Travelling into Tibet is not the easiest of things. In fact, the Free Tibet campaign organisation suggests that you don’t do it at all, since your presence will probably benefit the Chinese government much more than it will benefit the Tibetan people. However, if you really want to go there, or if it happens to be on the way to Nepal when you make your way there overland from China, then here are a few tips.

1) Prepare yourself for the cost, but shop around (and find other people to travel with).

Because the Chinese government doesn’t want you finding certain things out about Tibet, the only way you can enter the ‘Tibetan Autonomous Region’ is with a Tibet permit, and a certified guide to meet you, probably in Lhasa. If you leave Lhasa, you must also have a jeep and a driver for that jeep. You have to pay for all of your personal members of staff, and for their food and lodging while you travel through the country. This is even the case for cyclists, who have to organise for a jeep to drive behind them with their guide! This means that going in a big group is a good idea, as you can split the costs – check out the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum for people trying to find other people: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forum.jspa?forumID=19.

For the two of us (we couldn’t find anyone to join us), it cost 250GBP each, not including food or accommodation, for only five days! Once we reached Nepal, as is always the case, we found a couple who arranged it for much cheaper . So you could check hostels in Chengdu for cheap options, but I think they ended up flying over the border, which is a bit silly when you can take the train…

2) Think about where you spend your money

If you don’t want to support the Chinese occupation of Tibet, try to make sure your money goes to Tibetans. It is relatively easy to find a Tibetan guide rather than a Chinese one, and it is much more likely they will give you a realistic picture of life in Tibet. Also, if you arrange your tour through the guide themselves rather than a travel agency, it will cost you less and the guide is more likely to get paid more as the agency does not take a massive cut. Get in touch if you’d like contact details of our guide.

You can ask to stay at Tibetan-owned hotels and eat at Tibetan-owned restaurants.

Read http://www.freetibet.org/files/Travel%20Guide2010.pdf for more tips.

3) Decide what you want to do with your trip

This may not necessarily be what your guide wants you to do!While your guide may claim to be tailoring your trip to you, the likelihood is that they are choosing from one of several ready-made trips. If you’re trying to get through Tibet as quickly as you can whilst taking in stuff en route, this should take no more than 5 days.

4) Watch out for the altitude

An obvious point, but watch out for the altitude change on coming into Tibet – Lhasa is over 4000m, which is rather high! Especially given that altitude sickness can start to kick in just below 3000m and from there on you’re only meant to climb 300m a day. On the train you climb over 1000m in under 24 hours, so you’re almost guaranteed to get some of the symptoms.

See http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Altitude-sickness/Pages/Introduction.aspx for symptoms, treatment etc.

Diamox can be useful, as it reduces the severity and likelihood of the symptoms – we met some people in Xi’an who gave us their leftovers, which was handy.

5) Look after your guide

This applies to porters as well, should you choose to go to Everest Base Camp (tip: do this from the Nepal side as it will be cheaper and possibly easier, particularly as 2011 is ‘Year of Tourism’ when I believe climbing to EBC will be free). While you may be amazed that your guide and porter are in flimsy shoes and thin clothes when you have to wrap up, they should have good equipment and if it was available I bet you they’d use it.

6) Check out freetibet.org

http://www.freetibet.org/about/travel-to-tibet

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