This photo gallery collects some memories from a travel experience that is dearest to my heart, a 13-day solo trip to Tibet. Are you planning to travel to Tibet alone? That was my biggest desire for 20 years. One day, tired of dreaming about Tibet, I dropped all the uncertainties and booked the trip of my life with a Tibetan travel agency. This article recounts my trip to Tibet in pictures.
When I traveled to Tibet, I already knew a lot about Tibetan culture and history. The surprise and the joy that I felt through direct contact with the Tibetan people and land, proved that I had realized a true desire. It doesn’t matter what you know from books or films, the direct experience that you can only get from a trip to Tibet will give you authentic knowledge, and you shouldn’t refrain from it, even if this implies traveling to Tibet alone, spending double of what you would for other destinations in Asia.
You will meet kindred souls on your journey to Tibet. If you’re still wondering if you shall travel to Tibet alone, maybe looking at these photo diary will help.
Where to start if you want to travel to Tibet alone
Tibet ceased to be an independent country during the mid 20th Century. It is currently a special autonomous region of China and the circulation of foreigners (non-Chinese travelers) is strictly monitored. You can’t travel around in Tibet if you don’t have a Chinese VISA, different permits, and if you aren’t escorted by official travel agents. This state of things forces you to connect with a travel agency, and here is where you start making choices.
Shall you travel to Tibet with a Chinese travel agency, or with a Tibetan travel agency?
I traveled with a Tibetan travel agency. I lived in China, Xiamen City, for six years. Chinese culture and Tibetan culture are very different. Think of the quality and quantity of information that a Tibetan guide can provide about Tibetan culture!
It takes a few weeks to obtain all the relevant permits, so don’t suppose that you can rush your trip to Tibet. Try and book at least two months in advance.
Communication with the travel agency
How do you choose a travel agency? I connected with 3 agencies, and in the end, I chose the one with which I could communicate better. I spent 2-weeks exchanging mails and phone calls, and they were always supportive and helpful, answering any questions and designing the trip considering my needs and wants. My choice proved right. The agency arranged a group with 3 other solo travelers and one family. We shared the 4-day tour of Lhasa and the road trip to the Everest Base Camp.
Once everyone had gotten to Lhasa independently, the agency even invited us to their office for tea and to summarize again the trip’s plan and see if we were alright and if we had further questions.
This is the Tibet map at the agency’s office in Lhasa.
And this is Gyaltsen, our amazing Tibetan tour guide, that you can get in touch with to plan your trip to Tibet.
Exploration of Lhasa
Visiting Lhasa lets you:
- Get used to the altitude (roughly 3,600 mt)
- Visit 2 UNESCO heritage sites, the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Temple
- Meet thousands of Tibetan pilgrims and know how they express their devotion to the sacred sites
- Observe how the city has been “invaded” by Chinese businesses and surveilled by the Chinese army
- Buy Tibetan handicraft. Just make sure it’s Tibetan.
Usually, any 4-day tour of Lhasa allows you to spend at least a free afternoon around the city center. Don’t miss the sight of the Potala Palace lit up for the night and try some Tibetan dishes at a local restaurant (the food at the hotel was great but I was happy to explore further). My favorite is the sauteed noodles with the Tibetan butter tea.
Day trips from Lhasa
Included in the tour of Lhasa, we visited 2 important monasteries, the Sera and the Drepung.
The Sera Monastery is lively and busy, many local travelers come here to pray. In the morning, the monks spend a few hours performing religious debates in small groups and it’s allowed to follow the debates (if you can understand anything!) and take pictures of them.
The Drepung Monastery, at the time of the year I visited (June), was secluded and had a truly mystical atmosphere.
Road trip from Lhasa to the EBC, Everest Base Camp
The second tour I had booked was a road trip to the Everest Base Camp. This tour takes 5 days, most of the time is spent in a very comfortable van going through incredible landscapes. The altitude gradually rises day by day. The highlights are:
You get to see the Tibetan yak, finally!
The pristine landscape of Lake Yamdrok
The Karola Glacier
Sleep in a hostel-tent at the Everest Base Camp (5000+ mt altitude!)
Visit the meditation cave of Padmasambhava at Rongbuk Monastery, which faces the north face of Mount Everest
Stroll inside the magnificent Tashi Lhunpo Monastery
The Brahmaputra River
The last part of my solo trip to Tibet turned out to be my favorite. I love hiking and I had read on the web that it was possible to organize treks in different parts of Tibet. I discussed that with the Tibetan travel agency, and they were really honest about the question. If you travel to Tibet alone, and with short notice, it’s going to be easier to find fellow travelers to share the costs for the tour of Lhasa and the EBC, but quite impossible to find somebody for a 3-day trekking trip. I had actually tried to find somebody to go with me the two months preceding the trip, but I couldn’t, and I was even happy about it because I wanted to travel to Tibet alone, possibly making new friends on the way, as for all my travels! The agency found me a trekking guide and two porters with yaks to carry our tents and kitchen tools, and off we went on the Ganden-Samye route!
Trekking from Ganden to Samye
This trek retraces a traditional pilgrimage from the Ganden Monastery to the Samye Monastery. It takes a little bit more than 3 days and leads you across uncontaminated landscapes at 5000+ mt altitude. I had the chance to see dozens of yaks, horses and groundhogs grazing freely while their owners, that travelers commonly refer to as “Tibetan nomads”, dwelled in their summer homes, that are big tents made from yak fur.
Travel to Tibet alone: the most important thing to consider
I deliberately focused more on pictures than text in this article. These are only a few of the photos I took in Tibet. If you’re wondering whether traveling to Tibet alone is the right thing for you, reflect on how much do you want to see Tibet and to have a direct connection with the Tibetan culture, which, as we all know, is under threat. The trip to Tibet is the most incredible travel experience of my life, and I want to visit again… I wasn’t 100% sure when I invested in this trip, but I also didn’t want to wait any longer to make one of my biggest dreams come true. The right choice of the travel agency helped a lot to feel safe, satisfied, and enjoy this trip to the fullest. I felt tears of joy every time I was showed another landscape, monastery, group of locals who wanted to meet us…
Everyone passionate about mountain life, tribal culture, Tibetan culture, Buddhist religion should travel to Tibet alone.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!