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Tibet reopens to foreign tourists, but doors to the monasteries stay closed

July 8, 2008

Annabelle Thorpe
The Observer (UK)
July 6, 2008

The troubled region of Tibet may have reopened to tourists but,
according to some tour operators, those planning to visit in the next
few months should be aware that not everything has returned to
normal. The Chinese authorities, which have to grant permission for
all foreign nationals to visit, began processing applications again
on 25 June, and several tour operators have already restarted their
programmes in the region.

'Although they may have opened the Tibetan frontiers to tourism
again, any tours in the next few months are likely to be severely
restricted,' says Margaret Percy, of Asia specialist Palanquin. 'Some
of the great monasteries, such as Drepung and Sera, are not open to
visitors, and they are an integral part of any tour of Tibet.'

Palanquin is now offering tailor-made tours to Tibet, but will not
resume group tours until next April. However, several operators have
group tours, with departures as early as August.

'Tibet's mystique seems marvellously undimmed by recent events,' says
Ashley Toft of Explore, 'and our group tours are already proving
really popular.'

Tibet's most famous sites, the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and
Norbulinka - the former summer palace of the Dalai Lama - are fully
open, and companies such as KE Adventure Travel are confident that
visitors can move throughout the country freely. 'The only problem is
that there are no guarantees,' says Tim Greenwood of KE Adventure
Travel. 'The Chinese could change their minds at any moment and close
the frontier, and monasteries can open and close on a day-to-day basis.'

For those who are keen to see Tibet this year, KE Adventures has
several group departures in August, as does Exodus, while Explore
already has only limited space on its September departures.

Companies such as Silk Road and Beyond and China Direct have shorter
trips to Tibet, as add-ons to a longer trip to China.
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