| Tibet, nestling in the Roof of the World, evokes a sense of mystery for many in the world. Making a trip to this remote region will help to lift the veil and provide insights into ancient and modern Tibet.
Tibet, located in southwest China, has an area of 1.2 million square km, equal to that of Germany, Spain and France combined. Its population of 2.32 million, composed mainly of the Tibetans, lives at an average elevation of over 4,000 meters. After the North and South Poles, Tibet is often referred to as the "third pole of the earth", and it is the largest and highest habitat highland area. Unique geography has given birth to unique scenery, while an ancient culture and Buddhism combine to form a unique social system. All these add to the sense of mystery that sets Tibet apart from the rest of the world, creating ideal conditions for the development of tourism.
The world's highest mountain, Qomolangma pierces the sky at 8,.848 meters above sea level on the Sino-Nepalese border, and has long been an irresistible lure for international mountaineers. But there are numerous peaks each more than 5,000 meters high in the area that remain snowcapped all year round. Famous rivers that originate here include the Ganges, Indus, Mekong and Irrawaddy. There are more than 1,500 lakes in Tibet, all crystal clear. Tibet is also one of the largest forested areas in China, and home to many wildlife. Its virgin land provides many ecological tourist attractions.
Tibet has a long history. As early as 4,000-20,000 years ago, there were people living here. Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, is a cultural city with a history of 1,300 years. Many historical relics representing the cream of the Tibetan nation and culture are kept intact. The Potala Palace in Lhasa is the best preserved palace complex, with the highest elevation and largest scale in the world. Its many frescos, engravings and Buddhist scriptures are held as symbol of the ancient civilization and culture of the Tibetan race. The three major monasteries in Lhasa-the Zhaibung, Sera and Gandain-stage many grand Buddhist activities during religious festivals. Travelling in Tibet will help illuminate Tibetan culture and religion.
The Norbu Lingka is like a green gem inlaid by the Lhasa River. This quiet and picturesque part used to be the summer residence for the Dalai Lama of various generations. Built during the period of the 10th Dalai Lama in the mid-18th century, it is the ideal venue for worshipping, relaxing and enjoying the best of Tibetan architecture. Barkor Street is flanked with stalls offering arts and handicrafts (some made in the hinterland), which are popular tourist purchases.
Xigaze was a center for temporal and religious administration in the old days. It is also the official residence of the Panchen Lama of various generations. Shannan, Zetang and Yarlung, regarded as the birthplace of the Tibetan race, have been made state-level scenic spots. Nyingchi in east Tibet is famous for its natural beauty and rich plant and natural resources. The northern Tibet Grasslands in Ngari possesses unique geography and mysterious holy snow mountains. Ngari is known as the Roof on the Roof of the World, and it is famous for various mountains and lakes considered holy by Tibetans.
What enchants tourists as well are the local customs and habits. The Tibetans have a bold and uninhabited character. They are good at singing and dancing. Traditional sports include wrestling, throwing stones, tug-of-war, horse racing and archery. At most times of the year, tourists are highly likely to come across traditional religious festivals and will be invited to join the Tibetans in singing, dancing and drinking. Tourists are free to visit ordinary families, experiencing the lifestyle popular with Tibetans.
In the early 1980s, Tibet's door was pushed open to overseas tourists. In the 13 years from 1980 to 1992, more than 170,000 foreigners visited to climb the highest peaks in the world and enjoy an adventurous interlude.
With the assistance of the State Administration for Tourism, the UNDP and tourism agencies around the world, and local tourist agencies have organized various activities such as tours of scenic spots and cultural relics, mountaineering, adventuring; skiing, automobile races, bicycle trips, hot air balloon rides, walking, horse riding, boating, hunting, fishing, and hot spring bathing.
There are 78 tourist hotels in Tibet with 1,329 rooms. Seven are starred hotels, such as the three-star Lhasa Holiday Inn, a joint venture between the International Holiday Group and Lhasa, the two-star Tibet Hotel, the two-star Xigaze Hotel, the two-star Gyangze Hotel, the two-star Zetang Hotel, the one-star Sunlight Hotel and the one-star Himalayan Hotel. Special arrangements will be made for tourists who want to stay in Tibetan-style houses or tents.
Many hotels offer Tibetan and Western food, plus buffet dinners. In Lhasa and Xigaze, many restaurants are open to serve mainly tourists.
Tibet is the only Chinese region inaccessible by railway. People enter Tibet by bus or by air. The Sichuan-Tibet, Qinghai-Tibet highways and Yunnan-Tibet highways link Tibet with parts of China. The China-Nepal and the Qinghai-Tibet highways are the major routes for overseas travellers to enter Tibet.
Expansion of the Gonggar Airport drew to an end in 1993. The airport is now large enough to accommodate Boeing 747 and other jumbo planes. Construction of the Bamda Airport, which boasts the highest elevation in the world, was commissioned in 1994. Lhasa now has flights to Beijing, Chengdu and Chongqing as well as to Kathmandu in Nepal. In May 1995, the computerized booking system of the Lhasa Civil Aviation was connected with the CAAC Computer Center. Passengers in Lhasa are thus able to buy plane tickets for trips from Chengdu to other parts of China, including return tickets.
Temperature difference is great in Tibet between day and night. Given long sunshine hour, Tibet is free from freezing cold in winter. Annual temperature averages eight degrees C. in southern Tibet and below zero degrees C. in northern Tibet. Lhasa, located in the central part of Tibet, is not very cold in winter and not very hot in summer. March-October are considered to be the best season for visit to Tibet.