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01/07/2013

Tibet General Travel Guide

Hidden high on the roof of the world, Tibet is a land of golden monasteries, spectacular mountain scenery and a deep spiritual heritage that lives as much in our imagination as it does in the remote Himalaya.

Many travellers will be drawn to Tibet by the spectacular Buddhist temples, stunning high-altitude scenery or huge blue salt lakes. Epic journeys beckon everywhere, from the world's highest railway trip to the classic overland drive across the Himalayas to Kathmandu in Nepal. A recurring highlight wherever you go is the Tibetan people, always quick with a smile, from visiting bands of pilgrims to nomads in their yak-hair tents.

Once the very definition of remote, arduous and forbidden travel, Tibet is now surprisingly well connected by road, plane and even rail links. Massive change is reshaping the politically troubled plateau and complicated travel restrictions make independent travel tricky, so check current regulations and the political situation before planning a trip included in your affordable China travel packages.

Tibet things to see and do

Changtang

Home to herds of wild ass, dramatic grasslands and turquoise salt lakes, Tibet's remotest, emptiest and most beautiful corner is its northwestern wilderness. Unless you are mounting a full-on expedition, the best way is to pass through along the northern route to Mt Kailash, preferably camping at the lovely lakes en route.

Everest Base Camp

Don't tell the Nepalese, but the views of Everest from the northern Tibetan side are much more dramatic than from its southern neighbour. Bed down at Base Camp, visit Tibet's highest monastery or just stare at the North Face of the world's highest peak. Adventurers can trek in from Tingri or Kharta.

Ganden Monastery

The spectacularly situated monastery at Ganden offers perhaps the best day trip from Lhasa. Almost completely destroyed in the 1950s the complex has been largely restored, though political tensions remain. A lovely kora (pilgrim circuit) that offers incredible views only adds to the site's charm.

Guge Kingdom

Amateur archaeologists will feel their pulse quicken at this forgotten centre of Buddhist culture hidden in Tibet's remote far west. Underground staircases and tunnels link halls of spectacular Kashmiri-influenced Buddhist art, while the surrounding hillsides of cave complexes and crumbling ruins offer some genuine exploration.

Gyantse Kumbum

This unique eight-storied stupa is one of Tibet's architectural masterpieces. Paths wind around and up through the stupa, passing dozens of niches filled with impressive Buddhist art and iconography. Views from the roof look towards Gyantse fort, taken by the British army under Younghusband in 1904.

Jokhang Temple, Lhasa

The sacred Jokhang complex is Tibet's spiritual heart and famous attraction for China best tours. Join the awed Tibetan pilgrims as they spin prayer wheels and shuffle silently around medieval chapels thick with the smell of yak butter and juniper incense.

Mount Kailash

Sacred to over a billion people, iconic Mt Kailash is perhaps Asia's most enigmatic mountain, drawing pilgrims from across the world on a rugged but stunning overland trip to Tibet's far west. Join pilgrims on the three or four day trek around the mountain before relaxing on the spectacular shores of Lake Manasarovar.

Nam-tso

One of Tibet's most spectacular natural sights, this huge salt lake sits like a chunk of turquoise beneath a line of snow-capped 7000m peaks. Dotted with black yak-hair nomads' tents and pilgrim paths it's a great opportunity to taste the rugged beauty of wild northern Tibet.

Sakya Monastery

An easy detour off the Friendship Highway leads to this towering, brooding 13th-century monastery. Politically important for centuries, the monastery still contains towering Buddhist statues, a deeply atmospheric main prayer hall and plenty of surrounding chapels to explore.

Samye Monastery

Situated between the mountains and the sandy banks of the Yarlung Tsangpo river, the uniquely circular walls of Tibet's oldest monastery enjoy one of the loveliest locations in Tibet. The fact that Samye lies at the end point of Tibet's most popular trek (four days from Ganden) just adds to the magic.

Sera and Drepung Monasteries, Lhasa

Tibet's two largest monasteries are almost miniature towns in themselves, complete with colleges, prayer halls, kitchens and debating halls. Don't miss the debating monks of Sera or the pilgrim circuit at Drepung.

Sichuan-Tibet Highway

The remote mountain roads through the Kham region of eastern Tibet are some of the world's wildest and most beautiful. The overland trip takes you through another Tibet; of forested alpine valleys and lush meadows, deep canyons and rich biodiversity. Neither easy nor cheap, this is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Take a trip along Friendship Highway

The ancient 870km (541 miles) trade route between Lhasa and Kathmandu ranks as one of the world's great road trips included in your popular China travel package . The rollercoaster ride takes you over prayer-flag-strewn high passes and past huge lakes before dropping into the spicy lushness of the Indian subcontinent. Take a week and savour the many monastery sights en route.

Tashilhunpo Monastery, Shigatse

Shigatse has long been political and religious rival to Lhasa, so it's not surprising that the seat of Tibet's number two religious leader, the Panchen Lama, is a monastic town of huge golden stupas and a colourful annual ceremony that sees the hanging of a huge thangka (religious painting).

Visit Potala Palace, Lhasa

The breathtaking former abode of the Dalai Lamas towers like a fortress above Lhasa, while the labyrinthine monastery-like interior below houses some of Tibet's great treasures. Crowds can be thick so you need to book in advance a time to visit.

You can get more via China travel agents.

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