THE KINTSUGI GUIDE TO TIBET

Despite sometimes challenging circumstances, Tibet is still a mysterious, magical place to visit, and one whose geography and culture will open your mind and fill your heart…

Tibet is a unique and extraordinary place to visit – not least because of the heavy restrictions on tourism which mean independent travel is strictly prohibited and so it still feels relatively unexplored – but also because of its astounding geography, wonderful people and rich, cultural history.

Tibet is a unique and extraordinary place to visit – not least because of the heavy restrictions on tourism which mean independent travel is strictly prohibited and so it still feels relatively unexplored – but also because of its astounding geography, wonderful people and rich, cultural history.

Getting There
People wanting to visit Tibet do so via a prearranged tour or with a guide and driver, who will also need to organise all your accommodation, visas and transport. There are many to tours and guides to choose from, and a few different routes to take. Below we have rounded up our most important places to visit or see. Choose an ten to 14-day tour, which allows you time to be respectful and mindful as you travel, to learn a little of the Tibetan culture and to spend time with the Tibetan people, to take quiet moments at important monuments and also time to acclimatise to the considerable altitude.

Geography
Known by many as the ‘roof of the world’, Tibet sits as one of the highest countries in the world. The geography is vast, magnificent and humbling, and any journey across its plateau will take in deep blue lakes, vast plains, tiny nomadic villages and, of course, the incredible sight of the north face of Everest. You can fly, train or drive into Tibet, but the two day train journey from mainland China along the Qinghai Tibet Railway is especially worth doing if you have time, offering extraordinary views of the mountains and pasturelands, and giving you a real sense of the geography of this country as you arrive.

Culture
People and faith are two of the very important things to take away from a trip to Tibet. Spirituality is a core part of the Tibetan culture, and the people’s devotion to their faith is captivating – your tour will undoubtedly take in monasteries, prayer halls and meditation retreats, while you will also see pilgrims, worshippers and monks throughout your journey. In addition, ancient culture and knowledge, brought from India by old masters and translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan, is preserved and revered to this day. Make sure to take time to talk to the people that you meet, their love for their country, their deep faith and their warm smiles are truly the best thing about Tibet and they are what you will remember long after you leave.

DON’T MISS…

Lhasa
Lhasa, the Holy City, which translates as ‘Place of the Gods’ has been an important Buddhist centre for thousands of years. While here, you must visit the Potala Palace here, the winter residence of the Dalai Lama, situated in the Tibetan old town. Its red and white brick and fortress walls rising up above the city feel otherworldly, while its surrounding backstreets and courtyards are a world entirely of their own. Also in Lhasa, the colourful and deeply sacred Jokhang Temple must be seen, while just out of the city, the Sera Monastery, which dates back to 1419, is peaceful and calming, and the monk debating that takes place from 3-5pm in the gardens is always a wonderful thing to experience.

Gyantse Kumbum
In Gyantse, one of Tibet’s smaller cities, don’t miss the Gyantse Kumbum, a 32-metre high Buddhist stupa that is unparalleled in Tibet, and features a series of tiny chapels, each one exquisitely hand-painted.

Mt Kailash
One of the most important spiritual pilgrimage sites in Tibet, this beautiful mountain takes three days to walk to, but you can do an acclimatisation hike from the nearby town of Darchen, to get a real sense of this special place. Surrounding Mt Kailash are several important monasteries, including Gyangdrak Monastery, the largest of the Mt Kailash monasteries, and Selung Monastery, which has wonderful views of Mt Kailash.

The Sacred Lakes
Just 20km south of Mt Kailash is Lake Manasarovar. Known as the Invincible Lake, Lake Manasarovar is among the world’s highest fresh-water lakes, and it is a deeply sacred place. The Tibetans believe that bathing with the water of Manasarovar will drive off unwanted desires, thoughts and past sins, while drinking the water will ensure good health. More spiritual healing can also be found at Lake Gauri Kund, known as the Lake of Compassion, which holds particular importance for Hundu pilgrims, many of whom can be seen throwing the water over themselves in reverence.

Everest Base Camp
As much a part of the Tibetan culture as any religious site, Everest remains one of the most important places to visit it Tibet. Driving towards it, the panorama of the Himalayas at Gawula Pass is extraordinary. Your guide will hopefully arrange for you to see sunrise or sunset on Everest, the golden colours on the majestic mountain offer a true moment of deep reflection, and a reminder of the awesome power of nature. At Base Camp, tourists aren’t allowed to visit the expedition tents, but you can hike up the small hill festooned with prayer flags for great views and visit the Mt Qomolangma Base Campmarker, which indicates that you are at 5200m above sea level.

Scenery
By far one of the most important things about Tibet is not the tourist attractions, but the simple joy of travelling around this staggering landscape. Be sure to factor plenty of time to stop en route to a new destination, to take the more winding scenic roads or visit the small nomadic villages and deep turquoise lakes. When organising your tour, ask about the possibilities of including the likes of the Gampala pass, Mount Nyenchen Khangsar, the Korola Glacier, the Yalong Valley, Yarlung Tsangpo River, Nam-tso and Yamdrok-tso.