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Me and my fiancée are researching travelling to Tibet next summer, however we have a limited amount of time (17 days to be exact), limited budget and we aren't really interested in hiking, we are more interested in getting to know the Tibetan culture.

With this background in mind and by the information we have found online, mainly posted in Wikitravel, Quora and TibetTravel.org we are wondering if this is really a good idea to pursue since we have found that:

  • We would travel from North America to Nepal/China (2 days lost to get there/come back + advance $$$ for visas)
  • Wait there for special permits to Tibet ($$$ + n days lost)
  • Obtain some sort of tour guide ($$$ + limited options on what to do?)
  • Travel to Tibet (another 2 days lost - 4 days if we move by train from Shangai, to choose whether to spend lots of cash on airplane or lots of time on train)
  • Have some sort of quick tour of Lhasa only - since apparently it's not easy to move around to other parts of the Tibet?.

So we are talking roughly about no more than 10 days to be just in Lhasa and a whole lot of paperwork hassle and lots of time and money spent trying to actually get to Tibet, so for seasoned travellers of the area - does this sound like an effort worth doing to actually get there for a small amount of time and is the information we have collected accurate?

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Two summers ago I was given a tip by a solo traveller who had just been there. China set some kind of arbitrary border defining Tibet and only this area requires a permit. Outside this area the people look Tibetan, speak Tibetan, they are Tibetan by ethnicity, culture, history, language, etc. He travelled overland from Spain to Southeast Asia and back in a period of over a year and told me this was the best part of his trip. I believe it's also less spoiled than the Tibet you need permits for. I don't know specific details but hopefully this gives you something to work with. –  hippietrail Sep 24 '12 at 8:17

1 Answer 1

Friends who have been in Tibet and Lhasa told me that it is quite difficult to get to Tibet, as you mentioned. They had to travel in a group lead by a tour guide. The larger the group the less likely it is that you get trouble with the police about visa stuff (ie. small groups are controlled more frequently, and you'll always need a guide). I was told that there is a minimum group size of five to get in, but unfortunately I don't know on what they based that number, might have been the tour operator's claim..

One more thing you should consider is the altitude of Tibet. As you get above 3500m some people start to get altitude sickness / mountain illness (feeling drowsy, pressure in head and/or stomach, and nausea). This can be life threatening. So my advice would be to acclimatise to the height slowly and watch each other for any signs of altitude sickness. You might experience that it is more tiring to run around and do day to day activities due to the pressure change and lower oxygen density. Do consider this in your plan and plan for an escape route in case you do get ill.

As for Tibet itself, I heard that the locals are extremely friendly as soon as you spend some time and effort to communicate properly with them. Meaning that China is pumping more and more Chinese businessmen into Tibet in order to make the Tibetans a minority. Many temples have been destroyed in Tibet itself. So the locals are often a bit more reserved towards strangers/tourists (naturally, I'd be too!).

So here is my recommendation, if you are worried about all the paperwork and access complications, but want to get to know Tibetan culture with less hassle: go to Nepal, specifically into the Mustang mountain range. Here many Tibetans fled when China marched into their land and they are still living in the mountains. So there are many original Tibetan Buddhist temples which are well maintained and inhabited by Tibetans.

Perhaps you could go to Nepal first, checking it out and also experiencing the altitude (it is not as high as the Himalayas, so a good starting point for further expeditions), and if you want to experience how Tibet is nowadays, you could still go from Nepal to Tibet with a tour, like my friends.

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