Official Name: Tibet Autonomous Region
Established: 1951 (As part of the People’s Republic of China),
Religion: Tibetan Buddhism
Languages: Tibetan, Mandarin
Order of Visit: Seventieth
First Visit: 17 October 2018
Last Visit: 26 October 2018
Duration: 10 Days
Visit Highlights: The Himalayas, Mount Everest, Tsamkhung Nunnery, Polata Palace, Tashilunpo Monastery, Shigatse Bazaar, Pelkor Chode Monastery, Gyantse Kumbum, Gyatso la pass, Yamdrok Tso Lake, The clear air
Places Visited: Lhasa, Gyantse, Shegar, Rombuk, Shigatse, Mount Everest
Tibet Journal Entries
History and Geography
Tibet is located on the Tibetan Plateau, the highest region on earth so the air is very thin. In northern Tibet elevations reach an average of over 4,572 metres. Mount Everest is located on Tibet’s border with Nepal which I visited just before Tibet.
Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China and nearby Chinese provincials include Xinjiang, Qinghai and Sichuan which are to the north, northeast and east.
Tibet is essential for the fresh water supply to a substantial number of Chinese and is the subject of disagreement with the wider world on it’s status as part of China given over 90% of the locals are of Tibetan background compared to only 8% Han Chinese with locals not have a great deal of say on developments in their region.
Foreign tourists were first permitted to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region in the 1980s and this has slowly become an important but very control industry. While the main attraction is the stunning Potala Palace in Lhasa the entire region is breathtaking (literary at this elevation) with amazing landscapes. Tibet is still very isolated even if it’s never been easier to get their by plane and train. Special visas are needed to visit Tibet meaning a standard Chinese Visa will not work.
Given how important the fresh water supply is to greater China the central Government has poured a lot of resources into Tibet including the building of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway which faced many hurdles in development due to Tibet’s elevation and terrain. This was so difficult that Tibet was the last region in China to have a railway.
Tibet has a complicated history with China having at times independence, or semi independence, but this effectively ended in 1951 with the start of the full incorporation of Tibet into China that was completed during 1965. When the Dalai Lama fleed to India in 1959 this marked the point of no return for this region as becoming a part of central China.
Before these events Tibet historically was an independent state during the Chinese Ming dynasty and that the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1911) had established protectorate over Tibet after the Mongol conquest of Tibet and Yuan administrative rule in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Qing dynasty (1636–1912) rule in Tibet began with their 1720 expedition to the country when they expelled the invading Dzungars. While technically Tibet was ruled by China from 1912 with the region being so remote and with China having significant issues of it’s own with Japan and World Wars they operated fairly independently until 1951.
What I experienced
Tibet is a complex place due to the local politics. Many people see the Chinese Government as looking to take even firmer control of the region area by bringing in more and more Han Chinese into the area. The Government investment into Tibet was very obvious as was the strong security presence.
Every public place I visited had local police, military personnel (and snipers on roofs in some locations) and surveillance cameras including on the ‘private’ buses our tour group used. It was strictly banned to talk about the current Dalia Lama and getting a visa into Tibet can be very difficult. The Lhasa International Airport also regularly suspends commercial flights for military requirements.
Over the other hand it is one of the most beautiful places on earth and very unique. All vehicles used by the public electric and very quiet so you need to watch out when crossing roads as you won’t hear them.
The air is so fresh but also thin so don’t run. Getting so close to Mount Everest on the Tibet side at Base Camp was a great experience. Visiting several Buddhist Monasteries you could feel the peace and calm of these places.
While I’ll never forget the enormous security and surveillance on everyone I’ll also never forget the sights and the beauty of Tibet.