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Tourcode: ECOT13 Tour: Eastern Tibet tours including the Kham area with Chamdo as the stopover

 

Introduction:

A century ago, a visit to Lhasa took stamina, nerve and a good deal of luck. Isolated by formidable geographic barriers and guarded by its government, the Tibetan capital was truly a Forbidden City. Few Westerners met the challenge, but the tales they returned with tantalized the imagination of the world. Tibet was the epitome of all that was magical, mysterious and unknown.

Today, visiting Tibet is considerably easier, but the adventure remains. Hidden behind the Himalayas and rising nearly five kilometers above sea level, Tibet is a land unlike any other, a magical realm of vast open spaces, clear light and pure color, dominated by an intensely blue sky. Two kinds of people live in this timeless setting: farmers settled in small villages who grow barley and other crops, and the roving nomads, drokpa, who wander the higher regions with their herds of yaks and sheep.

Since the 8th century, Tibet has been devoutly Buddhist, merging influences from Indian Buddhism, Tantra, and the indigenous religion called Bon into a complex synthesis of beliefs. Tibetan Buddhism has inspired centuries of splendid art and architecture, serving as the cornerstone of Tibet's unique and highly developed culture.

Visits to Buddhist monasteries and temples are an integral part of any journey to Tibet. Worshippers move slowly through dimly lit chapels, refilling flickering butter lamps. Faith manifests itself in many ways: flags printed with prayers for the wind to spread; mani walls of flat stones engraved with mantra; chorten or symbolic monuments scattered across the countryside.

Tibetans are a deeply religious, open, spontaneous people, admirably good-humoured and quick to joke. Visitors to Lhasa invariably marvel at the non-stop smiles. Travelling in Tibet is not always easy, but it rewards with glimpses of a land and life unlike any other.

Visas: A standard Chinese visa is required to enter Tibet. These are obtained from most Chinese embassies and consulates, although rules of issuance vary from country to country.

Visas are not issued to individuals at the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu, so it is necessary to use a local travel agent who will telex your details and itinerary to a Lhasa travel agent. They in return will telex the embassy which then issues a visa. Chinese visas sometimes start from day of issue, so apply for the visa shortly before commencing your journey.

Customs: Register watches, radios, cameras, calculators, and similar devices on entering Tibet and China and account for them on leaving. Do not lose the declaration form or you may be required to pay a heavy fine on departure. Do not bring in printed matter, cassettes, or anything considered seditious by the Chinese, which includes Tibetan flags or literature pertaining to the Tibetan independence movement.

You can import four bottles of liquor, two cartons of cigarettes, up to 72 rolls of still film, and 1,000 meters of 8mm moving film. There are no known restrictions on video equipment. Artefacts made before 1959 are officially considered antiques and must be exported. Rugs and small religious objects can be taken out but tourists considered to be carrying 'too much' may have goods confiscated. Body searches are unlikely.

Climate: The best time to visit Tibet is between early spring and late autumn. Spring is generally short, cool and dusty but clear skies are good for sightseeing. The rain season, June-September, has 70-95 per cent of annual precipitation, causing snow on the hills and night rain in the valleys. The weather is, however, still predominantly dry with low humidity, the hills are at their greenest and temperatures are mild. Large diurnal temperature variations exist in all seasons, so carry extra layers of clothing even on short daytrips. Lhasa can be surprisingly pleasant even at the end of December, although nights are frigid. During the cold winter months, many nomads converge on Lhasa and, with few tourists, this is a most interesting time to visit Tibet's capital.

Transport: By Air - Tibet's only commercial airport is at Gongkar, 96 kilometres from Lhasa, and is accessible only from Chengdu or Kathmandu. Two flights leave Chengdu daily at 06:50 and 07:00, while flights from Kathmandu are limited to Tuesdays and Saturdays.

From Kathmandu, twice -weekly flights to Lhasa begin in the third week of April and continue until the end of November. As a rule, tickets are only sold to groups.

Money: Few years ago China has two different systems of currency, Renminbi (Rmb) for locals and Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC, Waihuijuan) for foreign travellers. But now FEC is no more in use.

The unit of money is the yuan, divided into 10 jiao (mao) or 100 fen.In Tibet, travellers' cheques and foreign currency can be changed at the Bank of China in Lhasa, Shigatse, Zhangmu and Shiquanhe (travellers cheques only). Bank hours are 08:30-12:00 and 15:30-18:30. At the Nepalese border you can change Rmb into Nepalese rupees informally, but the rate is unattractive.

Communications: Sending letters by airmail or packages by air or surface from Tibet is surprisingly reliable. To receive mail in Lhasa, have it addressed to Post Restante, Main Post Office, Lhasa, Tibet, China. Telegrams are commonly used. It is very easy to dial or fax direct to Europe or the United States. International calls can be made at large hotels or at the Telecommunications Office. Telexes and faxes ate available to guests at the Holiday Inn, and at the Telecommunications Office, which has cheaper rates.

Electricity and Batteries: An adequate electrical supply (220 volts, 50 cycles AC) exists in nearly all towns and major villages. The hours of operation are, however, unpredictable. Rely on battery-operated equipment. Tibet has no facilities for reprocessing of batteries-they are merely dumped. Take used batteries out of the country when you leave.

Time: Tibet is linked to Beijing time so when you cross the border to Nepal the time change is considerable. Nepal is 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of GMT. China is 8 hours ahead of GMT.

Tibetan Food: A Tibetan dinner begins with cold appetizers, which can be quite spicy, followed by a main course of several hot dishes. Meat is often boiled to tenderize it and then stir-fried with other ingredients. An important mainstay is tsampa, a flour ground from highland barley. This is mixed with tea, butter or eaten dry.

Noodles or dumplings accompany dishes, as good rice is scarce. Soup with a broth base is usually an integral part of the meal especially if momos, steamed meat dumplings like giant ravioli, are being served. Fried momos are particularly good, called kothay. Another favorite is shabalay, deep-fried meat pies, which are served with a spicy salad made from radish or cabbage, rather like Korean kimchi. Tibetans like hot chilies with their meat but these are usually served separately or sliced in a vinegar sauce.

Meat is very popular in Tibet and non-Buddhists are employed to kill the animals. Dried yak meat is especially good for travelling in these cold climes, as is another unusual snack; a hard cheese that is sucked like a boiled sweet.

Tibetans do not eat sweets and generally do not finish the meal with a dessert. In Lhasa, diners eat with chopsticks. In the rural ar-eas, they eat with spoons, often carrying them on strings around their necks.

Non-Alcoholic Beverages: The drink with which you will become most familiar by the end of your stay is jasmine tea. For contrast, try the famous and unique Tibetan tea. To make it, tea is boiled and pounded in a churn with yak butter and salt. It is kept hot in a thermos for instant use during the day. It helps to handle the un-usual taste of Tibetan tea by think-ing of it as soup.

Soft drinks include a non-caffeinated Cola and Hi-Orange. Electrolytic Jian Li Bao soft drinks come in a variety of flavors including lemon and honey, and pear and honey.

Alcoholic Beverages: Most hotel bars serve alcoholic drinks using spirits distilled in China; in Lhasa, foreign liquors are available. Chinese wines are usually sweet but are quite tasty. Lhasa Beer is the most popular light beer.

Tibetan rice wine, chhang, is made from fermented barley and occasionally rice or millet. It tastes mild but is seldom made with pure water and can sneak up on you after a few glasses, having a strong effect at Tibet's high altitudes. In some hotel Bars in they serves a delicious, mild chhang drink laced with honey.

Accessories: We recommend you to bring the following items to make your journey more comfortable : Personal first aid kid, water purification tablets, toilet kit with toilet paper, flashlight with extra batteries, sunglasses, water-bottle, note book, pens, pencils, camera and film and extra batteries for electronic Cameras, binoculars, Duffel bag, rain gear, strong footwear, pocket knife, sewing kits, compass, altimeter, drinking cup, towel, plastic bags, dust mask, strong sun cream, chapstic, and money belt.

Insurance: We recommend you to insure yourself against sickness, emergency rescue, accident, Hospitalization, cancellation etc., as we accept no responsibility or expenses which may arise from mishaps to persons or their belongings during these tours.

Altitude Sickness: The Tibetan Plateau lies over 12000 feet, most people will experience some of the minor symptoms and discomfort of altitude sickness, until their body adjust to the elevation. This can take from a few hours to couple of days, depending on the individual.

Hospitals: While major towns have hospitals, the facilities are basic and treatment may include Western pharmaceutical or Chinese herbal remedies (or both). Most doctors speak only Chinese so take your guide or interpreter with you.

Lhasa: People's Hospital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Linkun Road.

Tibetan Medicine Hospital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Yutuo Road.

Elsewhere: In Tsetang, the hospital is at the western entrance to the town.

In Shigatse, the hospital is about 500 m (1,600 ft) north of the Xigaze Hotel on the same side of the same road.

In Shegar, it is 500 m (1,600 ft) down the same road as the Shegar Guest House, on the opposite side.

Tibetan Medicine:
Traditional Tibetan medicine is a highly evolved science using Ayurvedic and herbal techniques based on a combination of the traditional Indian and Chinese practices. Evolved in monasteries and illustrated with Thangkas, these ancient methods are attracting much international interest.

Photography In Tibet: Photography is controlled in monasteries. In some cases you must pay per photograph, in others you may be refused permission to shoot at all. Respect these rules but get around them sometimes by being nice to the monks. Do not photograph Chinese military installations, bridges or airports.

Take plenty of film; sometimes print film runs out of stock even in Lhasa. Be prepared for the strong light and appalling dust of Tibet. A lenshood and a polarizer can help the exposure problem. It's best to photograph in the early mornings and late afternoons to avoid the harsh light and it is worth underexposing by half a stop to one stop at other times. Nothing will completely keep out the dust but plastic helps. A strong flash is needed for many temple interiors. Take flash photographs of wall murals at an angle to avoid reflection. Do not give money in exchange for taking photos; it is a quick way to create beggars.

On the whole, most Tibetans ate happy to let you photograph them.

History : "Rooftop of the World" suggest not only Tibet's extreme altitude but also the isolation, which has contributed to the creation of its unique culture. Its lofty perch high above the hurly-burly of the lowlands has shaped its unique spiritual attitudes and discouraged even hardy colonists from establishing a foothold.

At an average elevation of 5.000 m (15,000 ft) above sea level, a vast high desert plateau hemmed by the two ranges of the world's highest mountains, the principal geographic determinants which have shaped the Tibetans are those of the desert. Austerity, pragmatism, tenacity, independence, piety, diligence, cohesive families, xenophobia, occasional fierceness, taciturnity and shyness are the qualities and values, which have resulted.

Early Origins - Legend has it that the ocean once covered Tibet, an interesting concordance with geologic enduce which has Tibet lapped by the sea before the Indian tectonic plate collided with the Asian mainland and pushed Tibet to its present dizzying heights.

In the Yarlung Valley, south-east of Lhasa, the briny waters receded revealing two of the most unlikely candidates for a marriage; a monkey and a fierce ogress. Opposed to Western belief, the monkey represents not mischief but wisdom. Buddhism, which did not make its appearance until eons later, regarded him as the manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Mercy, Avalokiteshwara (Chenrezi).

The Ogress was a wretched figure given to howling from the treetops. Her ostracism was probably due to her cruel, crude nature but Avalokiteshwara took pity on her and the couple produced six offspring. With time, the children lost all simian characteristics to become the Tibetan race.

Tibet's first monarch was a stranger who appeared one day in the Yarlung Valley. When Tibetans asked where he came from, he pointed over his shoulder to indicate India. The awe-struck Tibetans thought he meant he had descended from the sky and promptly made him king.

First Emperor - The 33rd king of the Yarlung line, Songtsengampo (AD 620-650), was the first ruler to be recorded in history, simply because it was he who introduced a written script for the Tibetan language.

During Songtsengampo's reign, Tibet not only initiated trade contacts with China, India, Nepal and the lands to the west, but also began expanding its borders. The Chinese and Nepalese sought to curtail imperial ambitions by creating alliances sealed with that all-purpose diplomatic glue; marriage. China dispatched Princess Wencheng and from Nepal came Princess Tritsun who joined the king's three Tibetan wives. The pair of queens brought with them a new religion, Buddhism.

Buddhism Established - Trisong Detsen (AD 755-797) continued the work of his predecessor, expanding Tibet's borders to incorporate major portions of Central Asia thus making Tibet nearly twice as large as it is today. During his reign, interest in Buddhism revived.

Two famed Indian Buddhists teachers, Padmasambhava (also revered as Guru Rinpoche) and Santarakshita, were invited to establish Tibet's first Buddhist monastery. A handsome edifice rose from the sands of Samye in the Yarlung Valley; here the first Tibetan Buddhist monks were trained and ordained.

To promote the religion, Trisong Detsen ordered noble families to support the monasteries, a decree repellent to Bon-worshippers, which ultimately sowed the seeds for Buddhism's demise.

Atisha Arrives - In 1042, a famed Mahayana teacher, Atisha, journeyed from India to lecture in western Tibet at the invitation of one of its kings. Under his tutelage, Buddhism began a slow climb back to its former prominence.

Like the scattered kingdoms, Buddhism functioned as a patch-work of diverse doctrines with nearly 20 distinct sects, each isolated from the other. Eventually, four principal orders emerged and vied for pre-eminence; the Nyingmapa, Kagyudpa, Sakyapa and Kadampa (which later evolved into the Gelugpa).

In 1247, the Mongols appointed a Sakya Monastery scholar, Sakya Pundit, as the ruler of Tibet thereby establishing the monastery as a centre of Tibetan power. Sakya continued to provide the nation's leaders until 1354 when they were overthrown. In the melee that followed, no single sect was able to assert control and once again the country disintegrated into warring factions.

The Glorious Fifth - Seeking to wield political influence, the powerful Gelugpa abbot of Drepung, Sonam Gyatso, turned to the Mongols for support. The Mongols responded by naming him the Dalai Lama and giving him authority over the whole of Tibet. They established thus the U (Central) region around Lhasa as the government for the country and created an institution of religious political leaders, which has survived to this day. Aside from a brief resurgence of Nyingmapa rule in the mid- 17th century, the U region hees held the reins of power since.

The next great historical figure was the fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682), a Gelugpa abbot often referred to as the Great Fifth. A formidable leader and a visionary, he ruled a realm that encompassed a territory from Mount Kailas to the Kham region. On Lhasa's Red Hill where Songtsengampo had built his palace, he began the construction of a massive citadel that would serve both as an administrative and a religious centre; the Potala.

So large was the Great Fifth's influence in unifying the country and so competent and cohesive the band of administrators he assembled, that when he died in 1682 his death was kept secret for 12 years until the completion of the Potala.

The Great Game - By the turn of the century, Tibet had acquired new significance in Western, notably British eyes. Britain became concerned that Russia was concluding a Tibetan alliance. This was viewed as detrimental to British interests in the Great Game being played out over territorial control of Central Asia. Accordingly, the British marched into Tibet to force a treaty upon the Dalai Lama.

The expedition, led by Col. Francis Younghusband in 1904, met token resistance south of Gyantse. Displaying a singular lack of judgment, the British soldiers opened fire, killing 700 Tibetans within minutes. They acquired their treaty but alarmed the Chinese who tightened their hold over the country.

The overthrow of the Manchus in 1911 stalled Chinese ambitions in Tibet while it dealt with its own internal problems.

In 1949, the Communists took power in China and near the top of their agenda was the incorporation of Tibet into Chinese polity. In 1950, Chinese armies invaded eastern Tibet, overcoming fierce resistance. In 1951, they granted Tibet autonomy in domestic affairs but garrisoned troops there.

Dalai Lama Fleas - Chinese occupation chafed and in 1956, political agitation against their presence began. Chinese soldiers took over Lhasa and confrontations escalated. In 1959, having been invited to Beijing to what he suspected would be house arrest, the Dalai Lama fled to India, eventually taking up residence in Dharmasala. From this base he has for 30 years provided guidance to expatriate Tibetan communities spread throughout India and the world and to Tibetans in Tibet who continue to revere him.

After 1960, the Chinese policy was to suppress Tibetan institutions, eradicating all symbols of the past. Much of the destruction of monasteries began after 1959 with images and artefacts sold in the antique markets of Hong Kong or melted down to pad Beijing's coffers. In 1965, the Chinese established Tibet as an Autonomous Region ruled by Beijing. At the same time, they carved away portions of its territory, creating the province of Xizang and adding land to existing Chinese provinces.

The Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 was particularly harsh on Tibetans. Systematic persecution reportedly killed hundreds of thousands of Tibetans and senseless destruction of the religious sites reduced monasteries from 2.463 in 1959 to 10 by 1976. according to a Chinese estimate.

Recognising the excesses of these years and as partial atonement for the damage, since 1980, the Chinese have restored many of the old monasteries and trained Tibetan artists to create new Buddha images. They have also relaxed many of the restrictions, giving Tibetans a greater hand in planning their own lives. p>