Tibet has been known as the roof of the world and rightly so. It is an ancient land that has long intrigued Westerners. It is a place of rugged beauty and mystical traditions that seem so far removed from our history and cultures. Tibet is the highest region on Earth and it has an average elevation of some 14,000 feet or 4,380 meters. Mount Everest - the tallest mountain on earth at 29,029 feet or 8,848 meters forms the border with Nepal (don't forget to visit Mount Everest Base Camp). It covers an incredibly large area but has only a very small population. The largest city is Lhasa and this is likely to be your base of operations while here.

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Modern History Of Tibet

Tibet became a de facto independent country from 1912 after the Xinhai Revolution and the collapse of the weak Qing dynasty. After this China descended into years of civil war broke up into a myriad of competing pieces lead by various warlords. As the Nationalists started to consolidate their power, the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists started, and then was the long and bloody war with Japan. After World War Two, the fighting between the Communists and the Nationalists erupted once again. Through these years of acute Chinese instability, Tibet was de facto independent. This ended in 1951 when the Communists won and were once more able to re-exert control. This is portrayed in the 1997 Brad Pitt movie Seven Years In Tibet.

Tibet: The Facts

  • Autonomous Region: Of China
  • Population: 3 Million
  • Capital And Largest City: Lhasa
  • Currency: Chinese Yuan

Today Tibet is an autonomous region of China and its main economy is subsistence agriculture - although tourism has been growing with many Chinese tourists flocking to explore this stunning region. The Dalai Lama does not live in Tibet but lives in exile in neighboring India.

  • Fun Fact: China Exempts Tibet From Taxes
  • Government Expenditure: The Central Government Provides 90% Of Tibet's Government Expenditure

Related: 20 Incredible Sights To See In China (That Aren’t The Great Wall)

Touring Tibet And Permits

To get to Tibet there is the option of both domestic flights and a brand new bullet train that just opened in July 2021.

There are a number of available tours to explore Tibet. Westerners are not free to travel to Tibet by themselves and need special permission and guided tours. One of the main tour agencies for Tibet is Tibet Travel who offers a full range of reasonably priced tours.

8 Day Tour

  • Where: Lhasa To Everest Base Camp
  • Size: Small Group Tour
  • Cost: From $840

7 Day Tour

  • Where: Lhasa To Kathmandu Overland
  • Size: Small Group Tour
  • Cost: From $960

15 Day Tour

  • Where: Kailash And Manasarovar
  • Size: Small Group Tour
  • Cost: From $1,880
  • Note: A Pilgram's Final Fantasy And The Greatest Overland Trip In Tibet

10 Day Tour

  • Where: Lhasa To Everest Base Camp And Namtso Lake
  • Size: Small Group Tour
  • Cost: From $1,190

Tibetan Tourist Permit

To Visit Tibet you need a special permit and more than just a Chinese tourist visa. In order to apply for a permit, you will need to book a guided tour of Tibet. You will need to provide your passport, tour itinerary, and Chinese visa to the Tibet Tourism Bureau Lhasa Office (the other Tibet offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are not open for foreigners). After that, you can't apply directly but you need to apply through a Tibetan travel agency. These agencies will assist you will the whole process including the guides services, hotel reservations, and more.

  • Time To Get A Tibetan Permit: Around 8-9 Working Days
  • Closed To Foreigners: Tibet Is Closed To Foreigners February To March

After all, this is said and done you will need to show your Tibet Travel Permit when you board the train or the airplane. Once in Tibet, your Tibetan tour guide will keep your permit and show it to the police, etc.

In Tibet, you can explore and marvel at the sheer wild beauty of these stunning landscapes. It is full of fabulous monasteries, the world's tallest mountains, exotic and insular cultures, and stunning high-altitude hikes.

Related: 20 Thoughts Every Foreigner Has When They Visit China For The First Time

  • Fun Fact: It Is Estimated That Before The 1950s 10-20% Of Males Were Monks
  • Tip: Beware Of Altitude Sickness And Consister Taking Medicine For It

Religion In Tibet

Remember that in the past Tibet did not welcome tourists and it preferred to live an insular life, but now of course that has all changed.

Today religion is very important in Tibet and has a strong influence over many aspects of people's lives. The main religion is Tibetan Buddhism for which it is internationally famous. But its indigenous religion is Bön (it is still practiced in Tibet and by some Tibetian diaspora). Unfortunately, during China's Cultural Revolution nearly all of Tibet's monasteries were destroyed and ransacked. Some of these monasteries have been rebuilt since the 1980s and Monks have been permitted to return to the monasteries and monastic education has recommenced (see here for some breathtaking images of temples around the world).

There are also some Christians and Muslims in Tibet.

In short, Tibet is not likely to be a cheap visit, but it will be a trip of a lifetime and one that you will never forget.

Next: 10 Things You Can Only Do In China