At the best of times travel in Tibet area Kham and Amdo, can be awe-inspiring and will push your perception of the world as you thought you knew it. Much of rural Tibet is still very rough and wild and for many this is the greatest attraction of Tibet. However, we are here to insure that you have the most comfortable trip possible for the places you want to go and the things you want to do. Generally infrastructure has gotten much more efficient and convenient here in the last few years. Roads are greatly improved, new hotels have been built (some with heating!) but Tibet still involves a number of special considerations. The standard of service in Tibet cannot be compared to western standards, food is often very different and you will have to adjust your expectations. Below are some of the factors that you should bear in mind before and during your time in Tibet...
Getting to Tibet
There are two standard entry points into Tibet: from mainland China, and from Nepal. We can arrange for transit from either place, either by flight or overland, but we cannot book international flights. You must make your own international flight arrangements, however we can look after all logistics once you arrive in either Nepal or China. From China we can arrange for transfers through Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Kunming, and a number of other cities. We can also arrange sightseeing in some major Chinese cities.
Time of Year to Visit
Anywhere from June to September is the most enjoyable time of year. This is when the weather is most enjoyable, the remote destinations throughout the region are most accessible. If you are interested in experiencing Tibetan winter, a visit in March to May.
Do I need vaccinations?
Because of its high altitude, largely remote destinations, and semi-arid weather Tibet comprises a unique set of health concerns. You don't need to worry about Malaria or odd strains of para-typhoid here, but you should certainly consider the sun and altitude. We recommend that you visit your doctor or health-care provider well in advance of your departure date to get up to date health information. Many cities have specialized travel clinics which specialize in vaccinations and providing travel related health information. Your doctor or health-care provider will determine what you will need, depending on factors such as your health and immunization history, regions you will be visiting, and planned activities. To have the most benefit, see a health-care provider at least 4? weeks before your trip to allow time for your vaccines to take effect. Even if you have less than 4 weeks before you leave, you should still see a health-care provider for needed vaccines, other medications and information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while traveling.
Visa for China:
The visa to enter China can be obtained from a Chinese consulate that has jurisdiction of your residential area. All individuals entering China must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months for a single or double entry visa and at least nine months for a multiple entry visa.
There are two ways to apply for your visa:
1. You, a family member, or a friend can go directly to the consulate.
2. You may use a visa service agency.
Tip: It is better not to list Tibet as your destination on the visa application. Just list Chengdu or Beijing, whichever is your in-bound city is as your travel destination.
Important: If you are planning to enter Tibet from Kathmandu DO NOT get your Chinese visa in advance. The Chinese visa is issued as a group visa in Kathmandu and is arranged by Gesar tour along with your Tibet entry permit.
Permits to ?Tsang / Tibet Automous Region
Tibet Travel Permits (TTP) are required for all travelers wishing to visit open tourist areas of Tibet and you will need to show the original document to pass through airports, train or bus stations. Once you have your Chinese visa, you will need to send a copy of your passport and visa to us as we coordinate your trip. We will apply for this permit through the Tibet Tourism Bureau.
With your deposit, the following information must also be submitted, in full, for each member of your group, to secure your Tibet travel permits:
1. Full name
3. Date of Birth
4. Passport number
The above information should exactly match the information on your passport. Your occupation is also necessary because journalists and people that may be involved in political matters could have their permits revoked. (A more complicated procedure is then required to get a permit). Please send us copies of all traveler's passports, Chinese VISAs and work permit copies, if you have a job in China. Scans must be under 300 kb for easy download. Once we receive your deposit, we will make all the reservations according to your itinerary within one week. We will send you a confirmation letter when all bookings are secured.
If you want to venture into the "restricted" areas, you will need an Alien's Travel Permit (known as PSB Permit), issued by the Public Security Bureau (PSB). We will tell you if you need one and we can help prepare it for you. As of August 2009, individual tourists are not allowed in Tibet (this could change depending on political situation), and you are highly recommended to work with a travel agency.
What We Can Arrange For You
We can arrange anything you require on a group or individual basis, please Contact Us if the services you require are not on the list below. The kind of service we typically provide during a trip to Tibet are:
- Car hire
- Bus Tickets
- Train Tickets
- Air Tickets
Packing List for Tibet
Tibet encompasses a wide array of terrain: high plateaus, rugged mountains, deep river valleys, vast open grasslands. Because of these factors nights can cool off tremendously, and the sun can be intense. To help you enjoy your trip we recommend the following items.
As mentioned days can be quite warm and nights cool so packing clothes that you can layer will provide the most flexibility:
- Sunscreen with an S.P.F. of at least 30.
- Shorts, mid-thigh or longer
- Long pants
- Short-sleeved shirts
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Sport bras for women (roads can be bumpy)
- Sweater, jacket, windbreaker
- Hat and gloves (optional, for cold/high altitude locations)
- Rain racket or rain poncho
- Sun hat
- Swim suit (for hot springs)
- Sturdy, comfortable shoes
- Breathable socks
- Soap, shampoo, conditioner
- Shaving supplies
- Nail clippers
- Toothbrush, toothpaste
- Baby wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Small towel
- Toilet paper
- Lip balm with sunscreen
- Insect repellent
- Feminine products
- Eyeglasses, contacts, contact solution
Accomodation and Food
In Tibet there are comfortable hotels and restaurants and you will be able to access and obtain most modern amenities. (You'll be surprised at what is available in those Tibetan cities). However; as we move farther from Cities or big towns the commodities, facilities and services will be less available and you will be living more on Tibetan terms. On camping trips we supply you with the best camping equipment, food, and service facilities that are available here; but please bear in mind that standards in rural Tibet are much lower than you would expect in your own country. Our cooks have several years experience preparing food for foreign clients but are best at preparing Chinese cuisine (adapted for the international palate). Despite the rumors, vegetables of every type and variety are readily available in the cities and other major towns so the days of meat and tsampa (roasted barley) are long gone.
Changes with the Itinerary
Please note, no changes may be made to your itinerary without first contacting our office. That said, we are usually more than happy to accommodate changes to your itinerary. If the changes in your itinerary will result in more kilometers driven or you would like to spend more time in a particular place on your itinerary, you will be required to pay the driver and tour guides for each additional day or kilometers you add to your journey. You will also be required to pay for accommodation and food for yourself, your guide and the driver.
Travel agencies that are registered with the Tibet Tourism Bureau should have basic business liability insurance. However, it will be wise for you to obtain your own travel insurance from your home country that may cover trip cancellation, trip interruption, emergency medical evacuation, and medical expenses, etc. In case of a medical emergency in remote places of Tibet, you will most likely be taken to the nearest medical facilities or airport by a car (or Yak Lift!), where you can catch the next flight to a better equipped hospital in Mainland China. If your travel insurance company is not able to send you a rescue helicopter, you want to make sure that you can at least receive reimbursement for all your expenses.
Our trips our designed so you do not over-exert yourself in the first few days, and our guides are experienced and aware of the dangers of altitude sickness. There is preventative and symptomatic medication to help with the minor symptoms of altitude sickness (headaches, nausea) and we recommend that you bring some. We also strongly suggest that you bring sunglasses, hat and sunscreen 杢he sun at this altitude is significantly more intense than you are likely used to. If you are forced to leave your trip early due to illness, Gesartour will reimburse you the unused portion of your tour including vehicle costs, accommodation, meals, and guide.
Being physically prepared for your trip is essential. We recommend you begin a regular exercise program well in advance of your trip, especially if you live at a low elevation. Include some day hikes in your regimen, working up to the maximum suggested number of hours for your intended trek. Wear the gear that you plan to take on your trip, so you know you will be comfortable in it. In particular, break in any new equipment (boots and pack, for example) before you go. Even if you do not plan to go on extended treks, regular exercise will help protect you from altitude sickness.
If you are planning to take more challenging treks, you should have a high level of physical fitness. You should be engaged in regular aerobic exercise - for example, swimming, cycling, running, or hiking while carrying a load on your back. Stamina is a key aspect - both physical and mental. Remember that altitude is a significant factor, and a slow but steady pace is the best way to endure in the mountains.
What is a Responsible Tourism?
Responsible Tourism is tourism that conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of local people. The pillars of responsible tourism are the same as those of sustainable tourism and ecotourism ?environmental integrity, social justice, and maximizing local economic benefit. Eco travel and responsible tourism are not only ways of traveling ?they are about making a difference.
Do you care about the places and people you visit? Traveling responsibly provides a more enjoyable experience for tourists through building more meaningful connections with local people and granting them a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues. It enhances the wellbeing of host communities and encourages respect between tourists and hosts. Practicing responsible tourism makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage and helps improve a place for all who visit it after you.
What does it mean to practice Eco Travel and Responsible Tourism in Tibet?
Here are some helpful guidelines for eco-tourists and responsible travelers to Tibet:
Choose a local Tibetan travel agency
- There are many agencies that offer Tibet tours. Try to choose an agency based on the Tibetan plateau (in Xining, Chengdu, or Lhasa) that is owned, managed, and staffed by Tibetans. These agencies have far more expertise in arranging Tibet tours than do Chinese tour operators based in other regions of the country. In addition, if you use a Tibetan-owned travel agency, you can be sure that more of your tourist dollars are going to be put into the local Tibetan economy.
- Tourism makes up a large part of the Tibetan economy. If you want to see your tourist dollars go to Tibetans, try and use as many Tibetan owned hotels, shops and restaurants as possible. Through strengthening the local economy, you will be improving the lives of Tibetans and helping preserve their cultural heritage.
- If you want to better understand Tibet, travel with locals, who can provide expert advice on all the best locations and inform you on local perspectives and opinions. Chinese guides in Tibet invariably know very little about the local culture, religion, and language that make Tibet such a beautiful place. Having a local guide will give you a more meaningful connection to the place you are visiting. At the end of your trip, if you believe your guide and driver did a good job, tip them.
- When entering monasteries and temples, dress appropriately. Take off your hat (and shoes if required) and wear long pants instead of shorts. Ask first before taking pictures ?many larger monasteries require that individuals pay a small fee to photograph the inside of temples and prayer halls. Do not step on or over any religious items or pictures, and if seated, do not point your feet towards religious images or monks and nuns. Be aware that some chapels forbid women to enter. If you're a woman, do not touch a monk; and if you are a man, do not touch a nun. Walk counter-clockwise in and around Buddhist temples, but walk clockwise in and around Bon temples. Some travelers have reported that wearing a Buddhist rosary puts Tibetans at greater ease by showing them that they respect the local culture and religion.
- While trekking, ask permission from local nomads if you plan to camp near them (so that they can call off their ferocious dogs). Make sure you do site cleanups before you leave an area and pack out all trash. Use environmentally friendly soaps and detergents. Carry reusable tableware. Don't go to the bathroom near water sources. Stay on existing paths and don't make new ones to avoid contributing to soil erosion.
- All travelers in the Tibet Autonomous Region require permits that list the dates of their stay and the locations they plan to visit. Do not stray from this itinerary without express permission from your travel agency. If you overstay your permit or venture into an off-limits place, the consequences for the travel agency that arranged your tour will be severe. While tourists may only be fined 300-500Y, travel agencies can be fined up to 50,000Y and might be shut down. While you might not like or agree with the travel policies in Tibet, keep in mind that your actions affect local Tibetans and might put them out of a job.
Avoid political discussions while traveling in Tibet. While you may not get in trouble, you could get the locals into serious trouble.
- Tibet is a poor place, and you may be tempted to hand out money, candy, or medicine to those you meet along the way. However, these are not good tourist practices. If you want to help local Tibetans, donate directly to爋rphanages爋r service projects in the area.
If someone does not want to have his or her picture taken, respect that right. In addition, do not pay anyone for his or her photograph. If you tell someone that you are going to send him or her the photo, then follow up on it. You can send your pictures to your travel agency or guide. Guides frequently return to the same places and can take the photos to the places you visited.
The one place it is fitting to leave small bills is at monasteries. Many monasteries are supported by the alms that pilgrims offer on the altars. In addition, feel free to give small change to groups of chanting monks and nuns as well as pilgrims that you see prostrating in front of temples or on longer爇ora爎outes. The monks and nuns sing prayers to raise money for their temples and the pilgrims have traveled long distances and depend on the support of others to complete their journeys. If you're not sure who they are, just ask your guide. You might see locals donating to them as well.
Patronize local Tibetan businesses
Hire local Tibetan guides and drivers
Respect Tibetan cultural and religious customs
Follow leave-no-trace principles while trekking
Abide by local laws
Don't pay for pictures or hand out medicine
Being a Responsible Tourist
Tibet is a unique and special travel destination that needs your help. Ancient cultures and traditions, fragile mountain environments, rare and endangered flora and fauna are worth protecting for generations to come. As a traveler in Tibet you can make a difference and ensure that your journey has a positive impact on the places you go and the people you meet.
Being a Responsible Traveler is not very hard, but it does require you to think about the way that you travel and the impact your actions have. Will you accept the challenge of being a Responsible Traveler? There are a range of ways you can be a more Responsible Traveler.
- Buy Locally: Use a travel company that employs local guides and staff. Eat in local restaurants, buy handicrafts that are authentic and locally made. Don't be shy to ask directly about the source of the products you purchase.
- Be open-minded and aware that your cultural values may differ from locals. This may include different concepts of time, personal space and communication etc.
- Make the effort to learn about local cultural sensitivities: For example - wear full length trousers or skirts and modest tops that are not revealing. Avoid wearing shorts or short skirts and tops which bare shoulders.
- Point with an open palm and not your index finger. - Avoid patting or touching children on the head.
- Be sensitive when taking photos: Ask permission before you photograph local people, and don't interfere during monastic ceremonies or private activities. Don't take photos of sky burial sites or in monasteries where photos are not allowed.
- Many monasteries request a fee for photography and it's always appropriate to make a donation.
- Minimize your waste: Carry reusable cups, plates, cutlery or chopsticks. Try to purchase produce which is not wrapped in plastic. Avoid using disposable plastic shopping bags.
- Dispose of waste appropriately: Most local villages don't have environmentally sound trash management systems. Pack your garbage out to to larger towns or cities when it can be disposed of appropriately. If there is no toilet, dig a hole at least 25cm deep and bury human waste. Burn or bury toilet paper.
- Make the effort to learn some local language. Learning even a few words will break down cultural barriers and demonstrate your interest in local language and culture. You'll gain respect from locals and it's fun too!
What NOT to Do
- Tibetans are generally very easy going and may not make it clear if you are behaving inappropriately. Here are a number of things you can easily avoid to ensure your presence is respectful and interaction with locals will have a positive long-term impact.
- Never buy products made from endangered wildlife or endangered plants.
- Don't intrude on local people's homes, tents, land or private activities (such as sky burials). Show respect for local's private property and personal space. Always ask for permission before entering private property or land.
- Don't be disrespectful at religious sites or family homes by wearing shorts or revealing clothing or kissing or touching intimately in public.
- Remove your hat and shoes unless instructed otherwise and don't step over people or people's legs - feet are considered dirty. Don't relax by putting your feet up on tables or chairs.
- Don't swim in holy lakes, sit on holy objects such as mani stones or walk on or step over prayer flags.
- Don't encourage inappropriate begging by giving large amounts of money to beggars, or sweets or pens to kids. Begging is accepted in Tibetan society and is part of Buddhist generosity practice so subtly giving a small amount is appropriate. Don't create dependency on hand-outs: Encourage self-reliance, if you want to help, donate to a trustworthy non-profit organization or charity and make sure locals are involved in the decision-making processes and that they are indeed the beneficiaries of your donation.
- Don't hand out medicines without detailed and proper explanations of usage. Often it is better to encourage the use of local medical care if available.
- Avoid perceived political discussions or activities. You may get yourself or others in trouble.
- Don't break local laws and regulations: Remember that you are a guest in Tibet.
- Make sure you have the correct travel permits. Your travel agency and tour guide or host could be fined or may even lose their license if you break the law.
This Responsible Tourism Initiative was created by Tibetan Village Project and Chris Jones for the Tibet Ecotourism Project: an ongoing educational initiative through Columbia University, NYC. You can help by printing this brochure and help spread the word.
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