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Tibet General Information

Tibet: Shrouded mystery & deep religious fervor in a materialistic world

Tibet, an arid plateau, is arguably one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Situated 4000m above sea level and surrounded by a vast Himalayan range on three sides, This exotic country is home to Mt. Everest (8848m), the holiest of all peaks, Mt. Kailash at (6714m), & is host to some of the holiest & oldest monasteries on earth. Buddhist monks and lamas are a ubiquitous feature in the high and dry Tibetan plateau that makes up most of ancient Tibet's landscapes. After centuries of total isolation, Tibet is now opened to the Western World & has now developed into a major tourists' destination for travelers from all walks of life. Visiting Tibet's ancient cities gives visitors deep insights into the religious depths of this mystical land where its peoples live within a secluded culture that practices traditions which date back to times of yore. Most visitors to Tibet feel this country is better of a mystery than getting caught up in a world with ever changing landscapes gone astray in a world filled with materialistic pursuits. Visiting Tibet can be a wonderful journey of self discovery and lifetime achievement for travelers visiting a world seeped in religious beliefs & practices that date back to eons.

General information that’s essential for Tibet

The Tibet autonomous Region:
In a region of mystery with mingling colours & an ancient vibrant culture, Tibet isolated itself in secrecy for centuries. A medieval magic of a land where people eat, sleep and breathe religion, existed in the footsteps of traditions laid down one hundred lifetimes ago. Tibet is in all reality, a very rich and beautiful land, located on the highest plateau on earth at an average altitude of over 4000 meters. Within its borders there are more than fifteen peaks above 7000m. among which eleven are over 8000m. It borders with Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Xinjiang; in the North, Nepal, India, Sikkim, Bhutan Burma and Kashmir from its southern borders. The Tibet Autonomous Region {TAR} with a population of over 03 million people covers an area of 1.2 million sq. km.

The journey to unlock the complexities posed by this arid mass of discovery (almost the size of Europe) begins with arguably the most enchanting flight in the world. From the moment you board your flight in Kathmandu, you will get amazing views of the mountains and will fly over the backbone of the High Himalayas to land deep in the heart of the Tibetan plateau. A further two hours drive by road through the barren wilderness that’s Lhasa, brings you to the capital and home to the famous Potala Palace which unfolds itself to the rich history of a dynasty that unified the golden age of Tibet & reigned for long during Songtsen Gampo’s rule which ultimately resulted in tragedy

Geography
The Tibetan Autonomous Region is situated in the west of China & has a total area of 1.2 sq. km, occupying one eight of the total national area. Tibet is the 2nd largest area in china. It is adjoined with Xinjiang & Qinghai to the north, Sichuan to the east, & Yunnan to the southeast. Tibet is bordered with India, Burma, Sikkim & Bhutan to the south & Kashmir to the southwest. The boundary stretches for about 4000 km all around. Lhasa is not only the capital of Tibet but the largest city in Tibet, the 2nd being Shigatse. This is why the region of Tibet is well known as the ‘roof of the world’. Geographically, Tibet can be divided into three parts: the East, the South and the North. The Eastern part is made up of forest which occupies around 25% of Tibet. The Southern part is open grassland occupying almost a half of Tibet. The Southern and Central region is an agricultural region occupying the rest of Tibet as well as containing all the major cities of Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse, Ghatse, and Tsetang. This area is also considered as the cultural center of Tibet and Buddhism.

Religion in Tibet:
Buddhism has a history dating back over 1300 years, these years have shaped itself into a unique form called "Lamaism" and Lhasa remains the major focus of Buddhist worship anywhere in the world. Tibetan history, culture and religion are mixed together and is ubiquitous into every aspect of social life. Buddhism in Tibet came into prominence after Songtsen Gampo; the 33rd Tibetan King married Bhrikuti, a Nepali Princess. After the marriage, Buddhism slowly started to replace the Bon religion but really gained momentum after the king's minister translated the first Buddhist scripture. Buddhist scripture is believed to have descended from heaven around 5th century A.D. and was written in Sanskrit. Buddhism today is the soul of Tibet and Tibetans. A small number of the population is Muslim but there is little suggestion of any other religion. Tibetan religious arts have a distinctive style which has adopted both Nepalese and Chinese influence; it is regarded as the pearl of oriental Buddhist art in Chinese Buddhism. Tibetan architecture is rich in design, extravagant and full of noble aspiration. The Potala Palace, built on the top of a hill is a classic example of the wealth of Tibetan architectural structures. These buildings include wonderful sculptures, carvings, murals, "thangkas" and skilled butter sculptures alongside a vast array of historical monuments.

Ethnic Communities and customs in Tibet:
People living on the Tibetan plateau, Tibetans, Monpas, Lhopas and Muslims, have their different ways of living, marriage styles, burials and other ceremonies. Tibetans call themselves "Bodpas" with a total population of 3.4 million (1992) among which 2.2 million reside in the Autonomous Region. Tibetans mainly engage in agriculture, husbandry and handicrafts. Tsampa (barley flour), beef, mutton, butter tea and barley beer are their most common food and drink. Traditional Tibetan clothing is made from wool and lambskin. They have a passion for ornaments with women wearing traditional striped aprons. Nomads and people living in remote areas depend on Yaks for their transportation, although donkeys and horses are also widely used

Their marriage system is mainly monogamous. Tibetans do not have surnames, their names consist of four or two syllables mainly adopted meanings from Buddhism. Festivals in Tibet are numerous, the grandest being the Tibetan New Year, (Lhosar) followed closely by the holiest day 'Saga Dawa' Festival and horse races which most Tibetans enjoy to the hilt.

Science and culture in Tibet:
Tibetan history, which is rich & extensive, have also created a unique science and culture of their own, amongst some of the most important formations of the whole of Chinese culture. The vast range of its magnificent historical documents & cultural relics, and literature presently in existence speak volumes of the wisdom of the Tibetans of yore. Great scriptures such as "Kagyur" (Translation of the Commandments) "Tengyur" (Translation of Commentaries), "Four Tibetan Medical Tantras", The Happy Feast of Sages", Biography to Bhuton" and the "Biography of Milarepa" have all been translated into many languages. Tibet is also known as the Sea of the Songs and Dances; folk songs and dances of various styles, is witnessed especially during the 'Shoton" Festival in August each year. Visiting Tibet opens a plethora of realistic opportunities to see for real the rich history & scientific applications of this great ancient civilization.

Imperative facts for traveling in Tibet:
It is imperative to note that all travelers heading for TIBET must compulsorily bear in mind that Tibet, being pretty remote and isolated by some of the most rugged Himalayan terrain, remains still one of the most captivating but least developed parts in the world. With its very limited history of tourism (just 12 years) the facilities for tourists, although being upgraded, are still basic and limited. Therefore, visitors must be preconditioned not to have high expectations in terms of facilities in Tibet. However, Encounters Nepal will go the extra mile to ensure that your journey will be as comfortable as possible.

Travelling to Tibet from Nepal is through rough, muddy roads not tarred in some areas, Particularly during the monsoon season; (June-August) it can be temporarily obstructed by landslides and soil erosion, so appropriate clothes and good shoes are much on the cards to allow visitors to walk over the landslides (especially in the Nepalese section).

Subduing Altitude Problems:
Travelling in Tibet is an adventure involving high altitude and can be strenuous. Most visitors have only minor effects from the altitude, however, we advise (especially guests with known heart, lung or blood disorders) to consult their doctors before travelling. Mild headaches, fever, loss of appetite or stomach disorders can frequently occur before acclimatization

HE’s vital advisory:
We make it mandatory to advise our guests to drink four liters of water (minimum) per day to breath slowly and deeply and to take more rests than usual in order to avoid exhaustion too much. ALWAYS MOVE AT A PACE COMPATIBLE TO YOUR BODY’S NEEDS…you know this best…

Money:
Banks in Tibet/China are closed on Saturday and Sunday. So its advisable that you carry about USD 200.00 per person in cash in order to cover your extra expenses for main meals en route to Lhasa. It is easy to exchange U.S. dollars into Chinese Yuan, the local currency.

Our Guides may not be the best…but they are the most reliable
We always try our best to provide a good English-speaking Tibetan Guide, however, as per new regulations, guides are provided by the guide association in Tibet on a queue basis. Guides in Tibet do not get enough exposure to English language; please do not expect fluent and spontaneous explanations as you may land up with a guide ‘in the queue’ who speaks the English language in tune to ‘stoning the crows’. Your frequent questioning with a smile will encourage them to explain well; of-course, your questions may also have to go by the ‘queue system’.

Booking and Visas:
A booking form with full payment, along with passport details (including full name, nationality, date and place of birth, passport no., date of issue and expiry) and details of your profession, sex, home address, telephone no., is required to reach us a minimum of Two weeks in advance (for booking from outside Kathmandu and a week in advance for booking from within Kathmandu). However, for Mt. Kailash and Everest Base Camp, a booking form is required with full payment Ten weeks in advance. We can arrange a China / Tibet visa at a cost of USD 198 For Americans and USD 114 for others on a per person basis. For visa procedure, 5 full working days are required on the trot.

Risk and Liability:
While we put in every effort into making your journey as smooth and pleasant as possible, however, all Tibet tours are run strictly under the Tibet Tourism Authority. We or our agents shall not be responsible for any change or cancellation of programs due to any unavoidable circumstances such as road blockade, flood, snow, and political unrest, cancellation of flights, delayed arrivals, sickness or accidents. Any resulting additional cost must be borne by clients. Therefore, we advise clients to have full insurance against medical and personal accidents etc. this would be the right thing to do before leaving home on a holiday far from home. Cancellation insurance is also advised from your home country. Other than this, encountersnepal.com will be with you all the way, no matter what.

FAQs on TIBET  Ride on the Roof of the world.

Can I stop in Singapore either at the beginning or end of the tour?
There is no problem stopping in Singapore either at the beginning or end of the tour. However, all arrangements must be in place before leaving your country of origin. Please mail us if you want us to recommend a hotel.

What are the compartments and facilities like on the Himalayan Express?
There are two types of compartments that can be booked on the train. The first is 4-berth, which we endeavour to provide. Typically these are 2 lower bunks and 2 upper bunks. If 4-berth compartments are not available for all our groups, we would provide 6-berth compartments. In this case there would be only 4 people occupying the cabin. In the 4-berth carriages there are 2 toilets; one Chinese-style and the other Western. In the 6-berth carriages both toilets are Chinese-style.

Why are meals not included on the trains and how much do they cost?
We don't include the meals on the train because we feel it is too strictly controlled and, as you are not exercising, you don't need so much food. Meals on the train are wholesome and cheap (around US $5-8) and delicious. It should also be noted that the total travelling time from Beijing to Lhasa is 47 hours and from Xian, 36 hours.

Can I stop longer in Kathmandu?
This is no problem at all, but it would also need to be arranged before leaving your country of origin. Get in contact with us directly to make your arrangements.

Is personal security a problem in China, Tibet or Nepal?
Generally, there are no security problems in these areas; however, sensible precautions should be taken at all times when leaving home on long distance holidays.

If I travel alone, do I have to pay the single supplement?
If travelling on your own we will team you up with another passenger of the same sex and similar age in the hotels. If we cannot do this, we will upgrade you at our expense if you book in advance.

What is the standard of accommodation?
The general standard of accommodation ranges between 2.5 to 5-stars. We basically use the best accommodations available, particularly in the remote areas of the Himalaya.

What is the standard of food on the tour and why do you include all meals (apart from when on train)?
We are very careful about health on our tours, particularly in remote areas such as these. We always enjoy meals that are local and where we know the hygiene standards are of a high standard. At Encounters Nepal, we are highly sensitive about this part of your holidays. Just don’t worry.

Can we do a tour in Tibet on bikes via Nepal? What motor bikes are used on this tour?
Yes, it’s absolutely viable to do a tour to Tibet on motorbikes. We use Royal Enfield 500cc Bullets, which are still manufactured in India. Fuel and maintenance are of course included. Some of the best Enfields from India are available in Nepal.

Do we have to carry our bags on the bikes?
We have a full support vehicle (Toyota Coaster) and all luggages will be transported in this 4 wheel drive vehicle. Also on board will be an experienced mechanic, riders who require a rest or are unwell, non-riders and pillion riders who require 'extra comfort' for the day.

Do we have to take our own gear such as helmets?
We will supply helmets for riders who prefer not to bring their own; however it is recommended that riders provide their own helmets. This is a personal item and we are all comfortable with our own helmets. It should be remembered that helmets can be brought onboard a plane as hand luggage. As far as clothing is concerned, this is again a personal item and it is obligatory that riders bring their own motorcycle clothing.

Can people who do not ride bikes come on the tour?
Yes. We do accept a limited number of non-riders who will travel in the support vehicle.

How much experience on a motorcycle do I need? Do I need a motor bike license?
This is a challenging ride even for the most experienced motorcyclists. Therefore, we require proven riding experience of five years or more. A Motorcycle and International Drivers License is also compulsory.

I have heard stories of difficult roads in Tibet. What are they really like?
With the advent of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, China has sought to improve all infrastructures in Tibet. Building the Friendship Highway has been a priority and conditions have improved greatly. The section of the road between Lhasa and Tingri (Everest Hotel) has been completed, while the section from Tingri to the Tibet/Nepal border at Zhangmu is scheduled for completion by early 2010. The road between Everest Hotel and Base Camp (109 km), while not sealed (and never will be, for environmental reasons) has been well graded since the 2008 Olympics.

Do we have to ride as a group all the time?
Riding a motor cycle across 'the roof of the world' is a very personal experience. Therefore, to ride alone is very much a part of this journey. Of course, our support vehicle will always be at the rear and there will be people to 'mark' the route where required. Before we enter a major city, such as Kathmandu, we will assemble on the outskirts and ride in together. To ride as a group is generally always a very good option.

Is insurance required?
Insurance is compulsory and you can easily arrange this before leaving your country of origin. This is the wisest & safest thing you can do before you venture out into unexplored territory far from home. Encounters Nepal encourages this to the hilt.

What kind of weather can we expect? Will it rain a lot?
Temperatures will range from 28C during the day, reaching a low of 10C during the evenings and early mornings. It is unlikely there will be any rain as the journey will finish a few weeks before the monsoon. In fact, with the use of high-powered binoculars it will be possible to see climbing teams attempting to summit Everest!

I am worried about altitude. Should I be?
Encounters Nepal is very experienced in dealing with the effects of altitude, having led tours to the Himalaya for the past two decades. We believe that going to altitudes of over 3,000 metres is all about preparation. Our train ride to Lhasa is an ideal way to acclimatise and oxygen will always be available in hotels and in our support vehicle. In addition, our tour leaders carry pulse oximeters, allowing them to monitor individual altitude adjustment.

Do I need visas? I have heard that the Tibetan permits are difficult to obtain?
China and Nepalese visas are required. Encounters Nepal obtains these on your behalf and the cost is included in the tour price. We also obtain the Tibetan permit and over the years we have built an excellent relationship with the Chinese and Tibetan authorities, making this a simple process.

Are credit cards acceptable?
Credit cards and ATM machines are available in China and Nepal and some parts of Tibet. However, we don’t accept American Express cards because the office has closed down here.

Do you recommend travellers cheques?
It is often difficult and time-consuming to get travellers cheques changed. We therefore do not recommend bringing them as your principal source of funds.

Are there Internet facilities en-route?
Most of the hotels we use have Internet facilities. There are also many Internet cafes in the near vicinity of the hotels offering cheaper access.

Do mobile telephones work?
Optus mobiles work in all places while Telstra mobiles work in all places except for Nepal. You will need to ensure you have global roaming. Contact your server for further details.

How much should we tip the guides?
Tipping is a trend that has been in existence for centuries in this part of the world; initiated by none other than our British friends when they ruled some parts of Asia for so many years; & its still in practice till this day. If you think your crew have done a real good job, pass the hat around & give them an extra reward, they’d sure appreciate it. If you feel they didn’t deserve to be tipped, then just ignore it. There is no real problem here. The choice is entirely yours.

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