Why Visit Tibet: 7 Reasons to Travel to The Roof of The World
There are 7 great reasons to visit Tibet, although we are sure that you can find even more. Please, feel free to share with us your reason to travel to Tibet in the comments section below!
Here are the 7 best reasons to visit Tibet in no particular order:
1. BUDDHISM IN TIBET
Although Buddhism appeared in India and later was adopted in Tibet, Tibetan lamas, scholars and practitioners preserved the teaching and developed sophisticated Buddhist practices. Visiting Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries, and witnessing Buddhist monks wearing maroon robes is one of the top reasons to travel to Tibet.
In Tibet, you can see some of the finest examples of Buddhist art and architecture. You will see magnificent palaces, huge monastery complexes with stunning interiors. Inside of the monasteries you will find detailed Thangka paintings, fine sculptures often decorated with silver, gold and precious metals, and other religious and ritual objects. During festival times or religious holidays celebration, you can watch large Thangka display in some monasteries or enjoy the performance of religious Cham dance.
At the same time, you can visit tiny meditation caves where Buddhist practitioners stay for meditation retreats that can last several years.
Tibet attracts travelers who want to visit large and ancient monasteries, watch monks’ debates and chanting, meditate in sacred places and take photos. Tibetan Buddhism tradition fascinates Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
Places to visit if you are interested in Buddhism
King Songtsen Gampo built Jokhang in the seventh century. Nowadays it is the heart of Lhasa. Barkhor street surrounds Jokhang and Tibetans walk along the street the sacred kora around the temple.
It is the masterpiece of Tibetan architecture. Large complex with 999 rooms and 1 cave was the seat of the Dalai Lama, religious school and political center of Tibet.
Samye Monastery is the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Padma Sambhava helped to found the monastery and establishing Buddhism in Tibet. The complex is built in the shape of the mandala to represent the model of the universe.
Sera monastery is one of the six main monasteries of Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the most popular sect in Tibet. The Dalai Lama is the leader of Gelug sect and at the same time, the leader of all other sects of Tibetan Buddhism. Sera monastery complex in Lhasa is impressive. One of the highlights of the visit is witnessing monks’ debates in the courtyard.
Sakya monastery, the main monastery of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism is away from the main tourist road. However, it deserves more attention. It is known for its unique architecture executed in a defensive style. Its distinctive decoration with white, red and black stripes represents Rig Sum Gompo – three Bodhisattvas. The interior of the monastery is also spectacular: huge heavily decorated statues, giant pillars, and the largest scriptures library in Tibet.
Tsurpu is the seat of Karmapa, the leader of Kagyu or the Black Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism and the third-highest Lama in Tibet (after the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama). Tsurphu is located about 1-1.5 hours away from Lhasa in a gorgeous valley. The monastery complex is still in the process of reconstruction. You will see some unique for Kagyu school elements in the chapels and interior decorations.
There are several great nunnery complexes in Tibet, however, Chimpu hermitage is a lot more than just a nunnery. Above the main nunnery building, you can explore the hermitage of meditation caves and small temples. Padma Sambhava meditated in these caves in the 8th century and gave some teachings as well. Sometimes you can visit meditation practitioners in one of the many caves on the mountain slope.
2. ANCIENT SITES IN TIBET
The earliest Tibetan architectural structures present today are from the 7th century. Many of the finest structures withstood the test of time and you can still see them. Some of them were reconstructed and enlarged in the following centuries but you can still see original elements from the early construction dates.
Aside from the buildings, there is a fine collection of artifacts, some are much older than the buildings where they are displayed.
The most important artifact in Tibet is the statue of Jowo Shakyamuni in Jokhang Temple dating over 2,500 years. It was created during the time when prince Siddhartha was living, and Lord Buddha consecrated it personally.
Another precious object is 7th-century Thangka made of 29,000 pearls. You can see The thangka in the Tradruk monastery in Tsedang.
ANCIENT SITES TO VISIT IN TIBET
Yumbulakhang is the first fort and the oldest building in Tibet. Its unusual for Tibet architecture attracts visitors. Yumbulakhang rises on the top of the hill dominating the scenery. Next to it, the mountain peak is covered by prayer flags making the scene vibrant and colorful.
Western Tibet has a distinct moon-like landscape with vast deserts, stone forests, and muddy mountains. Centuries ago Buddhist practitioners were meditating in the caves, dotting the mountain slopes. The magnificent Guge Kingdom had monastic centers at Tsaparang and Tholing monasteries. Nowadays you can see ruins of Guge Kingdom, some temples and interiors of monasteries are restored.
Drak Yerpa is a complex of temples and meditation caves nested on a mountain slope. Many important Buddhist practitioners and teachers meditated there. There is a cave of Indian master Atisha, surrounded by caves dedicated to Vajrapani. There is a cave of Songtsen Gampo, the 7th century Tibetan king. Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) spent several months in retreat in the Dawa Puk or Moon Cave. Drak Yerpa is near Lhasa and not crowded with tourists, making it a perfect half or full-day trip.
Pabongka is the 7th-century hermitage site centered around King Songtsen Gampo meditation cave.
Inside the main chapel, you can see the most important three Buddha statues – Rigsum Gompo. These three statues are self-arising carvings depicting Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara), Jampelyang (Manjushri) and Chana Dorjee (Vajrapani).
3. PHOTOGRAPHY IN TIBET
Tibet has endless opportunities for photographers of various genres. Taking vivid eye-catching photos is the main reason why photographers travel to Tibet.
Whether you are interested in mountains, rivers, and lakes, vast planes, forests or deserts, Tibet has a wide range of subjects. The best time for landscape photography is late fall to late spring when the weather is typically clear. In early spring you can travel to the area with peach blossom festival – one of the photographers’ favorite.
Photographers will enjoy opportunities to take stunning portraits. You can photograph locals and pilgrims in Lhasa. Many Tibetans wear their traditional clothes, even during everyday activities. During festivals and while on pilgrimage, Tibetans wear their best costume and it is the best time for photographers. Many photographers also enjoy an opportunity to capture Tibetan monks wearing their distinct maroon colored robes.
Please, be mindful of people’s reactions to your camera and be respectful. Always ask first if they don’t mind you taking photos and don’t insist if they are hiding from your camera.
Wildlife photographers will enjoy traveling to remote areas in Tibet. You can capture wild donkeys, gazelles, kiang and antelopes in Western and Northern Tibet. Sometimes we can see wild yaks in the North-Eastern areas of Tibet. If you are visiting nomad areas, you can see Tibetan foxes and groundhogs.
Bird-lovers can see many rare bird varieties in Tibet. The best places for bird-watching are around Yamdrok lake, especially in winter, Namtso lake, and Mansarovar lake.
4. TREKKING IN TIBET
The popular reason to visit Tibet is to experience high altitude trekking routes. In the hear of Himalayas, we have short and long trek options with various difficulty levels. Trekking in Tibet is a great way to escape from the busy world and connect with the beauty of nature.
Before the invention of cars and before the mass construction of roads, Tibetans were traveling on foot. Of course, most of them were nomads and they had to continuously move after their animals searching for pasture lands. Nowadays we can still walk these routes and enjoy pristine nature. The most popular routes connect important monastic centers.
GANDEN TO SAMYE TREK
The finest trekking route connects Ganden and Samye Monastery. Five-days long trek will take you through various landscapes on each day. You will see high mountains and cross two passes above 5,000 meters, you will enjoy the sight of alpine lakes, cross rivers, vast valleys with nomadic settlements. Towards the end of the trek, you will desent to the forest area and further down to the desert near Samye.
TSURPHU TO YANGPACHEN TREK
Another popular trek will take you from Tsurpu to Yangpachen. Trek starts in Tsurphu, about 1-1.5 hours driving from Lhasa. Tsurphu Monastery, the seat of Karmapa is the main monastery of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Trek will take you through high mountain passes, gorgeous valleys, along fast rivers and streams. At the end of the trek, you will be rewarded with a relaxing bath at Yangpachen hot spring.
MOUNT KAILASH TREK
Trekking around Mount Kailash is popular among people of four different religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Bon, and Jainism. Kailash is the sacred mountain and it is important to walk around it at least once in a lifetime. It is, however, a strenuous endeavor. The trekking route lies above 4,500 meters reaching 5,640 meters at its highest point at Drolma La pass. Trekking around Mount Kailash is an amazing way to experience culture in Tibet.
There are two main trekking opportunities in the region. One connects Old Tingri with Rongbuk monastery, the highest monastery in the world. This area is very dry with a hostile environment. The biggest reward is the view of incredible Everest. Unlike in Nepal, Everest’s north side is large and magnificent.
Another great option is trek lying to the East from Everest in Karma valley trekking. There are several trek routes. It takes between 6 and 14 days to complete it. But only the most dedicated trekkers who opt for 14 days trek will be rewarded by the view of rarely seen East Face of Everest.
In addition, you will walk through the valley of lakes. This area is bathing in green lush vegetation. High Mountains trap the moisture of monsoons coming from Nepal. These valleys have the most impressive vegetation in Tibet.
For advanced trekkers, the third option was trekking from the Everest Base Camp to Advanced Camp. This strenuous trek required proper acclimatizing to high altitude as you follow the route for climbing Everest. Starting from 2019, the Everest region area including all camps past Rongbuk monastery is closed for a clean up project.
5. OFF THE BEATEN PATH DESTINATIONS
One of the greatest reasons to visit Tibet is to see places off from the beaten path, where you can explore the traditional way of life and untouched scenery away from tourist routes.
In Tibet, you can visit remote areas where nomads follow the traditional way of life that they lead for centuries and see wild animals in the natural habitat.
Nomads still lead a traditional way of life as they did for many generations. They live in yak wool tents. Nomads are herders and they constantly move following their yaks in search of rich pasture lands. Impressive Tibetan Mastiff dogs guard tents and animals. When we visit the nomad’s settlements, they can invite us for a cup of butter tea and offer simple food.
SEE TIBETAN TRADITIONAL COSTUME
Tibetans love dressing up in their traditional dress. Although not everyone wears it for everyday activities, and you will see many Tibetans in traditional clothes even in Lhasa. Pilgrims traveling from remote areas of Tibet have different decorations, elaborate headdresses, and jewelry. Tibetans will wear their best clothes during festival time and while on pilgrimage to holy sites.
OBSERVE THE WILDLIFE
In many areas of Tibet, you can still see wildlife in natural habitat. There is so little destruction for animals, that they are not afraid to be near roads and trekking routes. You can see Tibetan wild donkeys, antelopes, and Tibetan wild kiang. In some areas of Eastern Tibet, you can still see wild yak, the animal is much larger and more aggressive than domestic yaks. On the trekking routes, you can see groundhogs, Tibetan foxes, and other animals. Bird lovers will enjoy the sight of many birds, including migrating back-necked cranes in winter.
6. MOUNTAINS IN TIBET
Tibetan plateau is the highest plateau on the planet. It’s no surprise that Tibet is home to the 5 highest mountain peaks out of 14. They are often called eight-thousanders for reaching over 8,000 meters above sea level. That’s why Tibet is the perfect destination for mountaineers, climbers, and photographers. Even if you are not planning to sumit any of the peaks, you will be impressed by the majestic view of these giants. It is the site worth seeing at least once in a lifetime.
MOUNTAINS ABOVE 8,000 METERS
There is no better place to start than the highest and most well-known mountain on the planet. In Tibet you can see the North Face of Everest. This side of Everest is the most impressive. You will get a chance to spend a night in a valley dominated by the mountain rising above the Himalayas. For some it will be the night to remember for the rest of their lives, for others, it is only the beginning of their journey to the top of Everest.
Next to Everest you can see another 8-thousander – Mountain Lhotse (8,516 m).
CHO OYU (8,188m)
Cho Oyu is the 6th highest mountain on the planet. This mountain peak is the very popular entry point to the world of eight-thousanders for climbers. The climb up Cho Oyu is the least technical and dangerous. Many mountaineers first test their abilities on it, before attempting an Everest Summit.
Shishapangma is the 14th highest mountain. Unlike many other eight-thousanders that rise across the Tibet-Nepal border and can be accessed from both countries, Shishapangma is located in Tibet. The mountain also has a relatively easy access route and popular among the mountaineers attempting to climb their first 8,000 meters peak.
Not only the highest mountains receive their fair share of attention. Many of the peaks are sacred in Tibet.
Probably the most well-known sacred mountain is Mount Kailash. It is only 6,638 meters high but attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. Because of its high importance, it was never climbed. You can enjoy the view of its 4 faces while trekking around it.
Mount Kailash is sacred for 4 religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Bon. Followers of all these religions walk the 52km long trail around the mountain. The route that Tibetans can complete in one day usually takes 3 days for visitors from the rest of the world. The reason is high altitude along the way, reaching 5,640 meters at the highest point.
There are many other impressive peaks in Tibet. Below are the most prominent ones.
Gurla Mandhata Peak (7,694m) perking over the Manasarovar lake. It is the 34th highest peak in the world. It is framing the background scenery of the lake with its snow-capped peak.
NAMCHA BARWA (7,782m)
Namcha Barwa mountain is visible when traveling from Lhasa to Basim Tso lake in Nyingchi, Eastern Tibet. It is the 28th highest peak in the world. The mountain is sacred for followers of the Bon Religion. It was the dominant religion before the adoption of Buddhism in Tibet. You can see the snowy peak of the mountain rising above Yarlung Tsangpo River.
Nyenchen Tanglha Mountain range is located by the Namtso lake. It is a huge mountain range spreading over 700 km and dominating the scene. Its main peak Mount Nyenchen Tanglha is 7,162 meters high.
This stunning snow and the ice-capped mountain range is above 6,000 meters. That’s why even in the warmest summertime, it is always covered with a white cap. Melting ice flows into the rivers. You can see the glacier when traveling from Lhasa to Shigatse, between Yamdrok Lake and Gyantse.
Medui Glacier is framing a gorgeous setting for alpine Ranwu Lake. It is located in Bomi, a magnificent area in Eastern Tibet with another name of Tibetan Switzerland. Nature lovers and photographers will enjoy the sight. The best time to visit the area is in early spring when you can see peach blooming trees on the way.
7. LAKES IN TIBET
The lake has a gorgeous turquoise color with hues ranging from light shiny blue to the dark navy in the shade. It is located between Lhasa and Shigatse, making it a popular stopping point on many group tour routes. It is a sacred lake in Tibet.
Namtso Lake is sometimes called Heavenly lake for its elevation at swooping 4,718 meters. The sacred lake is the largest salt lake in Tibet. It has a beautiful color and surrounded by snowy mountains even in summer.
Manasarovar Lake is another one sacred lake in Tibet. Located about 40 km to the South from Kailash, it attracts many Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims. From the lakeshore, you can see the South Face of Mount Kailash. It is a popular site for bird watching.
Basum Tso Lake in Nyingchi, Eastern Tibet has a beautiful greenish-blue color. There is also a small island on the lake with a temple. Two bridges lead to the island and you can visit the temple.
Ranwu Tso is a gorgeous lake in Eastern Tibet. It is surrounded by ice-capped glaciers all year round. The contrast of bright white of the mountains and deep blue of the lake makes it a perfect scene for stunning photos.
Unlike all the above lakes, Lhamo Lhatso is very small. However, it is the most important lake in Tibet. By looking at the lake water, people can see images of their future. High lamas used the lake to help them search for the Dalai Lama reincarnation. The altitude of the lake is above 5.000 meters. Unfortunately, foreign visitors are not allowed to visit Lhamo Lhatso.