Tibet’s always been one of those places I’ve wanted to experience and I guess that’s partly because It’s so tricky to get in. Shrouded in mystery, censorship and such a powerful heritage with a huge healthy dose of Buddhism, it was high on my hit list.
It is possible to get into Tibet via Chengdu in China with a visa on arrival but the rules seem to change so I planned this in advance and travelled with a group. Recent rules dictate that you must have a certain mix of nationalities and we secured our Tibetan Visas whilst in Nepal and flew from Kathmandu.
All Tibetan guidebooks had to be left behind as most have images of the current Dali Lama in, which are strictly prohibited when going through Chinese customs. Security is tight.
The airport is pristine and the newly built town you head through surrounding the airport has a very Stepford Wives feel to it. There’s obviously been a huge amount of investment from the Chinese government and heavy incentives for the Chinese to relocate to Tibet.
Photography is allowed in most places, bar a few religious temples and monasteries. Although at many you do have to pay a fee to take photos. Photography of security is a definite no no and it’s not worth taking the risk. Security and X-rays are prominent throughout the capital, Lhasa. They are less interested in the tourists and more so the locals who have in recent times been known to make political protests by harming themselves.
Approximately 95% of the tourist industry in Tibet comes from China, with around 3,000 Chinese people landing in Lhasa each day. The Chinese flag is everywhere, they have clearly stamped their mark throughout Tibet. We were strongly discouraged from talking about anything too political, especially at the key landmarks. You can’t help but feel that there are eyes and ears observing your every move and there are plenty of CCTV cameras.
The facia of Lhasa has had billions invested into it and it really is a beautiful city. Scratch below the surface though and you’ll find sadness and unrest.