Tibet - Arrival

The simplest option is to book group travel from Germany. There are essentially two routes of entry into Tibet: via China (Frankfurt - Beijing/Shanghai - Tibet) and via Nepal (flying into Katmandu), taking the Friendship Highway from the border town of Kodari to Lhasa. However, most western tourists travel to Tibet alone as backpackers.

Those who want to travel on their own should make themselves well aware of the applicable regulations, which can change suddenly and often-often so suddenly that even travel agents in Chengdu, the gateway into Tibet for backpackers, only learn about new rules when they are put into force-

Air travel

One can fly via Nepal (arrival in the capital city of Kathmandu) and then drive through the border town Kodari into Tibet. The route from Nepal to Lhasa was opened to tourism in the 1980s.

Another option is to fly via Beijing to Lhasa (with a stop in Chengdu) and then tour in the opposite direction: Lhasa - Rigaze (Shigatze) and then further in the direction of Nepal. For flights within China, one cannot expect the modern airplanes and comfort of international flights.

Travel to Tibet by bus

Buses typically enter via Golmud. Anyone who has ridden a bus on Tibetan roads can attest to why trucks in Tibet are adorned with all kinds of good luck charms! Rainwater from the mountains can wash away entire streets. Buses drive very close to drop offs in the mountains, and just when foreign tourists are fearing for their lives, drivers may, despite the very real possibility of oncoming traffic invisible around tight curves, determine to pass other vehicles.

Travel to Tibet by train

After five years of construction in some of the harshest terrain in the world, the Qinghai-Tibet railway was opened for business on 1 July 2006. The line extends some 1,956 kilometres from the city of Xining to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, rising to a maximum altitude of over 5,000 metres above sea level, earning it the title of the ‘Highest Railway in the World.’ Years of planning went into the railway and significant engineering stumbling blocks had to be overcome. The high altitude of the track and the according lack of oxygen made construction difficult, as did the fact that much of the track was built on permafrost, and the necessary construction of tunnels spanning three mountain ranges.

Trains operating on the line are modern, air conditioned and have four classes of accommodation – hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper. A deluxe tourist train is due to enter service in the coming months. The high altitude along the route can give some passengers health concerns but all carriages have extra oxygen pumped into them to combat the effects of altitude sickness, along with oxygen tubes for those who are really feeling the effects. However, it is been reported by some travelers that this has little effect as windows in toilets are often left open, raising doubts about claims of pressurising the cabins.

Three trains operate daily to Lhasa, which includes an express service from Beijing and Xi’an, taking around 48 hours to complete the journey. The train serves several major cities along its route and more are to be added soon including connections from Shanghai and Guangzhou. Bookings for the trip are open 10 days in advance and current demand is high so early booking is recommended. Many travel agents, particularly those in Xi’an and Chengdu, offer inclusive packages to Tibet or the option of buying the train ticket separately. Some also offer organisation of the mandatory Tibet Travel Permit for a fee, which must be obtained before attempting entry into the province.

Arrival via Chengdu

Chengdu is the location by which most tourists travel to Lhasa. There are many travel agencies there that specialize in trips to Tibet, but the entry regulations often change very quickly and unexpectedly. Flight and entry visa were booked by telephone in advance. The price was 1200 yuan for the flight and 150 yuan for the visa, but a few days later (at the beginning of the next month), the entry requirements had changed-which the travel agent allegedly did not know would occur, at the time of booking.

Whereas before we could fly with a group into Lhasa and then immediately separate from the group (indeed, one usually never figured out who else was in the group), now we would have to stay with the same group for three days; that is, continue with the Lhasa program's chartered bus and pre-booked hotels. Because of that, the price doubled.

Traveling within Tibet

After staying in Lhasa, most individual travelers head for Nepal, often via Rigaze, the domicile of the Panchen Lama (Panchen Riponche). You can travel to Rigaze by bus without being in a group; no travel permit is needed. The Nepal route, on the other hand, is best done by joining a group (which can be found readily in the few hotels in Lhasa) and renting a Jeep with driver, by which points outside Lhasa along the Nepal route can easily be visited.

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