Tibet offers unique souvenirs. Pilgrim accessories such as prayer flags, portable prayer wheels and brass butter lamps are found in most monasteries and pilgrimage sites and are the most typical travel souvenirs. Arts and crafts from Tibet include hand-painted thangkas (religious images) and metal-cast Buddha statues and figures of the tutelary gods. Handwoven carpets are making a comeback in Lhasa and Shigatse. In addition, chuba (coats lined with sheepskin), the cowboy hats of the nomads and the chic dresses of the Tibetan women are also suitable as souvenirs. Caution should be exercised when buying turquoise jewelry, as it is usually fake. The best choice is in Lhasa, especially on the Barkhor, where prices should be bargained down, and Lhasa Village. Chinese trekking articles, some genuine and some fake, with a wide range to rival that of Kathmandu, are also available for purchase. A certificate is required to export antiques made before 1949. Under no circumstances should you buy skins and skins from endangered species such as leopards. are also available for purchase. A certificate is required to export antiques made before 1949. Under no circumstances should you buy skins and skins from endangered species such as leopards. are also available for purchase. A certificate is required to export antiques made before 1949. Under no circumstances should you buy skins and skins from endangered species such as leopards.
Daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Lhasa is the only Tibetan city that has any kind of nightlife. Most bars are Chinese karaoke bars, but there is sometimes live blues and pop music. Backpackers’ favorite haunts are the restaurants and cafes near the old town, where you can chat about your trekking adventures until the early hours of the morning. Most interesting are the Nangma clubs with their unique mix of Tibetan karaoke, live music and line dancing. Traditional music and folk dance are usually only seen during festivals, but there are a few venues in Lhasa that offer stage shows for tourists.
The rugged mountainous landscape of Tibet has resulted in a relatively simple cuisine. The staple foods of most Tibetans are dumplings and noodles. On special occasions there is also roasted yak meat. Chinese restaurants are everywhere, offering spicy Sichuan dishes or Muslim (pork-free) Gansu dishes. Backpacker-friendly restaurants in the larger cities serve variations on Western fare, including yak burgers and yak cheesecake.
Momos are steamed, sometimes fried dumplings filled with pureed vegetables and yak fish. They are typical of the Himalayan region and are eaten from Ladakh to Bhutan. Thukba is one of the many variations of noodle soup. Depending on the shape of the pasta, the thick dish is also called thanthuk or hipthuk. Bö cha (yak butter tea) is the most typical drink in Tibet. Tea leaves, boiling water, yak butter, salt and baking soda are mixed in a long wooden vessel to create a greasy, broth-like drink notorious among foreigners. It’s perfect for replenishing salt loss and preventing chapped lips. Tsampa (roasted, ground barley) is a staple food in rural areas of Tibet. It is often mixed with butter tea to make a nutritious porridge. Mixed with sugar and milk or yoghurt, it becomes a tasty breakfast.
Tipping is not normally expected, but 10% is appreciated in tourist restaurants.
Hotels, which are mainly found in Lhasa, range from youth hostels to chic guesthouses to luxury hotel chains such as Sheraton and St. Regis. Typically Chinese hotels are found outside of the larger cities, and in remote areas one sometimes has to make do with dormitory-style rest areas without running water or indoor toilets. In general, the hotel facilities are perfectly acceptable, if not particularly inspiring. If you are traveling off the tourist routes, you should take a sleeping bag with you.
If you want to travel to the far west or east or to popular travel destinations such as Lake Namtsho or the region around Mount Everest, you should definitely take a tent and sleeping bag with you. Be prepared for extreme weather conditions and cold, but those who are well equipped will absolutely enjoy camping by one of the clear, turquoise Tibetan lakes.
Other accommodation options
Budget accommodation Popular destinations such as Lhasa and Shigatse have hostels or budget hotels accustomed to foreign or Chinese backpackers. The youth hostels in Lhasa are particularly popular with Chinese backpackers. There are mostly dorms and private rooms to choose from, and rental bikes, internet access and washing machines are often available. Special accommodations Especially in Lhasa there are some wonderful boutique hotels, for example in historic villas or even in former monks’ residences. You may have to forgo one or two modern conveniences, but the pretty, traditional architecture and private meditation rooms or chapels easily compensate for this. Depending on the political situation, it is sometimes also possible to stay overnight in a monastery’s guest house, for example in Mindroling, Drigung Til or Dorje Drak – a simple but charming and timeless type of accommodation.
Tibet’s history has long been shaped by its powerful neighbor China. The early Tibetan Empire was one of the largest in Asia, taking even the Chinese capital of Xian in AD 763. However, the arrival of Buddhism in the eighth and ninth centuries fundamentally changed Tibet. A warrior empire has become one of the world’s most progressive centers of spirituality. The Middle Ages were defined by the relationship with China and Mongolia and the poorly defined notion of independence and tribute. This problem is as relevant today as it was in the 13th century. until the 20th In the 19th century, under the leadership of the born-again Dalai Lamas, Tibet was essentially a medieval theocracy, with wealth, education and political power in the hands of powerful and often rival monasteries. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Tibet isolated itself from the rest of the world; it used the Himalayas as a kind of bulwark and closed its gates to international visitors, which contributed to its exotic-mysterious image abroad. Communist China’s conquest of Tibet in 1950 broke this isolation, ushering in four decades of political turmoil and personal tragedy. The flight of the Dalai Lama in 1959 is part of the long list of accidents, the destruction of thousands of monasteries in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and the internment of thousands of political prisoners, many of whom were monks and nuns. Since the late 1980s, many of the former religious freedoms have returned, but political tensions remain. Violent demonstrations by Tibetans drew attention in 1987, 1989 and 2008, and the Tibet issue remains problematic for China internationally. However, Tibet’s economy is growing vigorously and tourism is a good business with more than two million visitors a year, most of whom are Chinese. The communist government points to huge investments in infrastructure, airports and the disputed railway line as evidence of its determination to improve the lives of Tibetans. Frustrated Tibetans, on the other hand, complain about the mass Chinese immigration, the poor labor market situation and the interference of the Chinese state in religious matters. As the Chinese government continues to exclude the Dalai Lama from political processes, the future of Tibet remains uncertain for the time being.
Almost all locals are Tibetan Buddhists and practice Vajrayana, a form of Tantric Buddhism. A natural religion widespread among the Tibetan people is based primarily on the pre-Buddhist Bon religion, a shamanic belief system involving spirits, imprecations and exorcism.
Social Rules of Conduct
Tibetans are generally very good-natured people. One should always walk clockwise around a stupa, religious statue, or mani wall (a stone wall engraved with religious mantras). Prayer wheels are also turned clockwise. One should not smoke or speak loudly in a monastery. A sky burial should not be attended uninvited, and even if invited, you must never photograph it. A guest of honor or a visitor in Tibet is often given a kathak, a white silk scarf. One should never discuss politics with one’s guide or a monk, as one never knows who is listening. Bridges, military installations or the army are not allowed to be photographed.
Best travel time
The best time to visit Tibet is between April and October. The high season falls in July and August and the weeks after the national holidays of May 1st and October 1st.
The mid-season months of April and May are the ideal time to visit if you want to avoid large crowds of tourists. The best months for trekking trips are July, August and September. Winters are very cold and accommodation and food options are limited, but if you are well equipped, this can be a great time to travel to Tibet.
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