Tibet is often called The Roof of The World due to its high elevation. The average altitude on the Tibetan Plateau is 4,500 meters/ 14,750 ft.
You can see dense forests, alpine lakes and vast rivers there. Nyingchi becomes very popular in Spring, as the Peach Blossom festival is celebrated there in March and you can see the blooming trees throughout April.
The highest altitude area is in Ngari, the Western part of Tibet. This area is famous for its rigid climate and distinct landscape: muddy mountains with lots of caves that Tibetans used for meditation
One of the main attraction of Ngari is the sacred Mount Kailash 6,638m/ 21,778 ft high. Thousands of pilgrims challenge themselves every year walking the kora or circumlocution route around Kailash, with the highest point of the trek reaching 5,640 meters/ 18,000 ft.
What high altitude means for visitors
With an altitude gain, the air becomes thinner and the level of oxygen in the air decreases. At the elevation above 3,000 meters, most of the people will need some time to acclimatize to it. The level of oxygen at a sea level is 20.9%, at 3,000 meters it is 14.3% and at 5,000 meters it lowers to 11.2%. If you are spending a night at the Everest Base Camp (5,200 m), the oxygen level there is only 11%.
The good news is that usually visitors fully acclimatize in a couple of days and are ready to ascent higher. The higher you are planning to go, the more time it will take for your body to adjust and the slower you should move higher.
The Lhasa altitude is 3,650 meters/ 11,995 ft. When visitors arrive in Lhasa it is not uncommon to experience some light effects of the high altitude sickness: shortness of breath, light headache, insomnia.
However, it only takes a few days to acclimatize to Lhasa altitude. After that visitors are prepared to go to the higher areas of Tibet. That is one of the reasons why most of the tours in Tibet begin in Lhasa.
If you are planning to visit some areas above 5,000 meters or trek in some high altitude areas of Tibet, you can spend more time in Lhasa. You can go on a day trip or a short hike to areas near Lhasa above 4,000 meters to prepare for high elevation treks.
Tips for Safe Elevation Gain
High altitude has a different effect on people. There is no way to tell in advance how you will feel in Tibet, unless you’ve already traveled in high altitude areas.
Luckily, there are some ways to speed up acclimatization and prevent altitude sickness. The general rule is to start at approximately 3,000 meters and acclimatize before going further. Below are some tips to help you acclimatize to high altitude:
- once you arrive at the altitude of 3,000 meters or above, spend 1-3 days at that altitude to acclimatize
- when you are above 3,000 meters increase altitude by 300 meters per day and take a rest day after 1 km gain
- to speed up acclimatization process, walk to higher altitudes during the daytime and spend a night at a lower altitude
- drink plenty of water and avoid drinking alcohol: dehydration increases chances of altitude sickness
- take plenty of rest, try to get enough sleep
- if you start felling any of the symptoms of the altitude sickness, don’t go any higher. Wait till the symptoms get milder, otherwise descent
- Eat more carbohydrates: grains, vegetables, fruits and beans.