3 day adventure in Lhasa - The Ultimate Guide
Tibet is a travel destination that offers visitors an opportunity to experience one of the world’s most legendary travel destinations. From the dramatic landscape to the remarkable culture, Tibet has so much to offer travellers who are looking for an exciting journey through one of the most unique regions in the world.
I decided to visit Tibet for two reasons: Growing up, I was a fan of the adventures of Tintin, and the chapter Tintin in Tibet. Also, Tibet is ranked in the top places you need to visit before you die (“Unforgettable places to see before you die” book written by Steve Davey – BBC Books edition).
Why you should not mention Tibet in your visa application for China?
Bear in mind that if you do want to visit the Tibet province, don’t mention it on your visa application, otherwise it will be rejected. The Tibet Government does not issue Tibet Travel permit unless you provide a passport + visa copies.
That is why travel agents recommend not to mention your Tibet tour to the china embassy. If you do, your visa application will be rejected. When you apply for a tour to Tibet, tour operators will send you a Travel invitation to visit China, with a circuit not including Tibet.
That’s the only way to pass the embassy hurdle. Once you arrive in China, the travel agency will send the Tibet permit by post, allowing you to enter Tibet for a limited period of time.
How can you avoid becoming sick from being at a high altitude?
Before flying to tibet, I was advised by locals to take ginger tea to reduce the effect of the altitude sickness. My recommendation is to buy dry Ginger pieces and make yourself tea infusions. China facilities are equipped with hot water fountains, so you can refill as much as you want.
My other recommendations to better prepare yourself against altitude sickness are:
1) Get in a good mindset, both physically and psychologically, before visiting Tibet.
2) For adventurous travellers, a physical fitness plan should be in place at least one month prior to the visit (Swimming and stair climbing are beneficial activities).
3) If you develop a cold or a major virus before going to Tibet, you risk getting altitude sickness, which could put your life in jeopardy (To avoid catching a cold or the flu, dry your hair quickly after a shower).
4) Start taking the specified medication before travelling to Tibet, and continue taking it once you arrive.
5) In high-altitude areas, avoid coffee and alcohol in favour of drinking more water and taking sleeping tablets.
6) Avoid fatty foods and eat high-carbohydrate foods (rice, pasta, cereal, fruits, and vegetables).
Clothing and shoes recommendations for Tibet
1) Because temperatures in Tibet vary widely from day to day, it’s best to dress in layers that can be readily added or withdrawn. A windbreaker should be worn at all times of the year.
2) A pair of comfy and long-lasting sneakers (Climbing shoes that are both waterproof and warm are recommended).
3) If you visit Tibet in July or August, you should bring waterproof clothing and raingear because it rains frequently during this time.
4) If you plan to travel to isolated places or go on a trekking tour, you’ll need a down jacket (preferably with a cap) and other warm-weather apparel.
5) When visiting monasteries, women should avoid wearing short skirts or high heels.
6) The months of January, February, March, April, October, November, and December will be cold, so I recommend you bring warm shoes or water-proof shoes. With decent walking shoes, the other months will be OK.
Travel gear recommendations for Tibet
1) An electric adaptor, often known as a converter, is a device that allows you to (please do bring it)
2) Some simple cold, flu, cough tablets and other drugs, because Chinese medicine may not be as effective as yours.
3) Due to the dry climate in Tibet, lip treatment is essential.
4) Use bug repellent sprays to keep bugs at bay.
5) Sunscreen with a high SPF, sun block, skin cream, and lip balm to protect against harsh sunlight and dry conditions.
6) Sunglasses and a sunhat can successfully protect you from the blazing sun or the snow lights.
Travel insurance is a good idea because most travellers prefer to have their bases covered in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. Especially if your itinerary includes visits to remote locations such as Tibet.
Although the tour company take every precaution to keep you safe from harm, safety issues beyond their control do arise from time to time. I strongly advise you to obtain your own insurance in addition to the tour insurance provided by tour company.
Check to see if your policy covers evacuation. As you might know, there are multiple options. You can find any combination of travel insurance plans and providers to protect you against a wide range of risks, including:
1) Cancellation Coverage: This reimburses you if you have to cancel your trip due to illness, a death in the family, or some other unforeseen delay or event (e.g., airline strike, Icelandic volcano, etc). It is strongly advised!
2) Medical/Emergency Coverage: This can include anything from hospital/dental bills to emergency evacuation to accidental death and dismemberment coverage.
3) Luggage Coverage: Provides coverage if your luggage or belongings are stolen or lost.
4) Evacuation coverage: This is especially important when visiting remote areas of China such as Tibet, Yunnan, and so on.
Recommendation: When I travelled to Tibet, I used worldnomads.com. They are not the only Insurance agency out there, but they do have good deals.
Currency and Money
The only currency in Tibet is the Chinese RMB or CNY. Money exchange is available at 5-star hotels, but most 3- to 4-star hotels do not, and exchanging money in a bank takes a long time.
So I recommend that you exchange some RMB cash in your other parts of China prior to arrival in Tibet, or that you withdraw from an ATM in Lhasa.
My 3 day Lhasa itinerary
Day 1: Flight Chengdu to Lhasa
I have visited China for 2 weeks. Before landing in Lhasa, I visited Beijing, Xi’An, and Chengdu. Before boarding the flight to Lhasa, I was a bit anxious and excited at the same time. Excited about visiting Tibet, but anxious about the altitude sickness.
I purchased my flight tickets Chengdu to Lhasa, and paid $200. So, I boarded the flight, and after 2 hours, I landed in Lhasa. I did have a headache upon arrival, it was due to the high altitude and lack of oxygen.
Random Fact: In china, if you are caught by customs carrying a knife or a lighter, not only you risk a heavy fine, or going to jail, but a picture of you is portrayed on the commercial panels with a communication message. A bid by authorities to deter people from doing it.
So I left the airport, and walked to the car park where the tour started. We commuted for 1h from the airport to my hotel (Himalayan Lhasa Hotel). I was greeted by the tour guide with a traditional white Tibetan scarf (known as Khata).
I took it easy on day one, and had a rest to acclimatize myself to the high altitude. As the altitude in Lhasa is up to 3500 meters, new commers usually have different level of high-altitude sickness symptoms.
I highly advise you to avoid exhausting activities (like running or long walks), drinking alcohol for the first few days. I did drink a lot of water, had enough rest. These measures helped me preventing the sickness.
Day 2: Potala Castle, Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street
1) Potala Castle
On the second day, we visited the famous Potala Castle. At an altitude of 3600metres, is known as the cardinal landmark of Tibet and the residence of the Dalai Lama lineages.
Standing 13 stories high and owes over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues; the Potala Palace forms a small world in it. We all needed to get our passport checked, and went through several security checks before getting to the top.
On the last floor, you will see giant Buddhas covered in gold and monks praying rooms as well as other pieces of art.
2) Jokhang Temple
Listed on UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000 as part of the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple is the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Pilgrims.
The temple is a four-storey timber complex with a golden top, with the combination of Tang Dynasty, Tibetan and Nepal architectural styles. Every day, pilgrims come from every corner of Tibet to worship here, make it a perfect site for photographers.
3) Barkhor Street
As the oldest street in Lhasa, Barkhor Street is considered as the centre of the old city, and a perfect place to learn Tibetan culture, economy, religion, and arts.
The street is full of handicrafts, such as ornaments, knives, tangka, religious musical instruments, gold and silver ware, masks and a lot more.
On Barkhor street, I witnessed pilgrims performing Kora. It is a practise of turning prayers wheels, chanting the mantra, or repeatedly prostrating oneself. I also witnessed more traditional Kora like the walk. Each person walks clockwise around Jokhang temple.
It is believed that the Kora is a mind-calming meditative exercise. It was a unique opportunity for me to take portrait photos of pilgrims, and buddha worshipers.
If you want to purchase some souvenirs from Tibet, Barkhor Street is the place to be. A quick walk around, you can find plenty of shops, competing one another. You can compare and bargain for the unique souvenirs.
Day 3: Drepung and Sera Monastries
1) Drepung Monastery
Drepung Monastery was built in 1416 and is the largest monastery of the Gelug Sect, covers an area of 250,000 square meters. This Gelug sect monastery used to be the largest monastery in the world with a total 10,000 monks.
Many precious stupas, sculptures, paintings, Thangka are displayed in the hundreds of chapels. Also, the annual Shoton Festival is organized here.
2) Sera Monastery
This monastery is located in the northern suburb of Lhasa City. It was named Sera which means wild rose in the Tibetan language, because the hill behind it was covered with wild roses in bloom when the monastery was built.
From Monday to Friday, every afternoon, you’ll be able to see monks debating at Sera Monastery.
At the end of my Tibet experience, I took a flight to Beijing, that lasted for just more than 4 hours. We flew over the Tibet region, and experience some turbulence on the plane. After landing in Beijing, I spent 3 more nights before flying back to London.