Tibet has had vassal status to China for centuries. In China it is known as Xizang (meaning “Western treasure house of Buddhist scriptures”) and became an Autonomous Region within China in 1950. Tibet is the China’s natural south-western border because Tibet’s southern edge contains the highest Himalayan Mountains including Qomolangma Feng (Mount Everest 29,029 feet [8,848 meters]) which stands on the border with Nepal. The Tibetan Plateau is the source of the waters that become the Yarlong Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), the Indus, and the Ganges. Many tourists flock to see the ancient Tibetan buildings at Lhasa and Shigatse.
Popular Cities: Lhasa, XigaZe, Gyangze, Qamdo, Nyingchi, Gar, Nyalam.
Average temperature: -18ºC to 3.5ºC (-0.4ºF to 38.3ºF) in January, 7ºC and 19ºC (44.6ºF to 66.2 ºF) in July.
Places to visit
1. The Potala Palace in Lhasa is the center of Tibetan Buddhism and popular with tourists. The Palace was built by King Songtsan Gambo (617-650) for his Han Chinese wife Wen Cheng. Potala means ‘Buddha’s mountain’ in Sanskrit, it was last re-built in the 17th century by the fifth Dalai Lama. There are a thousand rooms, some 200,000 images and many grand halls. The West Main Hall holds the remains of the previous Dalai Lamas encased in gold. The fabulous Guanyin Hall is a rare fragment of the original palace. The whole palace was greatly strengthened to resist earthquakes by pouring liquid copper into the foundations. The palace complex took the work of more than 7,000 laborers and 1,500 artists for more than fifty years to complete.
2. The magnificent Jokhang Temple (Dazhaosi), founded more than 1,300 years ago, is situated in the center of Lhasa. In front of the gate stands a stone tablet from the Tang Dynasty, bearing both Chinese characters and Tibetan script.
3. Another famous building in Lhasa is the Drepung Monastery located six miles north of the city. Standing on a high cliff, its many tiers leaning into a steep mountain face, the monastery is built in traditional Tibetan style. Founded in 1416, it was one of the centers of the “yellow hat” sect, and in its time was the largest of the three great monasteries near Lhasa, housing 10,000 lamas. The temples of the monastery are lavishly decorated with statues of the Buddha, Zongkaba, and others of the Buddhist pantheon. The monastery is still open to worshippers.
4. Mount Qomolangma, meaning “goddess the third” in the Tibetan language, or Mt. Everest as known in the West, is the world’s highest peak, more than 39,000 feet high. It is everybody’s wish to see the world’s highest peak, of course, but it is best to admire it from afar, and leave the climbing to the mountaineers.
5. Other well known attractions are the Tashilhunpo Monastery at Xigaze (Shigatse) this is the home of the Panchen Lama (second in seniority to the Dalai Lama). The other monasteries are dotted around including Baiqoi Monastery at Gyangze; Drepung Lamasery, Sera Monastery and Gandain Sacred places include Yamdrok Lake.
6. Namtso Lake, or Lake Nam, is one of the three holy lakes in Tibet and should not be missed by any traveler to Tibet. In Tibetan, Namtso means “Heavenly Lake.” It is famous for its high altitude and imposing scenery. The second largest salt lake in China, Namtso covers 1,920 square kilometers and is also the second-highest salt lake in altitude in the world at an elevation of 4,718 meters above sea level.
7. Currently travel to Tibet by foreigners is tightly controlled; it is not possible to travel about on your own. It is also essential to allow adequate time to acclimatize for the very high altitude. The Qinghai-Tibet railway was opened in 2006, and this has greatly increased the province’s accessibility from the rest of China. It is the highest railway in the world, reaching 16,640 feet [5,072 meters] at the Tanggula Pass.