Why You Should Travel to Tibet Once in Your Lifetime

Last updated: August,18 2018

“If I tell you my dream, you might forget it. If I act on my dream, perhaps you will remember it, but if I involve you, it becomes your dream too.” –Tibetan proverb.

Known as the “Roof of the World”, Tibet was long a land of mystery and mysticism to the western world, and was a very secular nation for more than 2,000 years. Set on the highest plateau in the world and rimmed by the mighty Himalayas, this unique land has an average elevations of over 4,000 meters, and has been a land of mysterious and mystical people and traditions for thousands of years.

The Land of Mystery

A Buddhist land for over 1,300 years, Tibet was inaccessible to western explorers and adventurers for centuries, and many attempts to discover more about its people and culture were blocked by the local form of governance for more than 200 years. Tibet had very limited contact with the outside world for a long time. It was not until the Chinese government opened the region to tourism in the 1980s that western people were finally able to visit this mysterious land and see for themselves the natural beauty of the landscapes and the unique culture of the Tibetan people first hand.

Unique Buddhist Culture

Tibetans area deeply devout people, and the main religion in the region is Buddhism. Brought to Tibet from India during the time of the Tibetan Empire in the 7th century, and by the 8th century had become the predominant religion of Tibet. Tibetan Buddhism is a form of Vajrayana Buddhism that was derived from the later stages of Indian Buddhism, and was spread out of Tibet to Mongolia and the famous leader Kublai Khan.

Tibetan Buddhism is also unique in that it is so ingrained into the everyday lives of the Tibetan people that it is no longer just a religion or belief, but actually a major part of Tibetan culture and traditions. Buddhism is so deeply wound into the lives of the people that it can be found in almost every aspect of life on the plateau, from how they farm the land to what they eat for food. The goal of enlightenment is the aim of every Tibetan Buddhist, and they strive to achieve that daily, with many rites and rituals to purify one’s karma, avoid demonic forces, and praying for a bountiful harvest.

Unique Buddhist CultureExploring the unique Tibetan Buddist culture through the religious activities

Buddhism in Tibet has strict doctrines that all Tibetan Buddhists live by, and which serve them well in their daily lives, making the best out of the often poor circumstances in which they live. Buddhism has also had a major influence on the arts, from visual arts and architecture to literature and music.

Sacred Buddhist Pilgrims

For many Tibetan Buddhists, a pilgrimage is an important practice that dates back to the earliest days of Buddhism in India. Taking a pilgrimage journey to one of the many sacred sites across Tibet is a way of attaining merits towards enlightenment, and the more devout the pilgrim, the harder the pilgrimage is, with many traveling hundreds of kilometers on their hands and knees. This form of pilgrimage, where the pilgrim prostrates himself full length on the ground, marking the point where his hands reach, then rising to move forward to that point and performing the prostration again, is believed to attain more merit than merely walking the distance to the holy site.

Pilgrims, both walking and prostrating, can be found all over the region, especially during the winter months when the farmers can make their journeys, and in Lhasa the most popular pilgrimage site is the Jokhang temple, where devout Buddhist pilgrims can be seen prostrating themselves in front of the region’s most sacred temple in prayer, and performing the ritual kora around the temple itself.

Jokhang TempleVisiting Jokhang Temple, the most popular pilgrimage site in Tibet

Another popular site for pilgrimage is the holy Mount Kailash in western Tibet, which is known as the holiest mountain in the world, and is believed to be the birthplace of all life. The Mount Kailash kora, a trail that follows a route around the sacred site, is 52 kilometers long, and normally takes three day to walk around it. However, some Tibetan’s do it in one day, while others prostrate themselves around the entire circuit. It is widely believed that to complete one circuit can be absolved of a lifetime of sin. They also believe that completing 13 consecutive circumambulations can help them attain enlightenment in their lifetime, while completing 108 circuits consecutively will give them instant enlightenment.

The koras in the different sites around Tibet can be done by anyone, and it is important to remember that Buddhists walk clockwise around the site. The Kailash kora is a popular trek for foreign tourists to Tibet, and gives one a great sense of achievement to have completed the 52-kilometer route that includes a mountain pass of more than 5,000 meters.

Mount Everest

The tallest mountain in the world, Mount Everest stands 8,848 meters (29,002 ft) above sea level, and lies on the border between Tibet and Nepal. Unclimbed for many years, the mountain was finally conquered in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay, a Sherpa guide. In Tibet, the mountain is known as Chomolungma, and the border actually runs directly across the summit point. To the north of the mountain lies the Northern Everest Base Camp, which has been used by hundreds of mountaineers over the decades, and which is the closest point tourists can get to the mountain. However, unlike the Southern Base Camp in Nepal, the views of the peak are magnificent, and often form part of the Tibet tour.

Climbing Mount EverestClimbing Mountain Everest must be the dream for most adventurers

A unique experience, standing in front of this mighty mountain is the dream of many people around the world, and the base camp sees many thousands of tourists every year making the journey across Tibet to get there. The base camp is also the culmination of one of Tibet’s most popular treks, which runs for 70 kilometers over rough and rugged terrain from the town of Old Tingri. A three-day trek, it is not for the novice trekker, and nights are spent camping in tents instead of at hostels and lodges.

Stunning Natural Landscape

No matter where you go in Tibet, the spectacular nature of the landscape is evident all around you, with high snow-capped mountains, shimmering glass-like lakes, and lush valleys separated by vast expanses of prairie. Tibet has a landscape that is like no other on the planet, and is as beautiful as it is vast. The average altitude of the plateau region is around 4,900 meters above sea level, and it is a natural paradise on earth. Dotted with holy lakes that are a large part of Tibetan Buddhism, and thousands of high mountains, the landscape changes from place to place, and it is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the world.

Namtso LakeCapture the stunning natural scenery of Namtso Lake

Vast expanses of grasslands cover huge areas of the plateau, many of them inhabited only by wild animals, while a few are the summer grazing grounds of the herds of yaks and flocks of sheep kept by the tribes of Tibetan nomads. These nomadic herders roam the plains and prairies throughout most of the year, grazing their herds on the lush green grass, and living in yak-hair tents known as yurts.

Monasteries and Palaces

When it comes to architecture, Tibet has more than enough amazing sites to make you gape in awe. With more than one thousand monasteries around the region, which belong to the different sects of Tibetan Buddhism, there are plenty of places to visit to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism, and to see the Tibetan monks in their daily routines. Several of the most famous monasteries are found in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, such as the Sera Monastery, Drepung Monastery, and the Jokhang Temple. Lhasa is also the site of the most spectacular palace in the world, Potala Palace. Built on a 7th century fortress site, the palace sits 300 meters above the city on the Red Hill, known locally as Moburi. Consisting of two palaces, the Red Palace and the White Palace, it is the most popular tourist spot in Tibet.

Potala PalacePotala Palace, the landmark of Tibet

The Train to Tibet

While flying is normally the most popular way to travel to a new country, for many people, getting to Tibet is more popular by train. Opened in 2006, and covering 1,956 kilometers across the Tibetan Plateau, the Qinghai Tibet Railway is the jewel in the crown of Tibetan tourism, and is a journey of adventure and excitement that can take from 22 hours to three days. The railway is an extension of the Chinese rail network, and has replaced the old Qinghai Tibet Highway as the main route into Tibet for both people and goods.

Taking a Tibet trains to Lhasa is a unique experience, and contain sleeper carriages to make the long journeys more comfortable. Passing through stunning valleys, across vast open grasslands, and climbing over high mountain passes of more than 5,000 meters, the journey from Xining in Qinghai Province to Lhasa is one of the most amazing trips in the world, and is a mini-tour of the region, with hundreds of stunning sights to see along the way.

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