Tibet Travel Infomation

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

1. Climate:

The Tibetan plateau, and particularly the south, is not as cold as one tends to imagine. With the exception of high passes the snow, even in winter, rarely stays on the ground for more than a few hours. The days are generally warm and it is only at night that the temperature can really drop. Rather than the cold it is the extreme dryness of the air that characterises Tibetan weather. Nearly all of the rain on the plateau falls in the summer months, and there is practically no snow below 4,500 m. The winters are tough, especially in the north. There can be icy winds, and passes are often blocked with snow. Nevertheless, the sun shines continuously and the light is superb. Long distance travel in this period is much more rigorous. However, in the sheltered valleys of Lhasa, Tsetang, Kongpo, and southern Kham, the winter days are mild and beautiful. From December to March it is the traditional pilgrimage season to Lhasa, and the capital's streets are full of nomadic itinerants from the four corners of Tibet. In many respects, this is one of the best times of the year to visit not only Tibet, but also Southern China and Nepal. Central, Western and Far-west Tibet tend to be drier, while the East is more prone to the weather patterns of S.E Asia. During August, especially, East and Far-east Tibet can be quite wet, and although this is a very good time of the year to attend secular and religious festivals, travellers should be prepared! Summers in mainland China can be extremely hot and humid. In winter, North China is frequently exposed to the dry cold and biting winds of Inner Asia, while Sichuan can be damp and cold. Southwest China, by contrast, is pleasant in winter, and probably the best climate is to be found throughout the year in Kunming, the "City of Eternal Spring".

2. Customs:

Foreigners are generally not subject to more than perfunctory baggage checks on entering and leaving China, including Tibet. Certain items such as photographs of HH Dalai Lama, critical literature and Tibetan national flags would be considered sensitive. It can be difficult to bring out antique objects including statues or jewellery made before 1959.

3. Transport:

The unique series of overland tours and expeditions offered by Trans Himalaya attracts clients from Europe, North America, and Australia. In many cases our groups assemble for the first time in one of the gateway cities: Kathmandu, Beijing, Ziling, Chengdu, Lijiang, Bangkok, or Hong Kong. Since many of our itineraries feature long overland journeys exceeding 2,000 km. and traverse the highest watersheds in the world-- those of the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, Yalung, Gyarong, Yellow, and Minjiang rivers, we and our local agents in the interests of comfort, have taken great care to provide the best available transportation and amenities. Our choice of vehicle depends largely on the condition of the road and the particular area that we are in. Groups will therefore travel either in air-conditioned minibuses where the roads are good, and 4WD vehicles on the tougher routes, if necessary with a support vehicle to carry baggage and camping equipment. In the case of those itineraries that emphasise trekking, horse-riding or mountaineering, baggage will be transported by yak caravans or porters. Local guides and drivers will expect to receive a gratuity proportionate to the quality of their service.

4. Accommodation:

All rooms are on a twin-share basis, although single supplements are generally available. A full range of hotel accommodation, from 5 Star downwards is to be found in Kathmandu, Beijing, Chengdu and other gateway cities, as well as in Ziling, Lhasa, Tsetang, Dzitsa Degu National Park, and Gyeltang on the Tibetan plateau. Most hotels located in large county towns range from 4 and 3 star downwards—some with a distinct Tibetan design and ambience; and others presenting a rather bland and basic appearance. In most cases, they do at least provide hot running water and attached bathrooms. Smaller townships offer simple guesthouse facilities, the best of which are often found in properties affiliated to a local monastery, cultural institution, or governmental organization such as China Post. Often these guest-houses will have shared toilet and bathroom facilities, with variable standards of sanitation. In remote grasslands and on trekking routes, Trans Himalaya’s staff will set up a full campsite, complete with kitchen, dining and toilet tents.

5. Food and Drink:

The arrangements provided in Tibet include full board and bed & breakfast options. International cuisine, including Indian and Nepalese dishes, is available is Lhasa, Ziling, Tsetang, Zhigatse, Ngawa, Labrang, and some of the other large towns. Otherwise, you will normally be provided with Sichuan or Muslim-style dishes in the standard hotels and guesthouses while travelling on the Tibetan plateau. In mainland China, there is considerable variation in cuisine: the seafood of South China, the spicy hotpots of Sichuan, the steamed dishes of the north, and so forth.

Tibetan cuisine, for the most part, is pretty basic, the staple consisting of large amounts of roasted barley flour (tsampa) and endless bowls of butter tea. Naturally travellers will have the chance to savour this delicacy during their stay, but there are few who would choose to repeat the experience every day. On the other hand, there are some very good dishes to be had, including tsampa cheesecake (thu), homestyle noodles (then-thuk), and steamed dumplings (mo-mo). Whilst we are in Lhasa we can arrange to have a traditional Tibetan banquet topped up with copious cups of "chang", the traditional barley ale.

When we go out on day trips in Tibet we will often take a picnic lunch with us. On other occasions, especially when we are on the road for several days, our support team will either cook a full meal on the spot, or take over the kitchen of a roadside restaurant and whip up a delicious lunch with the food that we always carry with us. In drier regions of Western and Far-west Tibet, the support truck will carry more tinned provisions, while in the more fertile eastern regions, fresh vegetables are plentiful. To enhance this diet, you are advised to bring some dietary supplements. If your group has a Trans Himalaya tour leader, in addition to local guides, he or she will purchase a number of extra foods either in Europe, North America, or one of the gateway cities. This will include cheeses, pates, chocolates, coffee, and instant soups, which can be very welcome if the weather suddenly turns nasty, or if someone should have a birthday, for example, during the trip.

Beer and soft drinks are generally served with all meals in China and Tibet, but imported alcohol is available only in the larger tourist hotels and shopping malls. Tea and thermos bottles of hot water are provided in hotel and guest-house rooms, and this is probably the most refreshing remedy for the dry and dusty atmosphere prevalent on the Tibetan plateau. Boiled water is essential for drinking and indeed for brushing the teeth.

6. Clothing:

The air temperature in Tibet can change very quickly with a passing cloud and the coming of the night. A flexible system of "layered" clothing is recommended: thermal underwear, cotton shirts, a warm pullover and wind-proof jacket, and some light rain-gear, as well as a sun-hat. For overland travel or trekking, strong but light-weight walking boots are useful, and gloves, woollen hats and thick socks all have their place. For the hot springs, people may prefer to bring swimwear. A rucksack is indispensable for trekking and many will find their own down jacket and sleeping bag a great asset. Apart from the larger tourist hotels and the larger county towns, no laundry service is available. If you wish to avoid the do-it-yourself option, it is sometimes possible to come to a private arrangement for laundry services with local guesthouse attendants, in which case your guide will be happy to assist with the negotiations.

In mainland China, your choice of clothing will vary depending upon local weather conditions. Remember that the south is warmer, shorts and cotton shirts being sufficient for much of the year, whereas the north is somewhat colder throughout the year, and a light sweater should always be accessible. In general, whether travelling in Tibet or mainland China, it is probably advisable to chose dark conservative garments, rather than bright florescent jackets which might attract unwelcome attention.

7. Baggage:

An experienced traveller carries as little luggage as possible. Remember that you are allowed no more than the normal weight and that you may be liable to pay for excess baggage. Please label your baggage clearly, either with your own or Trans Himalaya’s luggage tags. If you require replacements, your guide will be happy to provide them. There have been instances when luggage was confused with that of other tour groups, or travelled in the opposite direction, mainly because it was not properly labelled. Normally your luggage will be delivered to your room and collected before departure. Some delays do occur but we will keep you well informed when the luggage is delayed or when to put your luggage outside your room. We advise you to carry essentials, medications, reading materials, cameras, flashlights, and other necessities (e.g. toilet paper) at all times in your flight bag or, as many prefer, in a lightweight backpack.

8. Packing List:

The following items will be useful for hotel-based cultural tours: sun-blocking cream & after-sun cream, lip salve, sun glasses, sun hat and woollen hat, layered clothing (including windproof jacket, woollen sweater &, thermal underwear), sheet sleeping bag insert, folding umbrella, torch, comfortable walking shoes, small backpack, suitcase or holdall. The following additional items are required for trekking expeditions: sleeping bag (3 or 4 season), hot water bottle, air pillow, thermarest (optional), trekking clothes, woollen scarf, gloves, thick socks, lightweight hiking boots, adjustable hiking pole (Leki type), water-bottle, rehydration powders, dietary supplements (grenola bars, instant soups), pocket knife (with accessories), can opener, sewing kit and pocket-size screw driver.

9. Health:

No vaccinations are required for China or Nepal, although anti-malaria medication is recommended in sub-tropical areas during the rainy season. In Tibet, by contrast, altitude sickness is the commonest ailment. We advise our clients to take plenty of fluids throughout their stay. You should keep a plentiful supply of bottled mineral water handy, or frequently replenish your water-bottle. In addition, it’s a good idea to consume soft drinks and instant soup frequently. In this way, it is likely that the effects of high altitude-- headaches, light-headedness, nausea, and sleeplessness will be diminished. It is important to pace yourself well when walking in Tibet. Move slowly and in a relaxed manner to minimise discomfort. Apart from Paracetemol, Tylenol, and mild sleeping tablets, the following have been recommended by experienced travellers and mountaineers: Diamox (aleopathic) and Coca 30 and Phosphorum 30 (homeopathic).

In view of the demanding nature of travel on the plateau, we require a medical certificate signed by your doctor if you are over the age of sixty-five. Apart from altitude sickness, the major irritant to health in Tibet is the dryness of the atmosphere which often causes respiratory problems or cracking of the lips. You are advised to carry throat lozenges and an expectorant, as well as an effective ultraviolet lip-salve such as Himapasta or Carmex. Immodium, Tetranizadol and some laxatives are helpful for stomach disorders, and it will be helpful on long journeys if you carry a combination of vitamins. Remember to consult your doctor before departure and ensure that you bring adequate supplies of any necessary prescribed drug (always to be carried in hand luggage). If you have a Trans Himalaya tour leader, in addition to local guides, he or she will, in any case, be carrying a first-aid kit. Oxygen pillows or bottles may be carried in the support truck or 4WD vehicle, and on our trekking routes, the first-aid kit will often be carried by an "ambulance" horse.

10. Visas:

A special travel permit for Tibet is issued in addition to the Chinese tourist visa. To obtain this, when you book with Trans Himalaya you must provide a completed booking form, including details of age, sex, nationality, passport number, occupation, address and photos, preferably two months before departure. Standard tourist visas for mainland China and Nepal can be obtained directly by Trans Himalaya or by your travel agent, and you are advised to make the necessary arrangements one month before departure.

11. Money:

Major foreign currency denominations (particularly US dollars) and travellers cheques are easily changed at banks throughout mainland China and in Lhasa, while credit cards are widely accepted in many banks and some of the larger tourist hotels. ATM machines (for cash withdrawals in local currency) are also found nowadays in some of the larger county towns. However, it will be important to change sufficient funds in large cities, before travelling long distances through remote areas where exchange facilities are non-existent.

12. Postage and Communications:

Postage stamps for letters and postcards are available from outlets of China Post throughout mainland China and the Tibetan plateau, but if you are travelling in remote areas of the country, you would be as well to stock up in one of the larger cities at the beginning of your trip. Packages should be mailed from major cities.

Mobile phones (dual band with international roaming) will work in the most county towns of Tibet, but for coverage in more remote trekking areas, off the beaten track, a satellite phone would be required. Most towns now have IDD connections on the high streets and in all the major hotels. You can also send and receive telefax messages in all but the most isolated regions of the plateau.

13. Shopping:

Tibetans invariably bargain for their purchases and expect foreign visitors to do the same. Your guide will help ease this communication problem, but feel free to talk with your hands or pocket calculator! Your guide can advise you on the authenticity of your proposed purchases and help you avoid buying artefacts which have in fact been imported, for example, into Tibet from Nepal. Among the most interesting objects available nowadays in Tibet are jewellery, metal work and carpets. In mainland China traditional handicrafts, including silk, lacquer, jade, ceramics, and woodwork are widely available. According to government regulations you are not permitted to export antiques unless you have obtained a receipt or red seal.

14. Photography:

Digital cards and film are not yet commonly available outside the larger towns and cities, where there are now specialist shops. It is always safer to bring your own supply from home. Outdoor photography is of course free of charge, but be careful not to film sensitive and strategic industrial or military installations!

Recommended films for those who continue to shun digital photography:

Colour prints........ Fuji HR100 or equivalent; (for interiors)..... Fuji HR 1600
Colour slides....... Kodakchrome3 ASA 25 and 64; (for interiors)... Kodak Tungsten ASA 160
Black and White..... Kodak T-max ASA 100; (for interiors)..... Kodak Tri-X

15. Reading List:

Guidebooks, Maps & Ecology

History

Central, Western, Far-west and Northern Tibet

Eastern & Far-eastern Tibet

Religion

Tibetan language, medicine, and divination

 

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