Why Tibet travel?
Zhargye Nyenri monastery. Photo by Antoine Taveneaux.
Known as the ‘Roof of the World’ and at over 4, 000m that’s not an exaggeration, Tibet is probably the original mythical Shangri-la, though the modern Chinese colony of Tibet now sports a more dreary official title – TAR, Tibetan Autonomous Region.
In spite of the new name, new masters and large numbers of new Han colonists, Tibet is still fascinating and unique, with exuberantly coloured monasteries, art and people, bizarre religious customs and incredible, bleak, mega-mountain scenery scattered with yaks, rivers and kaleidoscopic ever-flapping prayer flags.
The vast Tibetan Plateau is the source of many of Asia’s great rivers, including the Yangzi, Yellow, Mekong, Indus and major tributaries of the Ganges.
• AMS, otherwise known as altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness is more likely to strike visitors here than just about any other vacation destination, especially since many visitors fly in from sea level. Taking the train up should reduce the severity but not make AMS disappear. See health advice below.
• cold, especially at night and if coming from a warm, sea level location such as Beijing.
• local cuisine is limited unless stewed yak rings your bell, though some pricier tourist establishments serve good Chinese food.
• modern Chinese apartment blocks look offensively out of place alongside traditional Tibetan architecture.
278km (172 miles) west of Lhasa, but just 90 kms from Gyantse, Shigatse is Tibet’s second city but offers not much more than the huge 15thC Tashilhunpo Monastery and far too many Chinese citizens.
An elaborate ceremony at Tashilhunpo Monastery, Shigatse. Photo by Peter Morgan.