Tibet is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The region covers more than 1.2 million sq km. Tibet is found on the Tibetan Plateau in the northern part of Himalayas. It is the traditional home of Tibetan people as well as some ethnic groups. It is the highest region on Earth, with an average elevation of 4500 meters. Mount Everest, the highest mountain on the planet rising 8,848 meters above sea level is located in Tibet, on the border between Tibet and Nepal.
There are many reasons why Tibet attracts visitors. Some come to see the world’s highest mountains, others want to learn more about Tibet’s culture and rich heritage. Tibet has a lot to offer to everyone: from old Buddhist monasteries with ancient artifacts, to awe-inspiring landscapes.
Location of Tibet
The historical and administrative Tibet have different borders. Historically, territories of Tibet were vast, spreading on the Tibetan Plateau. Nowadays, the name “Tibet” is usually associated with the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). However, the territory where Tibetans live, and where the culture is predominantly Tibetan, is spreading beyond the borders of the TAR. Tibetan territories are a part of several other prefectures in China, including Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan.
Tibet has borders with Bhutan, Nepal and India, and majestic Himalayan mountains separate Tibet from the neighboring countries. Some of the highest mountains on the planet lie between Tibet and Nepal, such as Everest, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma. There is an overland border between Nepal and Tibet at the Gyirong port. Traveling between these countries is a long journey, however, it is difficult to find a more scenic route. The border between Tibet and India is currently open for Indian citizen only.
Tibet covers a total area of 4,71,900 square miles. 2,600 km extends from West to East and 1,300 from North to South. It extends from 78 degrees to 90 degrees longitude East and 28 degree to 37 degree latitude North. Tibetan landscapes range from green dense forests to dry moonscapes and deserts, from deep river canyons to the highest mountain ranges. There are vast grasslands, some of the most important rivers, running throughout Asia, alpine lakes and glaciers. Due to such a diversity of the climate, Tibet is home to many wildlife species, including some endemic animals and birds.
Because of Tibet’s high elevation, weather in many Tibetan regions is harsh. At an elevation above 4,500 meters weather conditions can change very fast, and it is not uncommon to see snow even in summer months.
The level of precipitation is uneven throughout the year. The rainy season usually starts in the middle of June-July and lasts until the beginning of September.
However, weather in the valleys can be very pleasant. for example, in Lhasa summer months are warm, with hot days and cool nights. Even during the monsoon season in July and August it usually rains during the nighttime only. During the day, weather is very pleasant. That’s why summer months are the most popular among visitors.
The main language in Tibet is Tibetan language. However, there are several variations of the language. The Standard Tibetan is spoken in Lhasa and throughout the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Along with Chinese, it is the official language of TAR.
The written language is the Classic Tibetan, dating back to the 7th century, when first Buddhist texts appeared. Regardless of the variation of the dialect in the spoken language, all Tibetans use the Classic Tibetan writing script.
In addition to the Standard Tibetan, there are several dialects. Sometimes these dialects are called separate languages. They are all based on the same written script, but pronunciation is different, and grammar has some variations. People in Kham and Amdo regions speak Tibetan language, that Lhasa people don’t even understand. In turn, these dialects are further divided into more dialects within each group. For example, Kham Tibetan has five different dialects withing it. Amdo Tibetan has seven different dialects.
There are other dialects that are used in Ladakh, India and Bhutan.
In addition to Tibetan, people working in tourism industry speak English.
Despite of being the second largest province in China after Xinjiang, Tibet has the lowest population density. The total population of Tibetans is estimated to be around 6 million, including people living in TAR, as well as in other Tibetan regions in China, such as Sichuan, Qinghai and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Total number of Tibetans in Tibetan Autonomous Region is around 3.3 million.
An estimated number of Han Chinese living in Tibetan territories is approximately 7.5 million.
There are other ethnic minorities living on the territory of Tibet, including Monpa, Hui, Naxi, Drung and others.
Before the 7th century, Tibetans practiced Bon religion. Since the adoption of Buddhism in the 7-8 centuries, it became the main religion in Tibet. However, there are still some people practicing Bon and there are several active monasteries in Tibet. About 12% of population practice Bon religion. While almost 80% of Tibetans practice Buddhism.
There is a Muslim minority in Tibet, comprising 0.4% of the population. There is a Muslim quarter in Lhasa with two active Mosques. Also, there is a small Tibetan Christian community.
Tibetan calendar follows the phases of the Moon. That’s why dates of the festival celebrations according to the Western calendar will be different every year.
Most of the important festivals in Tibet are religious. These are the most important festivals for Tibetans:
The Losar or New Year festival
It starts on he first day of the first month and lasts for 3-7 days. Tibetans love this holiday, as they always celebrate it with their family. They prepare for Losar in advance, cleaning everything and cooking special dishes. When the day comes, they wake up early to dress up in traditional costumes, have a nice meal with family, relax and enjoy the day. For several days after Losar they will be visiting relatives and friends to offer delicious meals to each other.
Saga Dawa Festival (15th day of the 4th month)
It is the most important religious festival in Tibet. Saga Dawa commemorates he day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. Some monasteries prepare a special Cham dance and monks demonstrate it during the festival. Also, it is widely celebrated at the foot of Mount Kailash – an important pilgrim destination.
Want to see the celebration of Saga Dawa in Tibet? We offer a special tour package to Mount Kailash during the Saga Dawa»
Tibetans celebrate Shoton or yogurt festival on the 30th day of the 6th month. It usually falls on August. The history of the festival goes back to the 17th century, when Tibetans started serving yogurt to monks, celebrating the completion of long retreats. During Shoton, large monasteries display huge Thangka paintings. You can only see these paintings once a year during that festival. At the same time, troupes of artists perform opera in Norbulingka park in Lhasa. Tibetans gather with families for a picnic in a park.
If you are interested in Shoton, consider visiting Tibet during the festival time»
There are other festivals during the year, including the Butter Lamp festival, the Panden Lhamo festival, the Bathing festival and Wongkor festival.