"Land of the" Tibet by John195123
Tibet Travel Guide: 1,402 reviews and 4,147 photos
I can't write too much about Tibet right now because I'm quite short on time, but it is a desolate, amazing place. Altitude and relief aside, Tibet is a harsh land for living, but those that do live there, the animals and the people are hardy and suited for it. What you hear about the Han Chinese moving in is largely true, though there is another side to the story, one less popular in the west, and that is of the wealth, stability and possibility brought in by the Chinese. I'm not saying which story is right, but there are two sides. When in Rome, you better like Italian food, if you know what I mean. Regardless, Tibet is an amazing place, especially since it has the exoticism and remoteness that you just can't find in concrete-soaked China, with stairs leading everywhere the concrete doesn't flow.
Tibet's nickname "Roof of the World" applies in a very subtle manner- it's at times hard to feel that you are at the roof of the world when the mountains loom so high above. Clouds feel close, yet outside of Lhasa (to the north) the mountains droop to high plains of unimaginable expanse, the sort of place where you could imagine the most epic of legendary battles.
And I don't want it to change. Despite all the current problems there, the land will bear it and it will go on.
Tibet reopened after the Olympic torch passed through on June 21, 2008. June 25 saw permits being accepted. To get in, currently (July 2008) you have to jump through the tightened hoops. You'll need to provide passport information, as well as your occupation, to the Travel Agent who will book your Tour into Tibet. Start this process EARLY. You may need to send a digital (scanned) copy via email or possibly via fax to the travel agent, typically in Kunming, Chengdu or Beijing. I'm not sure that there are flights into or out of Lhasa from anywhere else. From Kunming (KMG), you usually depart at 7:00am Beijing time, refuel or change in Shangri-la (DIG)and fly on to Lhasa (LXA). I don't think you can initiate your flight in Shangri-la, as we wanted to do that but could not. Allow three days for TTB permit processing- they say one day, but more time is better.
It's possible to take a train in and out. Allow at least ten days for TTB permit processing. The travel agents can make the train tickets for you.
It's also possible to drive, but that option might not be open at this time. Again, you'll need a tour agent to set up the permit and driver... allow ten days for permit processing. Again, for all these permits, you're best to allow a month of time, just to be safe.
Many people go through Mr. Chen at the Camellia Hotel. I don't recommend that method. There are many others who are hopefully more trustworthy than Mr. Chen. I'll provide the story on that later, just for everyone to know, but for now I'll just say that he wasn't very honest and got people in somehow, without a permit, risking them in the process, or that's how it seems. Anyway, more on him later.
You will need the TTB permit to get into Tibet, and even to make air or rail reservations. They say it takes a day if you're going by air, and up to ten if you go by car or rail (overland). You will need to have a travel agent make the tour and permit for you. You might get the permit in hand, you might never see it. We got ours at the airport from Mr. Chen.
Currently, once you're in Tibet, you'll need to have the permit on you at all times, they say. Who really knows, as very often you fly into Tibet as a group with all the names on the permit then disperse in your various directions once you hit the ground. In these Special Times, however, it's best to have a permit on you, or at least get a copy of the permit.
You will need about seven stamps on the Alien's permit, which you need to travel outside of Lhasa, Gyantse and Shigatse, typically... I believe you need the ATB permit to get there anyway these days. It can be hard to get all seven stamps , and at the time of writing, we were the first allowed through while other groups previous had their permits cancelled. We did lose two days of our trip. But, as I figured early on, you can go up and back in less than 48 hours if you have to.
Just to clarify, many of the groups who had ATB permits (to visit Everest Base Camp et cetera) had their permits cancelled or not granted sort of last minute. I can't figure out what's so risky about going to visit a giant rock, but that's China for you.
There are numerous checkpoints, some for the driver's speed, some for you, on the way up and back but all went smoothly once we had the permits in-hand. One of the stamps you may have to get in Shigatse.
IMPORTANT: When you are making visa arrangements to come to China, I have heard it's recommended not to say you're going to Tibet. If they know you're going there, they may not allow you a visa. You might not want to say that you're going to Xinjiang Province either...
NOTE: If you have a Residence Permit or you work in China, you will need to have a copy of your contract or something from your place of work proving that you work in China. This held up our progress in getting the Alien's permit to visit Everest, and we just happened to have a copy of our contracts with us (for use in arguing our place of work's contractual violations). So, make sure you have something proving your place of work.
NOTE: Mr. Chen is at the Camellia Hotel. The biggest problem we have with him is that he promised us that there'd be no problem. We gave him the necessary money and got to Lhasa and there was a problem. The problem was the PSB, not Mr. Chen. However, he works in this realm and knows more than we do and should have been up front about the risks. He should have told us that there was a chance that the PSB could not grant permits. We would have risked it anyway, but the choice would have been on our shoulders. He promised us, told us to trust him, that he's been doing this for years. No problem. Not that we believed him, but he shouldn't have said it. There was a problem, we lost two days of our trip, and there was no way to get the money back, since he hadn't even paid the guide or driver yet. Alternatives include, if you have time, waiting until you get into Lhasa to apply for the Alien's permit (to travel outside of Lhasa prefecture) or going to some other companies in town. Mr. Chen already has a reputation for better sales pitches than trips, and I never got a good feeling from him. He did set up a successful trip for us to southern Yunnan a few months earlier, but I think you might be happier going to someone else. Mr. Chen is still owed a letter from me, explaining this problem and why it is bad, and he'll be copied on the letters I send the Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and other travel sources talking about him and recommending other outfits. There's a place in Lhasa, don't recall the name currently, that doesn't have a good reputation either, but some people I met in Lhasa, who were sent to Lhasa by Mr. Chen without a TTB permit and who were quite angry (understandably) at this, went successfully through the agent in Lhasa. I'll try to find that.
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