The Roof of The World: 10 Facts about Altitude in Tibet


Tibet is often called the Roof of the World because of its high altitude. In this article, we collected the facts that illustrate and prove that Tibet holds this name for good reason.
If we look at the topographic map of the world, Tibet clearly stands out. But how high it really is? In this article, you will find information about natural as well as human-created highest wonders.

  • Tibet is located on the Tibetan plateau. It is the highest plateau on our planet.
Tibet Topography map

The south border of Tibet is marked by the Himalayan range. Karakoram Range lies to the South-West border of the Tibetan plateau.

The Himalayas formed at the collision of tectonic plates and they are one of the youngest mountains on the planet.  The movement of tectonic plates didn’t stop and mountains continue slowly rising, adding 1-2cm every year.
Before the collision, the area of the present Himalayas was an ocean. People still find fossils in the Everest region.

  • The average altitude of Tibet is 4,500 meters/ 14,750 feet.
Driving by the mountain Gurla Mandhata in Burang, Tibet.

The limit for growing crops is 4,500 meters, and farmers settle in valleys below this altitude. Most of Tibet territory is above the tree-growing line. There are some forests in the lower altitude areas.
High altitude makes it difficult to grow crops. The most wide-spread farming crop is highland barley or Himalayan barley. Roasted barley flour (tsampa in Tibetan) is a staple food of the region.

More about staple food in Tibet: Traditional Food in Tibet

Tibetan nomads, however, travel throughout the year and sometimes set up their tents at altitude as high as 5,500 meters. Nomads have herds of yaks, and rarely sheep. Yaks are one of the few animals that successfully adapted to life in high altitude areas.

  • The highest mountain of the planet  – Everest (8,848 m) is located in the Himalayas and lies at the border between Tibet and Nepal.
Everest view in Tibet vs Nepal

Climbers approach the Everest peak from both countries. Tourists can also see the highest peak on the planet. 

You can travel to Mount Everest from both Tibet and Nepal. From Tibet, you can travel by car to the North face or you can trek to see North or East face of Everest. In Nepal, you can trek to the South Base camp or take a helicopter from Kathmandu or Lukla. 

More on the difference between two sides of Everest: Everest in Tibet vs Nepal: Which Everest Base Camp You Should Visit

  • 5 out of 14 highest peaks on the planet are located in Tibet. The highest and the lowest of these 14 are in Tibet: Everest (8,848 m) and Shishapangma (8027 m).
Panorama of the Shishapangma Mountain in Tibet
Shishapangma Mountain

There are only 14 mountains rising above 8,000 meters, called eight-thousanders. All of them are in Asia: in China, Nepal, Pakistan, and India. Reinhold Messner is the first person to climb all 14 highest peaks on the planet. He is also one of the few people who accomplished it without supplemental oxygen. Eight-thousanders located in Tibet:

  • Everest (8,848 m/ 29,029 ft)
  • Lhotse (8,516 m/ 27,940 ft)
  • Makalu (8,485 m/ 27,838 ft)
  • Cho Oyu (8,188 m/ 26,864 ft)
  • Shishapangma (8,027 m/ 26,335 ft)
  •  Lhasa is the highest capital.
Lhasa city panorama from Sera monastery area
Lhasa city panorama from Sera monastery area

Lhasa is the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. The elevation is 3,656 meters/ 11,995 feet. It is 16 meters higher La Paz, the government seat (although not an official capital) of Bolivia. The next highest capital is Quito in Ecuador at a much lower altitude of 2,850 meters.

Many travelers arriving in Lhasa experience symptoms of high altitude sickness. The symptoms are usually mild and disappear after2-3 days in Lhasa. Spending the first few days in Lhasa help to acclimatize before traveling to higher areas in Tibet. 

While acclimatizing in Lhasa, you will explore many of the important historical, cultural, and religious places. Lhasa highlights include Potala Palace, 7th century Jokhang Temple, Drepung, and Sera monasteries. If you wish to spend more time in the region, there are many great places to visit near Lhasa, including meditation caves complex Drak Yerpa, Ganden monastery, and the gorgeous turquoise-colored Yamdrok Lake.

More information about Tibetan capital: Lhasa

  • Potala Palace is the highest palace in the world. It stands on top of Marpo Ri hill at an elevation of 3,700 m/ 12,100 ft.
The front view of Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
Potala Palace in Lhasa

The Potala Palace undoubtedly dominates the scenery in Lhasa. It is rising above the Old Town and overlooks the capital. Originally built in the 7th century, it served as a residence of all successive Dalai Lamas starting from the 17th century. The Palace is a magnificent example of Tibetan architecture. Inside you will see religious statues, stupas, 3-D mandalas, thangka paintings, and other religious objects.

More about the palace: Potala Palace

  • Rongbuk monastery at the North face of Everest is the highest monastery in the world (5,050 meters). 

You will see Rongbuk Monastery when you travel to Everest in Tibet. It is the best place to enjoy the view of Everest.
Most tours spend a night by the Rongbuk either in a tent camp or in a simple guesthouse by the monastery. Every climbing expedition to Everest starts from the special rituals (puja) conducted by the monks of Rongbuk. Rongbuk is unique because it is a monastery and nunnery at the same time.

  • The highest railroad in the world connects Tibet with Chinese cities.
Train seen on the way to Namtso Lake
Railroad in Tibet

Qinghai-Tibet railroad goes through the pass over 5,000 meters high near Tanggula Mountain range. There is a special system in every train cart pumping supplemental oxygen. When the train passes the highest areas, even with additional oxygen, the air pressure is equivalent to the pressure at 3,000 meters. That’s why there are also individual oxygen systems on a train. 

More information about Qinghai-Tibet railroad: Trains to Tibet

  • 5 of the world’s highest airports are located in Tibetan territories.

The five airports are:

  • Yading Airport (4,411 m / 14,472 ft) in Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture
  • Qamdo Bamda Airport (4,400 m / 14,436 ft) in Tibet Autonomous Region
  • Kangding Airport (4,280 m / 14,042 ft) in Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture
  • Ngari Airport (4,274 m / 14,022 ft)  in Tibet Autonomous Region
  • Garze Gesar Airport (4,068 m / 13,346 ft) in Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

Because of the altitude above 4,000 meters, it is best not to fly to any of these airports directly from the sea level. You should spend some time at altitude above 3,000 meters and acclimatize to it before flying above 4,000 meters.

Lhasa airport is at a much lower altitude at “only” 3,570 m/ 11,713 ft. The airport is surrounded by beautiful mountains. When landing at the airport, you immediately feel that you are in Tibet because of such distinct landscape around you.

More information about Lhasa airport: Flights to Tibet

  • Tibetans have special adaptations to living in high altitudes: they have several specific genes, large lungs, and better lung functionality to use oxygen in the thin air more efficiently.

Most of the non-Tibetans experience at least some symptoms of high altitude sickness after 3,000 meters. Oxygen concentration drops to about 14% compared to 21% at the sea level. It takes several days to acclimatize to this altitude, and only after 2-4 days it is possible to continue traveling to higher areas.
Tibetans, on the other hand, can absorb oxygen more efficiently and maintain a higher oxygen level in their blood. They can also experience high altitude sickness, but at a much higher elevation compared to everyone else. Many Tibetan nomads live in 5,500 meters high areas, while it takes a week or more for everyone else to acclimatize to it.






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