Tibet - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Tibet


This is the land of majestic mountains, exotic culture and gentle people. Tibet, 'the roof of the world', lay largely undiscovered by the rest of the world until the beginning of the 20th century, but has since fascinated travellers seeking the unspoilt and more remote corners of the globe.

China invaded and annexed Tibet in 1950, since when the country has officially been known as the Tibet Autonomous Region. Travelling through Tibet is no longer allowed unless visitors are part of a package tour, and must remain with the tour for the duration of their stay. In recent years there has been a massive influx of Han-Chinese immigrants to Tibet, and Chinese-Tibetan relations can be strained, though most visitors find locals friendly and hospitable.

This vast territory in the southwest of China consists of a massive plateau surrounded by towering mountain ranges. The Himalayas ring it in the south, the Karakoram Range is to the west, the Kunlun to the north, and smaller ranges fringe the east forming a barrier between Tibet and China's internal provinces. Most of Tibet is several thousand feet above sea level, meaning that the air is thin. The region is a major draw for mountaineers, containing some of the world's highest mountain peaks, capped by Mount Everest at 29,029 feet (8,848m), in the middle section of the Himalayas in Tibet's Tingri Country.

Tibet is scenically rich with snow-covered peaks, glaciated high passes, aquamarine lakes, primeval forests and almost continual bright-blue skies. Despite its altitude and thick snow covering the mountains, Tibet actually has snowfalls only a few times a year with plenty of sunshine the rest of the time. Tibet's major cities and towns are congregated mainly in the southern part of the region. Here, in the agricultural sector, are the capital Lhasa and the other major city of Shigatse, which offer the region's most important tourist attractions, including the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama, and The Rongbuk Monastery, which is the highest in the world and has fantastic views of Mount Everest.

Information & Facts


Tibet has a dry, cold climate; it is particularly cold in the mountains and plateaus, which are also swept by strong winds all year round. In summer the daily temperature fluctuates greatly between day and night. At midday it may be 80°F (27°C), but after sunset the mercury plummets abruptly to as low as 32ºF (3°C). Best time of year in Tibet is between April and November, when the weather is mild. July and August are the wettest months, particularly in the central area around Lhasa, but average annual precipitation is very low.

The official language is Mandarin Chinese, but there are hundreds of local dialects.

The currency used in China is the Renminbi Yuan (CNY). The Yuan is divided into 10 chiao/jiao or 100 fen. Make sure you exchange your leftover Yuan before returning home because this currency can be exchanged only within China's borders. Travellers cheques, preferably in US Dollars, and foreign cash can be exchanged in cities at the Bank of China. Banks are closed weekends. The larger hotels and the special 'Friendship Stores' designed for foreigners will accept most western currencies for purchases. Major credit cards are accepted in the main cities at various establishments, but outside the major cities acceptance is limited. ATMs are scarce outside the main cities.

Local time is GMT +8.

The Shigatse prefecture is the gateway for climbers to the North Col climbing route of the world's highest mountain, Mount Everest, towering 29,028 feet (8,848m) on the border between Tibet and Nepal. The Tibetan name for the peak is Mount Quomolangma, which means 'the third goddess'. Access to the Everest Base Camp is via the town of Tinggri. About 20 miles (30km) from the town tracks take climbers on a 48-mile (78km) trek to the camp. About six miles (10km) from the base camp is the highest monastery on earth, Rongbuk Monastery at an altitude of 16,728ft (5,099m). The monastery is being restored and offers hostel accommodation. Just south of the monastery is the world-renowned Rongbuk Glacier. Because of its height, adventurers wishing to climb Mount Everest will need to allow several weeks simply to acclimatise to the thin atmosphere. Climbing Mount Everest is not to be attempted without the aid of a guide, and should only be attempted by experienced climbers.

The unique Palkhor (Baiju) Monastery is sited about 143 miles (230km) south of Lhasa and 62 miles (100km) east of Shigatse, at the foot of Dzong Hill. It has an unusual structural style and houses a collection of pure silk costumes worn in Tibetan opera, all richly embroidered, that date from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The architecture of the monastery is diverse, incorporating Han, Tibetan, and Nepali styles. The monastery is also unique in that it is the only one known to accommodate monks from three different orders: the Gelugpa, Sakyapa and Kahdampa monks all get along famously.

The vast Potala Palace stands on a clifftop above Lhasa, considered the greatest achievement of Tibetan architecture. The palace was originally built in the 7th century by the then emperor for his bride. It was later partially destroyed by lightning, but restored and extended in 1645 by the Fifth Dalai Lama when he became political and religious leader of Tibet. The Fifth Dalai Lama took up residence in the palace in 1653, and it remained the Dalai Lamas' official residence until the exile of the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959. The palace is renowned for its interior splendour. It consists of two main sections: The White Palace is the secular section containing offices, dormitories, a Buddhist seminary and printing house. The Red Palace is the ornate sacred sanctuary containing chapels where mummified remains of three Dalai Lamas lay, and the Great West Hall, with its fine rich murals.

Tashi Lhunpo is one of Tibet's most revered and influential monasteries, lying about a mile (2km) to the west of Shigatse at the base of Drolmari Mountain. It dates from 1477, having been founded by the first Dalai Lama, and became the seat of the Panchen Lama in 1713. The monastery today houses about 800 monks in its 3,229 square foot (300 sq m) buildings. The oldest section of the monastery is the main chanting hall that houses the throne of the Panchen Lama. The tallest section is the Maitreya Chapel, which contains the world's largest brass statue of Maitreya. The seated figure is 86 feet (26m) high and contains extraordinary amounts of gold, brass and about 1,400 precious gems.

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