, cities so old that their histories are unknown and a marvellous landscape them memories of which remain with you long after you have returned home.

Important tip before we begin

It is pertinent to note that tourists can freely move around in Lhasa and use public transport like bus and taxi. However, for going beyond this city hiring a guide is mandatory. So if you are coming for Lhasa-only tour on a budget, it is recommended that you come to Lhasa from Airport in the airport terminal bus service. If you are arriving in Lhasa train station then take a taxi to main Lhasa city. However, it is strongly recommended that before coming here, you hire a travel agency and get your permit sorted. For more information, scroll down to get in touch with our Travel expert Tenzin Woaber in Lhasa!

For a detailed low-down on latest rules and regulations on traveling to Tibet , checkout our article on :

How to Reach Lhasa:

By Air

The airport of Lhasa - Lhasa Gonggar Airport is 61 kilometres (38 miles) from Lhasa main city. Flights into Lhasa run only from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Kunming, Qamdo, Shanghai, Xi'an, Xining, and Zhongdian. The only international flight allowed inside is from Kathmandu, Nepal.

By Train

The famous  Qinghai-Tibet Railway connects Xining, Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing to Lhasa. The tickets have to be brought through travel agencies.

By Road

Overland tour buses connect Nepal to Lhasa. Another route that is open to foreigner tourists is from Gulmud but it is accessible only if the tourists hire a private tourist vehicle.

Where to Stay

Lhasa City has various stay options that include St. Regis Lhasa resort, Four Points Hotel and Hotel Shangri la. For budget stay, you have many hostels and hotels! You can check the various options here .

Tour begins here………..

 

1. Barkhor Street in Lhasa

Barkhor street- The Mecca of Tibet

Barkhor street- The Mecca of Tibet

The street surrounding the Jokhang temple is known as Barkhor street and is part of a pilgrimage path in Lhasa. In the street you can find thousands of Tibetans walking clock wise around the Jokhang temple, a way of worshipping the gods there. The street is sometimes also referred to as the Mecca of Tibet. Unique sight of hundreds of pilgrims and worshippers performing full body prostration will greet you here.

Barkhor Street also has lots of shops that have great options in local souvenirs for your dear ones. Walking around the streets in Tibet is a wonderful experience in itself and welcoming smile of locals will play its own charm as you explore the areas in and around Barkhor Street. In fact, visitors are encouraged to move around the streets without a guide and make some local friends here! Trying local tea shops to have a sip of Tibetan Yak butter tea or Tibetan Noodle is also highly recommended.

Highlights and what to expect

1. Shopping is a great experience in Barkhor Street but lots of fakes are sold here too. You can use your bargaining skills here to get local products at reasonable price.

2. If you happen to be in Lhasa on a Wednesday, do visit Barkhor in the morning from dawn to noon. This is the best time to see devotees making incense and other offerings to deities in Muru Temple on every corner of the street.

 

2. Sera Monastery

Monks preparing for the debate

Monks preparing for the debate

Sera monastery is located 8 kilometers (5 miles) north of Old Lhasa city. The monastery is popular owing to its well preserved architecture. It also gives you a rare opportunity of witnessing the monks’ debate on Buddhist philosophy every afternoon which is also the best time to visit here. The monastery was built by the famous student of Tsongkhapa. It is recommended that you visit the monastery during the first days of the tour since it is located in the plains and you would not be required to climb up and down as is the case with most of the other attractions here.

Highlights and what to expect

1)  During your visit, ask your guide to take you to the Tamdin chapel. This chapel houses century old armour on its walls, though you may have to concentrate a bit due to its dark interiors.
 
2)  If you have enough time left after the visit, do try to hike up to the yellow temple above hills. The hiking would take about one hour. The yellow temple is home to the meditation cave of the Tsongkhapa.

3)  Debate session is a must!

4) You can opt for a hiking tour to Sera monastery. The hike starts in the morning around 8:30 am and ends around 3:30 pm

 

3. Potala Palace

Beautiful Potala Palace- Official residence of Dalai Lamas

Beautiful Potala Palace- Official residence of Dalai Lamas

First built in seventh century by the Tibetan Dharma king Songtsen Gampo, it was later converted into official residence of the Dalai Lama. Potala palace towering above the old Lhasa city is an architectural marvel and a landmark that represents Tibet. It houses the biggest golden stupas and the funeral stupas of successive Dalai Lamas. But visiting the palace requires you to climb a lot of stairs and thus it is not recommended for the first days of the tour.

Highlights and what to expect

1)  You will be visiting the living quarter of the successive Dalai lamas and also get to see all the century old chambers and meditation rooms of the Tibetan kings and Lamas.  There are over 1,000 rooms and over 10,000 shrines here.

2)  At the back of the Potala Palace, there is a garden called Lhukhang which is known as the House of the Naga king. There is a pond here and in the middle of it is a small temple. The third floor of the temple is secret temple of the sixth Dalai lama and remains closed. But on special requests monks sometimes do open it for visitors. Photography is strictly prohibited here. The secret temple has the wall paintings on Tibetan tantric sutras. Usually the tantric sutras are guarded secrets and are only taught orally. This is why this temple is one and only of its kind in Tibet.

 

4. Samye Monastery

Same Monastery- the first Buddhist Monastery in Tibet

Same Monastery- the first Buddhist Monastery in Tibet

Samye is the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. This is where the Buddhism was officially institutionalised by King Trisong Desen with the help of the Guru Padmasambhava. The monastery is located in a valley surrounded by barren mountains and endless Sand dunes. This austere scenic beauty of Samye Monastery is simply awe-inspiring!

Highlights and what to expect
 
1) Trekking to Chimpuk hermit takes about four hours to get you to the place where Guru Padmasambhava stayed while propagating Buddhism in Tibet.

2) On your way to Samye monastery you will visit the first fort and the first temple of Tibet in Tsedang city.

Where to stay
The nearest city is Tsedang which has a lot of hotels. But I would strongly recommend travelers to stay in the monastery guest house for a night during the visit.

How to reach
Samye monastery is located 205 kilometers (127 miles) South from Lhasa. There is a shorter way to reach the Samye monastery but every traveler needs to go to Tsedang first to get the aliens permit for the region, without which travelers are not allowed to visit the monastery.

 

5. Gyantse Pelchoe Monastery

Gyantse Pelchoe Monastery-A walk back in time

Gyantse Pelchoe Monastery-A walk back in time

Visit to this monastery is a travel back in time to a medieval period with a town surrounded by Fort walls on the hill. This fort was used by local Tibetan army and militia to fight against British during the British conquest of Tibet led by Col Young Husband. Once you reach the top most part of the fort, you will be greeted by the spectacular views of the surrounding valley and areas. The Kumbum pagoda in the Pelchoe monastery is so unique that you will not see anything like this in all of Himalayan region. To soak in the essence of the monastery, walk along these ancient corridors. But sadly many group travel tours do not spend a lot of time here. However, many high end tour agencies provide a night in the town which gives travelers a great opportunity to explore this place.

Highlights and what to expect

1. Visit the old streets of the Town. These calm and quiet streets can literally transport you back in the time!

2. Cherish the view of the valley from the terrace of the fort. Though it will take some climbing to get there, but it is worth the hard work!

3. If photography is your thing, then pin for the viewpoint on the way where you will get to capture the entire town in one frame- the stupa, monastery, fort and the walls surrounding the town.

4. On the way from Lhasa to Gyantse, you will drive across the Yamdrok lake and Karola glacier. Both of these scenic spots are definitely going to make you halt for a bit!Yamdrok lake is an excellent site for camping as well.

Read: Our post on 13 valuable tips you need to know before you camp

How to reach
Gyantse is located 263 kilometers (163 miles) from Lhasa on the way to Shigatse.

Where to stay
The best hotel of all the hotels in Gyantse town is Yeti hotel which is a reputed three Star Tibetan hotel.

 

6. Namtso Lake

Azure blue waters of the Namtso Lake  

Azure blue waters of the Namtso Lake  

Namtso Lake is not only one of the holiest but also the most beautiful lake in Tibet. The drive is about 6 hours from Lhasa crossing the stunning vistas of plateau and its landscape with view of Mount Nyenchen Thanglha in the background. After crossing the Lagen La pass, you will drive down to the shore of the Lake. Lush green pastures with dotted nomad settlements and yaks grazing around make for a perfect Tibetan setting that is a must experience here.

Highlights and what to expect

1) Go to Kora around the Tashi island to see a play of lots of varied-shaped hills. This place will also give you an opportunity to meet and talk with local crowd. If spirituality appeals to you, then you may enter and see meditation caves along the path.

2) If you have enough time, I would recommend a stop by the geo-thermal station at the Yangpachen about half way to Namtso Lake. You can enjoy a hot spring bath here under the open skies on the roof of the world with the best view of it!

How to reach

1) You can drive up North from Lhasa. The distance between Lhasa and Namtso lake is 250 kilometer (155 mile) long stretch of wilderness.

2) If you are traveling from Shigatse to Lhasa, I would suggest you take diversion to the Namtso Lake and stay there for a night before coming down to Lhasa. Distance between Shigatse and Namtso is 380 kilometers (236 miles)and the road again is a lap of wilderness.

Where to stay

There are no hotels in Namtso, instead there are lots of guest houses made with temporary building material. I would strongly recommend travelers to stay in the Sheep guest house as they are the best in town and have the best reputation amongst all.

 

7. Mount Everest Base Camp

Mt. Everest base camp

Mt. Everest base camp

This is the second most popular attraction in Tibet and the most traveled region as well since it is located fairly close to Lhasa and Nepal border. Travelers can take drive right up to the Base camp near Rongbuk Monastery.

Start early in the morning before sunrise from Shelkar, the nearest town from Base camp. Half way on you will see the magnificent sight of beautiful sunshine spreading over the majestic Himalayas. A night stay at the base camp in the tent hostel is strongly recommended and do not miss the sunrise over the Mount Everest from the base camp.

From this base camp, there is a 5.5 kilometers (3.4 mile) long hike to the main base camp which  about three hours. There you will see the tablets stating the altitude and name of the mount in different languages. If you hold interest in tantric practices and spirituality, you would not want to miss the meditation cave of Guru Rinpoche on the way.

How to reach

Mount Everest Base camp is located 350 kilometers (217 miles) from Shigatse. Since foreigners are not allowed to travel freely in Tibet, they must book and come through an organized guide tour. There are many travel agencies offering group travel tours for international travelers here.

Where to stay
There are no hotels at the Mount Everest Base camp, but there are the tent hostel and Rongbuk monastery guest house. Some travelers who do not want to stay at either guest house or the Tent hostel do return back to the nearest town of Shelkar.

 

8. Mount Kailash

Mt Kailash- The holiest of all mountains  

Mt Kailash- The holiest of all mountains  

The holiest of all the mountains in this world, Mount Kailash is closely associated with all the major religions in the world. Annually, we have tens of thousands of visitors coming here from all over the world either for pilgrimage or adventure. Three days trekking around the mount is believed to purify your soul and relieve you from the burden of all your ill-deeds. Matching steps here with other believers from across the globe brings in a a lot of positive energy as the whole experience gets really surreal!
Weather here is cold around the year and can be unexpectedly treacherous one too. Travelers must bring all the supplies as directed by their touring agency. In addition, one must keep in mind that the entire journey to Kailash and back is a very expensive affair. Also note that not all travel agencies in Lhasa are allowed to organize this hike for Indian nationals, but for non residential Indians (NRI) and other international visitors, just about every agency can organise the tour.

Read our blog on essential trekking tips to make your trek unforgettable

How to reach

Overland tour can be arranged by travel agencies in Lhasa or Nepal depending where your location is. The journey from Lhasa to the foot of Kailash would take about three days covering more than 1200 kilometres (746 miles).  

Nearest Airport: Ngari Gunsa Airport is 205 kilometers from the town on the foot of the mount. A direct flight to Ngari Gunsa is not recommended due to its high altitude. It is rather advised to stay in Lhasa for few days for acclimatisation and travel gradually to the Mount.

Where to stay
Around Kailash there are no well equipped hotels owing to altitude and secluded location, yet most of them take care of your basic needs. Two of the popular places to stay are:
Gangdisi Hotel
Dajin hotel

 

9. Ganden Monastery

Ganden Monastery

Ganden Monastery

Ganden monastery was founded in 1409 by the founder of Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery is located on the top of a hill overlooking an amphitheater valley which is a nature’s wonder! Travelers who circumnavigate the monastery would be able to see the beautiful valley surrounding the monastery including valley of Kichu.

Highlights and what to expect

1) Going around the monastery would treat your eyes to the sensational views of the valley surrounding the monastery.

2) Hiking from Ganden monastery to the Nomad camp above Drupshi village which is the initial stage of popular Ganden to Samye trekking. Here you will be walking across some of the most beautiful valleys of Tibet.

3) Camping at the Nomad camp is also highly recommended.

How to reach

Ganden monastery is located 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Lhasa. Since you will be traveling out side the Lhasa city, every international traveler is required to hire a tourist vehicle.

Where to stay

Most of the tour to the Ganden Monastery is a day tour and you would probably return back to Lhasa for the night. if you may, your travel agency can help you to arrange a night stay in a local Tibetan home in Drupshi village or camp near nomad Camp.

 

10.Guge Kingdom

Guge Ruins

Guge Ruins

During the Era of Fragmentation which brought about dissolution of Tibetan empire after the assassination of U Dumtsen (popularly known as the LangDarma), a part the Tibetan royal family shifted to western Tibet to rule the region for another 7 centuries. They established Guge as their capital. During the following centuries, the kingdom of Guge played a very important role in rejuvenation of Buddhism in Tibet. The ruins of Guge shroud many mysteries of Tibetan royal family. The ruin is the largest man-made structure in entire Tibet even bigger than the Potala Palace!

Highlights and what to expect

1) The ruins are an open book that has not been read by anyone completely till date. A visit to the ruins gives you an opportunity to re-establish the stories and make your own conclusion about the events that lead to the fall of the Kingdom and eventually leaving the entire region empty and destroyed.

2) Do visit Tholing, the refuge for thousands of Buddhists from Indian subcontinent escaping the prosecution by Mughals in India. The monastery has very strong Indian influences and hence has a very unique style of architecture and artistry.

How to reach
The Guge ruins are located 258 kilometers (160 miles) from the Mount Kailash in Western Tibet. The nearest town is the Zanda district.

Where to Stay

There are lots of Tibetan family guest houses near the ruins and the district also has many hotels. But many travelers prefer to stay in Tholing Monastery which is located 17.5 kilometera (11 miles) from Guge. If you are interested in a hotel stay then Two-star Heibei hotel is recommended. Opt for a room either on ground or first floor.

So, here was the first look at Tibet from Bohotraveller in collaboration with Tenzin Woaber. We hope you enjoyed reading these top ten picks in this rugged but beautiful region famously known as the roof of the world.

Checkout this short video to get a peek of this enchanting destination

 

Before we take leave, a few words to introduce Tenzin Woaber!

About out travel experts

Tenzin Woaber

Tenzin Woaber

Tenzin Woaber has been tour guide ever since he completed his studies in tourism. He now owns and runs Tibet travel agency called i-tibet travel. He was born and brought up in Lhasa, Tibet. For last ten years, he has traveled extensively in Tibet and part of china including Mongolia and Xinjiang. I-tibet travel now is one of the most reputed travel agencies which is highly recommended by Tibet travel experts and Tibet travel bloggers including the Land of snows. This is one travel agency you can completely rely on for all your travel plans to Tibet.

Tour Company: i-Tibet Travel and Tours

Contact Name: Tenzin Woaber

Website: www.itibettravel.com

Contact number: +86 181 0899 2271

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