Tibet has one word to describe its region: uniqueness! During my Tibet tour, I came across so many Buddhist traditions from ancient times which I haven’t encountered in any other of the 53 countries I visited so far. This is a place you must visit NOW before modern life takes hold. Read everything about my Tibet tour through the Himalayas and make sure you set this as priority on your bucket list.
The roof of the world
Nestled in the Himalaya’s, Tibet is the highest region in the world. The highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest, stands between Nepal and Tibet. As I visited the Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal, I couldn’t stay behind and had to compare the view on both sides. In Nepal, you can only trek to Mount Everest Base Camp, but in Tibet you drive. Yes, you read correctly, you drive during a Tibet tour!
The road which leads to Everest Base Camp Tibet side.
Kick-off Tibet Tour in ancient Lhasa
Lhasa is the place where it all begins. You can either fly in or take a train from China. I flew in and the sight was just amazing. As it turns out after my Nepal visit, I’m a mountain girl and seeing all those mountains made me happy.
I stayed in the Shambhala Palace which is a lovely Tibetan Boutique Hotel. This is just a stone’s throw away from the famous Buddhist Mecca, at the Jokhang Temple.
Some Tibetans walk for months to this holy place. Bhakhor Street is found wrapped around the temple. It’s incredible to watch Tibetans practicing Kora. I hear you ask, what is Kora? This is all about seeking a dose of good karma, if you need some. This can be done with a prayer wheel, constantly moving clockwise while praying.
The second option starts from a standing position which continues to put the body completely on the ground and back up again. You do this at one position or by moving around the Jokhang Temple. This 1500m ‘round trip’ will take two hours and it’s up to you how many rounds you want to make. This is a proper and very intense workout. Such respect!
A look inside the two most holy places in Lhasa
During my Tibet tour, I ‘experienced’ two of the two most holy places of Tibet. The Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace. Both are unique as the Jokang Temple is, as mentioned before, a place of pilgrimage. This place is super crowded! Traditionally dressed pilgrims and other locals give offers to every single Buddha inside, and there are many! These offers vary from money to yak butter and white shawls. The Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built this temple in 652 AD. Jowo Rinopoche, the most holy statue in Tibet, is found inside this temple. It represents the Shakyamuni Buddha at age twelve.
House of the Dalai Lama
Building of the Potala Palace begun by the same king who built the Jokhang Temple. The 5th Dalai Lama finished the palace in the 17th century. It became the winter palace for the 5th to the 14th Dalai Lama.
The red part is used to practice Buddhism and the white part was the formal ‘house’ of the Dalai Lama. Quite remarkably, the golden sacred tomb stupas from the Dalai Lamas 5 to 13 are kept here. Walking through the formal house of the Dalai Lama and seeing his balcony and the teaching and meditation rooms was so incredible. And to think that quite possibly the most holy persons in the world used to live here, wauw!
A traditional dresses Tibetan woman turns the prayer wheels outside the Potala Palace.
I can’t take any photographs inside such as most holy places in Tibet. You just have to trust me that it’s an experience you will never forget during your Tibet tour.
A palace for the summer
During the summer time, the Dalai Lama moved to his summer palace, Norbulingka. The palace has a beautiful garden where locals like to come for picnics on the grass. This palace was built 100 years after the Potala Palace was established and is now open for tourists. Do you feel like dressing up in traditional Tibetan clothing? This is your chance! Maybe a bit touristy, but who cares, its fun.
A very special occasion at Sera Monastery
Sera Monastery is the second largest monastery in Tibet, dating from 1419. Young kids start their education early to become a monk. The students and their teachers debate Tibetan philosophy every day at 15.00. This is not a normal debate. The students sit on the ground while the teachers challenge them with questions. This involves a lot of movement and hand clapping. The end goal is for the students to reach emptiness.
Tibet Tour to Mount Everest Base Camp
After four days, it was time to leave Lhasa behind and hit the road, making many stops along the way. The Yarlung Tsangpo holy river is an interesting stop. Have you heard about water- and- sky burials? The body is cut into pieces and either thrown in the holy river for the fish or fed to carrion birds at an open space on the mountain. This is done after five days whenever the soul left the body. Buddhist believe that the human being exists of four elements – water, sky, earth and fire. For every element there is a funeral. I wouldn’t want to witness this practice but the idea is quite beautiful!
Yamdrok Lake is the most turquoise coloured lake you will ever come across. This is another holy place in the mountains. Taking a sip from the lake will bring you good luck. So, I did, but first I double checked that there were no water burials around!
Before this leg of my travels I always pictured Tibet with large, ancient monasteries in the middle of the Himalayas, with traditionally dressed Tibetans. Pekor Chode Monastery in Gyantse is such a place!
The 600-year-old original Buddhist manuscripts are kept in one of the chapels. This is proper ancient history right in front of me, wauw!
This is the first holy place were pictures are aloud in certain areas inside. It’s a small fee but definitely worth it!
The Stupa Kubum is another beautiful part of Pekor Chode monastery. The stupa is 32,4m high and offers 108 chapels with over 100 000 Buddha statues.
In here you can’t take pictures but if the monk at the door out takes his iPhone for a selfie, DO IT!
Mount Everest tent camp
After a very comfortable night’s sleep in Shigatse, its finally time to see Mount Everest! It’s a long drive with many police checkpoints but it’s worth the journey. Still, it feels so surreal to think I’m actually driving to Mount Everest! It’s very exciting when you see the very first glimpse of the mountain. By the end of the day, I arrive at the tented camp situated six kilometres from Mount Everest Base Camp. If you’re lucky you will catch sight of an extraordinary sunset here.
Now the fun really begins. You get to sleep in a cosy tent with a fire and loads of blankets to keep you warm!
Mount Everest is the white mountain in the back.
Early rise for Mount Everest Base Camp
My alarm goes off early in the morning. Yes, it’s time to walk to Mount Everest Base Camp for sunrise! The Camp is at 5200m and is freezing cold so be sure to dress well.
The view is magnificent. As a rather nice touch, Buddhists hang coloured prayer flags at all sacred places and at Mount Everest Base Camp. I brought my own and wrote the names of my loved ones on it for good luck!
Standing in front of the highest mountain in the world is a magical experience which words just can’t describe. Now that I have seen Mount Everest from both the Nepal and Tibet sides, the view from Tibet is better (sorry Nepal), but they both have their own charm.
One last stop during my Tibet tour is made at Tashi Lhunpo monastery on the way back to Shigatse. This place was built by the first Dalai Lama and nowadays this is the seat of the second spiritual leader, the Pänchen Lama.
Back to Lhasa
I enjoy my last night in Lhasa, watching traditional dancing. Sadly, in the morning, it is time to go! This time I take a 33-hour train ride to Xian in China. I advise taking a train ride at least once in this beautiful part of the world as the route through the Himalayas, with the mountain scenery, is breathtaking.
I fell in love with this baby after 33 hours of sharing very little space in the train from Tibet to Xian.
Preparation for a Tibet tour
First of all, you will need to book a tour as you can’t enter without a booking. I found Woeser from Road to Tibet who organised everything. Just make sure you have your Chinese visa sorted at least 4 weeks before the Tibet tour starts. The permits to travel in Tibet are all arranged by the tour operator. As I was travelling and couldn’t arrange the visa from home, Woeser helped me to apply for a visa (US$65) in Nepal. In The Netherlands the cost for a Visa is €126,- (US$150).
Monks performing kora and other practices at Jokhang temple.
I choose Road to Tibet for my Tibet tour because this tour operator is 100% Tibetan. All the staff members are from Tibet and therefore know a great deal about its history and traditions. They also speak perfect English which is rather helpful. Finally, the tour has a maximum of 8 persons in it, nice and intimate!