Tibet in its beauty and tradition is slowly changing and South Africans are urged to head there now in order to enjoy the essence that is Tibet.
The world has a number of truly spectacular places and many of them are facing destruction or at least some fundamental change that will alter the very essence of what made it special. We see this with the ISIS destruction of Palmyra in Syria, the rapid bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and sadly in Tibet as the Chinese industrial machine continues to grow.
Tibet is special as in a country that is largely Atheist. It is hugely Buddhist and it seems that most of the Tibetans go out of their way to practice what they preach - making it a special province in China. The rich culture and tradition - makes Tibet a place like no other.
Tibet is home to the world famous Potala Palace- once home to the Dalai Llama. The Dalai Lama now seeks refuge in India due to the political and religious instability surrounding Tibet in China. It also serves as the seat of the Tibetan government. Once thriving with monks - these days there aren’t too many due to stringent registration procedures being required by the Chinese government. Some monasteries in Tibet used to be home to as many as 10,000 monks but now roughly 400 remain. Thus, the cultural landscape of the province is changing rapidly.
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Be sure to visit some of the numerous monasteries In Lhasa. These monasteries are home to many pilgrims going about their daily routine of visiting the numerous Buddhist sites – it’s really something special to behold. And whilst you’re at it, do a circuit of the Kora to really entrench yourself in the spirit of Tibet.
How does a South African visit Tibet?
With a little difficulty due to stringent Chinese control of the province, but it isn’t insurmountable!
First off, you’ll need a Chinese Visa and you will need permits to enter Tibet. This is where the fun starts:
Visa : Chinese Visa
Permits: Done via Tour manager
Independent travel in Tibet as a foreigner is not allowed and you need to join an organized tour. Unfortunately there is no way around this. The onus is on the tour operator to provide you with the necessary permits, so you do not have to stress too much about them.
You have 2 options either Flying or by train. Flying direct makes sense if you are under time pressure but be prepared to spend top dollar – a flight can set you back north of R13,000! I opted for the train from Shanghai but it’s a 2-day trip there and another 2-day trip back – not for the faint of heart, or those that do not have spare time.
Get out of Lhasa:
The Himalayas are on Lhasa’s doorstep so be sure to choose a tour that will let you see them. One can choose to do a day trip to the Everest Base Camp or numerous other altitude-defying peaks in the region. The altitude will take a day or two to get used to, so do not drink too much and make sure you eat enough spicy food - garlic and pepper will be your friends!
Choosing a tour:
I am not a big fan of organized tours as they take away the feeling of adventure as every movement is controlled by an operator. All hope is not lost in Tibet. Although, I think a number of agencies respect a traveler’s desire to explore a city independently. When booking a tour, make sure you read the reviews to ascertain whether you will have the opportunity to explore a little on your own. Remember that this will only be possible in Lhasa as the rest of Tibet is largely in the iron-fist of Chinese tourism control. Google is your friend when it comes to choosing the best tour operator for you.
If Tibet is a destination on your radar, now really is the time to get there.
As it is, there are skyscrapers being erected near the city and massive highways and railway lines being drilled through the mountains. Development is good for a country but in this case, I feel that what makes Tibet special is on the verge of being lost.
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