Tibet Travel, The reality, and expectations.
Over years of my experiences as the tour operator and being a former tour guide. There is always a contradictory about the reality of the local conditions and expectations for visitors traveling in Tibet. I understand, almost every travelers had been working so hard over years to make their visit to Tibet, and for many travelers, it is a once in life travel to Tibet. I know the Tibet travel is very expensive as compared to other places on the surface of the earth. But there are some things every traveler would better understand before hand to avoid the contradictory between what travelers expects and the reality.
In Tibet, we have our own rules and regulations on Tibet tourism, those rules and regulations are made for the safety of travelers and to safeguard the peaceful life, we Tibetan enjoy. Every travelers are expected to follow those rules and respect our local life. It is always advisable in comprehending that regulation and the local custom. Your visit to Tibet should not harm anyone. So please read out for what are the common expectations which go against the reality. I hope this post would bring some enlightenment for every reader before making their journey to Tibet.
You can’t travel independently in Tibet:
In Tibet, any foreign visitors are not allowed travel freely. Your tour must be organized by a Travel agency in Lhasa. The tour should be a guided tour, which means your agency will have to hire a tour guide and private tourist vehicle for the entire tour. Your travel agency is responsible for making your Tibet travel permit.
No travel agency sells, permit the only service. If some do, those are fake.
Tibet is not a small place:
Tibet is a big as France, Portugal combined, with 1,228,400 Km2. So This makes Tibet a very big place, and you are not likely to cover the entire region within the limited days. Somewhere on some day, you will be most likely to be spending lots of time in the vehicle. In most case you will be spending lots of time in the car if you are traveling outside the cities or traveling from city to city. please make sure, your travel agency provide you the distance between one place to another.
additional to the distance, we have a speed control for every vehicle. After the deathly accident in Shigatse last year. We now have a new regulation, which says every vehicle has to travel within the speed limited of 40 Kms per hours. This regulation further expands the duration of Travel time in Tibet.
If you hate to travel for hours, please do not travel very far away places. The maximum Time you would be spending in the car would be 9 hours, which is the travel duration between Everest Base camp to Shigatse, it covers about 350 Kms. In a nut shell, 40 Kms in Tibet equals 1 hours in journey. Given that, there is not disturbance like construction and traffic jams. please make sure you have good communication about the travel time in Tibet.
Many accommodation are very basic.
Accommodations in many parts of Tibet are very basic. If you travel agency says guest house, you will most likely stay in very very minimum guest house. In some case, you will have to walk for a minute to reach the toilet. Please do not expect an attached bathroom in many places in Tibet.
Here are the list of places where you can find bath room attach rooms:
1) Lhasa (all kinds of hotels are available)
2) Shigatse ( all kinds of hotels are available)
3) Zhangmu ( Sometimes hotels rooms are very moist, due the increase business activity in border the hotel rooms are very expensive in the town).
4) Gyantse (There is only on three star hotel currently,)
5) Tsedang ( There are all kinds of hotels available, but it’s more expensive than any other part of Tibet)
Beside the above mention towns and city, you will have to stay in very basic accommodations and in some place, travelers might have to share the room with the guide and the driver.
Here is the list of Towns and place where you will be more likely to stay in very minimal accommodation
2) New thingri
6) Drikung monastery
8) Samye monastery
11) Mount Kailash
12) Everest Base camp, the accommodation in Everest Base Camp is a Tent hostel. Tent has all in one utility from Kitchen too small shop to the hostel for traveler.
Your cant changes Your travel agency in Tibet.
After booking the tour and after travel agency starts making your permit. There is no way a traveler can go to another agency to take service. Any travel agency can help you change the guide and car for you. The travel agency with whom you have book is responsible for your entire trip.
As there is no way you can change the travel agency once when you are in Tibet. You will have to be very conscious in making right choice on Travel agency before booking your tour with them. Please write to Lobsang of The land of snow for the travel agency recommendation. he gives a very honest recommendation of the Local Tibetan own travel agency base in Lhasa. He is strongly recommended by the lonely planet as a sole authority on Tibet tourism information. and good thing about him is he provides free travel consultant service for any one who may every write to him.
Don’t expect to very good English speaking tour guide.
English and all the other foreign language are foreign to Tibetan. Those languages are third languages to most of the tour guide and the driver. So many times guide needs times to explain or inform things to you. Please be patient with them. Please tell your travel agency if you need a very fluent English speaking guide. Please let you travel agency know. But the level of goodness may differ.
Yet there are many fluent English and other languages speaking tour guide, the best way to find is through the recommendation from any of your friends who might have visit Tibet recently with them. And you could ask the travel agency to assign you the particular tour guide.
Monastery, monastery, and monastery
Monasteries are considered as the hub of Tibetan culture and history. Which is why many itineraries cover lots and lots of monasteries. Almost every Tibet itinerary looks like a monastery tours.
The fact, which you will have to understand is. During the span of Tibetan History, every historical important place was converted into Monastery, from Palace to fort, every important place in Tibet is monastery nowadays. For example, the Potala Palace, which once served as the palace of Tibetan Kings later became the monastery cum administrative building. The Yumbu Lhakang, which is the first fort of Tibet later became the monastery.
But there are ways to avoid the monasteries. You can choose to go for trekking or you can take a village experience tour where you can spend some time in local Tibetan village or Tibetan nomad.
Everest Base Camp is very very far from Lhasa
I am receiving lots of emails from prospective travelers asking me to make a Tour consisting Everest base in three or four days. Please remembers this. Everest base very very far. To reach Everest Base camp, you will have to stop at least, one night in Shigatse and a night in New Tingri. You will reach Everest Base camp at the noon of third days since departure from Lhasa. It takes two days to reach back to Lhasa, if you would take intense traveling with 9 hours a day in car.
You will also need to consider the high altitude of Tibet. I suggest every traveler stay in Lhasa for at least two days to get proper acclimatization. No one wants to get sick and ruin a holiday.
High altitude and Its sickness
Tibet is located at the average of 4572 meters above sea level. Which is very high. I know lots of travelers want to do a lot in this very expensive tour to Tibet. But when you are planning to visit Tibet, please consider how your body would response to the high altitude of Tibet.
Trekking to Tibet and fast travel could hinder the quality experience you will have in Tibet. The ideal to take first few days in the low land of Lhasa and Tsedang and gradually make a move to higher places.
If you are trekking in Tibet, it is ideal to take some day tours in Lhasa, one day trekking at the hills surrounding Lhasa and then proceed to Your actual trekking route.
The time of Travel:
Tibet is good to travel from April to November. But there is a different climate and the natures response to the changes in Climate. It is always vice to check the best time to travel as per the experience you would like. The raining starts from July and could last until October. Everest Base Camp might not be visible some times during the monsoon time, as it would be cover by cloud.
If you are trekking in the monsoon time, the ground would be wet due to rain fall. Tibet could be very dry in the early April and November or December. There is no best time to travel to Tibet. Yet there are best times to travel to Tibet for the Theme of a tour, you would choose.
Traveling to Tibet is not as same as traveling to other parts of the world. There are many websites stating Tibet travel companies and Tibet tour operators are not very professionals as our Nepal counter part. But for my experiences, every travel agencies and Every tour operators in Tibet are very effective and very professional. Only differences are the reality of nature and the expectation from clients and lack of communications.
I have many travelers of different age group and from a different ethnic back ground. They all liked the service I am providing. The main reason for their happiness and contentment is I communicate well with them and I make sure I let them know what the reality is.
So communicate with your travel agency, read lots of travel books about Tibet. But please remember all the travel books about Tibet are 100% correct.
I hope this post of mine would be helpful and hope you will enjoy your tour to Tibet. The proverb “expectation always hurts” is true for Tibet travel and tours.
If there is any doubt or any question please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org