Travel in Tibet
Tibet, the remote and mainly-Buddhist territory known as the "roof of the world", is governed as an autonomous region of China. To travel in this country a visa is required and there are some travel restrictions for the indepedent traveller. Tibet has had a tumultuous history, during which it has spent some periods functioning as an independent entity and others ruled by powerful Chinese and Mongolian dynasties. It is still one of the great countries in the world to visit, not least to visit Potala Palace in the capital Lhasa and also to drive along the Tibtean highway and from the high vantage point of the high plateau see the chain of Himalayas stretched in a long line, with Everest head and shoulders above them all.
Buddhism reached Tibet in the seventh century. The Dalai Lama, or Ocean of Wisdom, is the leading spiritual figure and has lived most of his life in exile; the Panchen Lama is the second most important figure. Both are seen as the reincarnations of their predecessors.
The selection of a Dalai Lama and a Panchen Lama has traditionally followed a strict process. But the Dalai Lama and Beijing are at odds over the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama, having identified different youngsters for the role. The Dalai Lama's choice, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has not been seen since his detention by the Chinese authorities in 1995.
The region can be charged with political tension and seemingly innocent actions can have far reaching effects. Current UK Foreign Office guidance on travel to the region should be researched and followed but certain generic principles remain:
- The Chinese authorities periodically prohibit travel to Tibet for foreign nationals. Travellers to Tibet should monitor official travel advice for information about travel to Tibet.
- Foreigners wishing to travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region require the permission of the Chinese authorities.
- Foreigners may normally only enter with a permit as part of a tour group; tour operators and travel agencies offer assistance with these.
- Be aware that ongoing political and ethnic tensions can lead to unrest and protest in Tibet. While foreigners are not normally targeted during unrest, travellers should be alert to the possibility of being caught up in unexpected outbreaks of violence.
- Avoid becoming involved in demonstrations or calls for Tibetan independence. The authorities regard videotaping or photographing such activities as provocative.
- Local authorities will react if you are found carrying letters or packages from Tibetan nationals to be posted in other countries.