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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."


November 18, 2010

Travel Weekly
By Dan Uglow 
17 November 2010

Known as the roof of the world, Tibet is an incredible place for travellers to visit in Asia. As well as boasting some of the most amazing treks around, it offers a truly natural, cultural and spiritual experience. But before they head off, there are a few things for clients to keep in mind.

In order to enter Tibet, travellers must have a permit as issued by the Tibetan Tourism Bureau. Individual visitors are not encouraged to travel to the destination, which is why permits are arranged by tour operators on behalf of their clients. Before travelling to the region, visitors are encouraged to read widely about the political situation in Tibet so that they are prepared for what to expect.

According to Peregrine Adventures’ destinations manager for the region, Becky Last, clients should be careful about the types of questions they ask local guides as it could put them in a difficult situation. “There’s enough information about the situation available outside of Tibet that doesn’t involve asking local people,’ she said. “Locals are reluctant to discuss, so if you do ask questions, be careful about when and where you ask them.”

Asking questions isn’t the only thing that could land visitors in trouble, Last said. Travellers needed to be conscious of pro-Tibetan demonstrations, or even taking in guide books that may contain information on the destination, which the controlling Chinese authorities could take exception to. Pictures of the Dalai Lama are also forbidden for Tibetans.

Tibet has a rich culture that can be difficult for outsiders to understand. But in order to show respect, there are a few guidelines that travellers are recommended to follow, especially when visiting spiritual sites.

As Tibet is a major pilgrimage point, visitors should be conscious of locals prostrating themselves in front of religious monuments and stupas, according to Last. “You’ll see them kneel down and stand up, again and again, taking them days upon days to get around — so make sure not to stand in the way,” she advised.

Before entering a sacred space, it’s a good idea to first observe the rituals within, such as the custom of always walking around a monastery in a clockwise direction. Adventure World’s head of product and marketing, Neil Rogers, said it was also important to be respectful by wearing appropriate clothing (namely, no short skirts or revealing tops) and by not taking photographs inside.

There are plenty more local rituals to observe, such as always removing shoes when entering a home or temple, not touching Tibetan people on the head and making sure not to point the soles of your feet at a person or a religious shrine.

As Tibet experiences extreme conditions during its winter months, the best time to travel to the region is during its summer, between April and November. But Tony Carne, Intrepid Travel’s North Asia destination manager, said that no matter what the forecast it was always wise to have warm clothing as the temperature drops rapidly at night. This country is, after all, within striking distance of the mighty Mount Everest.

As Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, sits at just over 3500 metres above sea level, altitude sickness is a reality for some. Rogers suggests visitors think carefully about how they travel to the region as altitude sickness can be a serious issue.

“While various medications are available, it’s better to allow your body time to acclimatise to the altitude to avoid a short lived stay or the unpleasant effects,” he said.

Rogers said travelling by train was the best option for adjusting to the surroundings and avoiding symptoms like sleeplessness, nausea, shortness of breath and mild headaches.

According to World Expeditions’ chief executive, Sue Badyari, it’s also important to drink plenty of liquid to keep hydrated. “There is no set amount, but aim to keep your urine pale and plentiful,’ she said. “Powdered electrolyte replacements can be useful for this.”

Tibetans produce a range of beautiful handicrafts, mostly of a religious nature, which are available in marketplaces such as the one surrounding Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple. Buying these goods not only makes for a great souvenir or gift, it also supports businesses in the area. Last said that by buying local, visitors to Tibet are letting residents know their culture is valuable to the outside world.

Tibetan is still the language most commonly spoken in Tibet, Badyari said, although in Lhasa many Tibetans also speak Mandarin Chinese out of necessity.

Remember that few Tibetans speak English, although the Chinese staff at the hotels and government offices may speak some English. Tibetan people are typically very curious and may stare at you or want to look at your guidebooks, Carne said. “When greeting a local, it’s best to smile and say ‘tashi dele’, meaning ‘hello’. If they’re polite and patient, your clients will find the experience all the more rewarding,” he said. 
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