Tibet Autonomous Region of China offers one of the most unique and unforgettable experience a traveller can hope from a destination. Located on Tibetan Plateau in Asia with an average altitude of above 4,000 meters, Tibet is the highest altitude location and is one of the remotest places on the planet.
Tibet’s remoteness and high altitude are combined with very mountainous terrain and make Tibet relatively difficult and expensive to access. Until 2006, flying was the only feasible travel option to Tibet and today, Tibet train is a good alternative. Still, the distances are huge here as Tibet is thousands of kilometers away from many major Chinese cities.
There are also restrictions for foreigners visiting Tibet. You need additional permits to visit Tibet and number of permits needed may increase if you want to visit some restricted areas. It is not allowed for a foreigner to travel in Tibet alone and you also need to be accompanied by a guide. All of these adds to the cost and makes it necessary to plan your Tibet trip carefully. You will need to plan the document preparation and reservations as well as arranging the tickets and accommodation. Luckily, a trusted and experienced Tibet tour operator can help you to plan and execute a cheapest Tibet tour.
Some locations in Tibet like Mount Kailash are extremely remote so traveling such locations add further to the bill.
You can reduce the burden by visiting some free but exiting attractions in Tibet.
Barkhor Street in Lhasa
Barkhor Street is the heart of old town of Lhasa and is the best place to experience Tibet culture and religion. This historic street surrounds the Jokhang Temple and is full of nice, local restaurants, shops, hotels and many local pilgrims (from all around Tibet) visiting the Jokhang Template. Tibetans performing circumambulation around the temple are a must-see sight. This is also a good place for visitors who want to learn about Tibetan culture, economy, religion and arts.
The street offers some best souvenir buys and eating options. You can also circle around the temple with locals (according to Tibetan Buddhism, you must walk in Barkhor Street in a clockwise direction while praying to the Buddha in the temple). Don’t forget to try some famous local food and beverages here like Tibetan butter tea and tsampa.
The street is approximately 1800 meters long and you can cover it in half an hour if you do not stop in many stalls and shops along the way. Even if you are not planning to buy anything or visit Jokhang Temple, you should come here to experience the mix of daily life, trade and religion. If you happen to visit Jokhang Temple, which offers an incredible atmospheric labyrinth of chapels, do not forget to climb up to rooftop where you can have a very good view of Potala Palace and the streets around the temple.
Yamdrok Lake in Shannan Prefecture
Like mountains, lakes are considered sacred by Tibetan people. They are believed to be the dwelling places for protective deities. This is also believed to give these sacred places a spiritual power. There are many sacred lakes in Tibet and some of these are very important religious focal points.
Yamdrok Lake is one of the most sacred of these holy lakes. It is so sacred that Tibet’s fate is traditionally tied to this freshwater lake: it is believed that if Yamdrok Tso Lake dries, Tibet would not be habitable.
You can easily access the lake by Friendship Highway S307 with a day-trip from Lhasa. The surrounding area is very beautiful and offers very nice trekking routes as well as opportunities to take nature photo. Even if you wouldn’t trek or take photo, it is a very nice experience to enjoy the landscape with rich pasture land to local herdsmen.
Tibet is home to many famous mountain passes which are the only way to cross the gigantic mountain ranges. One such mountain passes is Gawula Pass which is on the way to the Everest Base Camp. The pass is 5198 meters above sea level and offers one of the most breath-taking sights of Everest you will ever see. There are many other mountains taller than 8000 meters and joins Everest in the incredible view like Mount Shishapama, Mount Lotse, Mount Makalu, and Mount Cho Oyu.
Climbing to Gawula Pass is challenging but scenery worth it. After the pass, you will downslope one of the windiest roads you will ever see. Like most passes in Tibet, Gawula Pass can be best enjoyed during summer. In other seasons, snow can build up and blizzards can get in the way.
Scenic ride to Tibet via Xining-Lhasa train
Since its opening in 2006, Tibet train offers a popular and cheaper alternative to flights. You can take Tibet train from many major Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Xining, Chengdu, Xi’an and Chongqing and travel all the way up to Lhasa. The real Tibet train experience starts from Xining, a Chinese city on the northern edge of Tibet Plateau.
Depending on the class, Tibet train can cost one third or half of the plane ticket. The train crosses Tibet Plateau from North to South and offers a stunning scenery which can be freely enjoyed from your compartment for days (a trip can take 2 – 3 days). The train also offers experience of very high altitudes and climbs to as high as 5,000+ meters. The main attraction on the route is Tanggula pass which is the highest pass along the Qinghai-Tibet train route. At 5,231 meters above sea level, it is also the highest point one can cross with a train and offers a once in a lifetime experience on its own.
This scenic ride is a free attraction on its own since it passes through high altitude mountain ranges, extremely remote pastures and numerous mountains and lakes. It would be like paying for the train ticket and getting the accommodation and a fantastic scenery attraction free besides it. The train ride can take anywhere from 24 hours (if you start from Xining) to 50 hours.
Self-drive tour from Sichuan-Tibet tour via 318 National Highway
Tibet flights and trains are not the only ways to arrive to Lhasa. Self-drive tours from Sichuan to Lhasa on Sichuan-Tibet Highway, a major part of the No. 318 Highway connecting China’s mainland to the Tibet Autonomous Region, is increasingly getting popular among tourists.
The road is abundant with outstanding natural scenery from plain to plateau, from woodlands to snow-capped hill, and narrow valley, etc. In the past decade, China has invested a lot of money to improve the roads so the driving experience is relatively care free. This self-drive tour is also an attraction on its own.
Tibet’s remote and high-altitude location as well as extra travel requirements make Tibet an expensive destination compared to many places in China. Still, by careful planning, working with a good tour operator and choosing budget friendly options as well as free attractions, you can minimize your budget and still fully enjoy what Tibet is offering to its visitors.