When the word Tibet is mentioned something, most people think of cold and snow. It snows only once or twice a year. And thanks to almost perpetual sunshine, even during the coldest days of winter, it is not that cold during the daytime. Tibet is so sunny that it produces a year-round sunshine of over 3,000 hours.
Tibets’ old name by which is most popularly known as “land of snow, or Shangri-la”, is by no means to say that the entire land is always thickly covered in snow. It is only correct when it refers to the world’s greatest mountain ranges: the Himalayas, Nyachen Thanglha, and Gangkar Tisi. These fears ranges show their beautiful snow-covered peaks against the bluest of skies. Geographically, Tibet can be divided into three major parts, the east, north, and south. The eastern part is the Forrest region, occupying approximately one-fourth of the land. Virgin forests run the breadth and length of this part of Tibet. The northern part is grassland; nomads and yak and sheep dwell here. This part occupies approximately one-half of the land area of Tibet. The southern and central part is an agricultural region, occupying about one–fourth of Tibet’s land area. With all major Tibetan Tibetan cities and towns such as Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyangtse, and Tsedang located in this area, it is considered the cultural center of Tibet.
The total area of the Tibet Autonomous region is 1,200,000 square kilometers and its population1,900,000. The region is administratively divided into one municipality and six prefectures are Shigatse, Ngari, Lhoka(Tsedang), Chamdo, Nakchu, and Nyingtri(Kongpo). The people’s government of the Tibet Autonomous Region exercises the highest administrative authority in Tibet.]Although temperatures vary greatly (temperatures can sometimes drop 15`C in a day), the region’s climate is not as harsh as most people imagine it to be. Especially the central areas, such as Lhasa, Tsedang, Shigatse, and the major cities in Tibet have mild weather year-round. It’s not very hot in the summer, and not very cold in the winter. The monsoon starts in the summertime and reaches 12 inches of rainfall, by far the most in a year. In winter it hardly ever snows because this is the dry season. Most places in Tibet are above 3,600m. Therefore heart pounding and shortness of breath are normal responses. They are caused by a lack of oxygen. This can affect anybody, regarding their level of fitness, and has nothing to do with age for example. Rest for acclimatization is required especially for the first day in Tibet. If mountain sickness is acute, you should see a doctor. He can help with giving you fresh oxygen.
While in Tibet, you are suggested to drink at least 2 liters of water a day because. This helps against altitude sickness. Also, it is essential to bring dark sunglasses and sun lotion to prevent you from burning. Tibetan history can be traced thousands of years back. However, the written history only dates back to the 7th century when Songtsan Gampo, the 33rd Tibetan King, sent his minister Sambhota to India to study Sanskrit who on his return invented the present Tibetan script based on Sanskrit. Tibet’s history can be divided into four periods.1.The Tsanpos’(King) period.
This period starts from Nyatri Tsanpo, the first of the Tsanpos, in 127 B.C. (Historian differ in view of the date, but this date is taken from the White Annals, a reliable book on Tibetan history) and end in 842 A.D. at the death of Lang Darma, the last of the Tsanpos, who was assassinated by a Buddhist monk owing to Lang Darma’s ruthless persecution of Buddhism. During this period some 42 Tsanpos had ruled over Tibet among which Songtsan Gampo’s rule (7th Century) was considered as the Zenith.Songtsan Gampo was an outstanding ruler. He unified Tibet, changed his capital to Lhasa, sent Sambhota to India to study Sanskrit, and promulgated a script for the Tibetans on the latter’s return to Tibet, Married Princess Wencheng of the Tang court and Princess Bhrikuti Devi of Nepal, built the Potala Palace and the temple of Jokhang and Romoche temple.
2. The Period of Decentralization.
This period began in 842 A.D. the year of Lang Darma’s assassination, and ended in about 1260 A.D., when Pagpa, the Abbot of Sakya monastery, became a vassal of Kublai Khan, the first Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. During this period a little was known in history except that Tibet became decentralized into several petty principalities.
3.The Period of Sakya, Pagdu, and Karmapa’s Rule
This period began in Sakya’s ruler over Tibet, followed by Pagdu’s ruler in Lhoka and then by Karmpa’s rule in the Tsang region(Shigatse). This period lasted from 1260 A.D. to 1642 A.D. during which political powers centered in the three regions of Sakya, Pagdu, and Tsang successively ruled over Tibet.
The period of the Gadan Podrang’s Administration
This period is the period in which the Dalai Lama ruled Tibet. It started in 1642 A.D. when the 5th Dalai Lama overtook the ruling power from the Tsang ruler. It ended in 1951 when Tibet was liberated and came to a complete end in 1959 when the rebellion was pacified and the people’s government of the Tibet Autonomous Region was set up.[No other religion apart from Buddhism has been able to take root in Tibet. Only a small population of about 2,000 throughout Tibet have faith in Islam, while there is no trace of Christianity at all. The Bon, the aborigine religion of Tibet, a sect of Shamanism which chiefly worshipped idols and nature and practiced exercising evil spirits, had at one time prevailed in Tibet but lost ground with the penetration of Buddhism.Thus, Buddhism can well be said to be the sole religion of Tibet and the faith has taken so deep in a root that it means almost everything to the Tibetans. Well-to-do families even built in their compound private chapels or prayer rooms. To begin with, the first Buddhist scripture printed in Sanskrit was said to have been descended from Heaven in the 5th century during the reign of 28th Tsanpo Tho-Tho-Ri Nyantsan. It was translated into Tibetan in the 7th century in Songtsan Gampo’s reign. Since the translation, Buddhism got propagated into Tibet, and the visit of the Indian Master Padmasambhava in the 8th century had greatly accelerated the spread and sects started taking shape. In the 11th century the visit of the Bengali Master, Atisha, to Tibet once again encouraged the study of Buddhism in Tibet and sowed the seed for the Gelugpa sect, the greatest of all sects. Finally, in the 15th century, Tsongkhapa, the great reformer of Tibetan Buddhism, came to Tibet from Qinghai and founded the Gelugpa sect, the Order of Excellence, and hereafter Buddhism went all out spreading like a wildfire into Tibet and the breathtaking city-like monasteries shot up one after another. The 5th Dalai Lama’s becoming of the absolute ruler both of the church and the state is another decisive victory for Buddhism to rise to its paramountcy as the religion of the entire Tibetan nationality. The best-known monasteries of Tibet are Drepung, Sera, and Gadan in Lhasa; Tashilhunpo in Shigatse; Kumbum in Qinghai(Kokonor)The major religious sects are: The Nyingmapa sect, the Ancient Mystic Order, founded by Pad Masambhava; the Kagyupa sect, The Order of Oral Transmission, founded by Milarepa; The Sakyapa sect, the White Earth order, founded by Sakya Kunga Nyingpo; The Gelugpa sect, the order of Excellence, founded by Tsongkhapa.The Tibetan people have a splendid and unique traditional culture. Palaces and monasteries can well be taken as a complex work for architecture, carving, painting, sculpture, translation of scriptures from Sanskrit, and soon. In one word, each is a comprehensive work of art. The most noteworthy relics in them are the following Wonderful stone-works of architecture in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Kumbum Pagoda in Gyangtse, the great Assembly Halls in monasteries. Exquisite wood carvings on the altars, beams, and door frames demonstrate lively figures of gods, auspicious symbols, dragons, etc; Walls and walls painting in the Jokhang temple in Lhasa depict the complete life-story of the Lord Buddha or his miraculous triumph over the six non-Buddhist masters, breathtaking murals of mandalas painted on the walls of Sakya monastery, or the “art gallery” in the Potala Palace, narrating the stories of the Potala under construction. Innumerable works on sculpture such as images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, historical figures, and tomb stupas on display among which the giant bronze Maitreya(the Future Buddha) of Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, which stands 26 meters in height and is said to be the biggest bronze image in the the world.The great translation works done on Kagyur, translation of the commandments(108 volumes), and Tengyur, Translation of the commentaries(227 volumes), preserved almost in every monastery, the amazing wall of scriptures composed of some 40,000 sutras in Sakya. This is even referred to by the folk saying that “ Though the outer walls built of stones may collapse, but inner wall built of scriptures can withstand in the stead.” All these splendid cultural relics and attractions take us far back into the wonders of antiquity and give us some idea of the real richness of the Tibetan culture.The majority of Tibet’s population of 1,890.000 are Tibetans. Tibet is so thinly populated that it averages out 1.68 persons per square kilometer. About 90% of the people live on farming and husbandry. Farmers live in the valleys of the Tsangpo River(Brahmaputra) and its major tributaries, Kyichu and Nyangchu. These areas produce barley, wheat, peas, and rapeseed. The great northern grassland which occupies a good half of Tibet is the home of nomads, yaks, and sheep. Nomads have no fixed abodes and keep roaming along fine pastures together with all their belongings-tents and livestock. The remaining population approximately 10% live in towns, earning their living mainly on business and handicraft, and many are factory workers and government officials.The ideology of the people in this land differs greatly from any other nationality both at home in China abroad. Religion seems like almost everything. Many live for the next life, rather than for the present. That accumulate deeds of virtue and pray for the final liberation enlightenment. Lips and hands of the elders are never at still, either busied in the murmuring of the six-syllable tantric prayer “Om Ma Ne Pad ME Hum” (Hail the Jewel in the Lotus) or in rotation of hand prayer wheels, or counting of the prayer beads. Pious pilgrims from every corner of Tibet day to day gather at Jokhang temple and Bharkor street offering their donations and praying for heart and soul for their selves, for their friends, and their friends’ friends.Frequent visitors to Tibet can make out folks from different regions judging by costumes and dialects. Folks from agricultural regions dress in home-woven woolen gowns, and those from the grassland clad in sheepskin, menfolk from Chamdo wear huge tassels of black or red silk which were used in the old days for protection in a fight, while the Lhasa residents are more stylish and modern. There are several dialects in Tibet. They can mainly be categorized into four: Tsang(Shigatse and Gyangtse), Chamdo, and Amdo. Tibetan cuisine is pretty basic and mainly consists of Tsampa (Roasted Barley flour) and endless bowls of butter tea. A steamed meat dumpling is the nation’s favorite. The main items to drink are Chang, fortified barley ale, and butter tea.
Western, Chinese, and Muslim food is widely available in hotels and restaurants in the bigger cities. Especially in Lhasa, there is some fine dining to be found.
Remember that temperatures vary greatly in a single day and that in the summer period, it mostly rains in the morning and stops around noon. Dress accordingly. Always bring a raincoat with you between Mid- August to Mid-September. And last, but not least: always bring an extra coat or sweater, since temperatures differ greatly between sun and shade. The National currency is RMB, called Yuan or Kuia. The rate is approximate:
1 Yuan =10 Jiao,
10 Fen= 1 Jiao.
Credit card and travelers’ checks can be easily cashed only in Lhasa. Most currencies of developed countries can also be exchanged in Tibet. We recommended you exchange cash with the Bank of China. Color print film is generally available in most of the major cities and towns but slide film is only available in Lhasa, Outside pictures are always free of charge but be careful not to take pictures at (sensitive) military areas. Photography in temples and monasteries may be permitted for a fee, though you should ask first. Always ask first before photographing local people. This is greatly appreciated.