Travelling to Tibet is a journey of adventure and discovery, and for some, of self-discovery as well. To get the best out of a tour of the plateau, this vast land requires a long time to travel through it properly, and even for the smallest part of the region, travel from the Tibetan capital of Lhasa to Mount Everest is a journey of more than a week, even when done quickly.
However, if you have a limited time to spend in Tibet, there are tours to the region that can cover as little as 5 days. If you have no idea how to plan your 5-day Tibet tour, our Tibet travel specialists’ tips may give you a clue.
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Have a Good Rest on Your Arrival Day
Tibet lies at an average altitude of around 4,800 meters above sea level, while most of the rest of China lies at well below 500 meters. Even Kathmandu, in Nepal, lies only at around 1,400 meters, very low in comparison.
The capital city, Lhasa, lies at an altitude of 3,656 meters above sea level, and for those travelling from most countries, is the highest they will ever have been. Sitting on the world’s highest plateau, Tibet is a place where you need to take care and be aware of the symptoms of Altitude Sickness.
Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), altitude sickness hits most people when they ascend to very high elevations, such as the Tibetan plateau, as the air is thinner due to lower barometric pressures at higher altitudes. This means your lungs cannot get enough oxygen in each breath, which makes you feel dizzy, nauseous, and ill, with headaches and aching joints due to lower oxygen in the blood.
However, this is not permanent, and the lighter atmosphere of the plateau can be adapted to, as long as you remember a few simple rules. Shortly after you arrive in Lhasa (3658m), try not to drink alcohol and smoke, which may lead to altitude sickness. Meanwhile, you need to avoid strenuous exercise, which can help your body to acclimatize faster and better, giving you the chance to spend your time in Tibet as effectively as possible.
Acclimatization periods can be different with each person, and while some may take a couple of days to acclimatize properly, others can feel fine after just 12 hours. It does help to spend a day or two at an intermediate elevation of between 2,400 and 3,000 meters, such as the city of Xining in Qinghai Province. This kind of intermediate acclimatization makes it easier for your body to adjust to the higher elevation of Lhasa.
Spend the Following Two Days Touring Landmark Attractions in Lhasa
However, you should not let the acclimatization period stop you from enjoying the city, and even while acclimatizing, there are plenty of things to do that will not exasperate the symptoms of AMS. Trips to the major sights of Lhasa should not be too strenuous, although you might want to take it easy on the climb up to the Potala Palace.
Lhasa also has a host of other activities that you can do easily while you are acclimatizing, such as visiting the amazing teahouses, the Tibetan version of coffee houses that can be found all across the plateau. Tibetans are great lovers of tea, and you have not lived if you have not drunk Tibetan Sweet tea or Butter Tea in a Tibetan teahouse in Lhasa.
The Jokhang Temple is also a great place to visit while you are acclimatizing, as there is no strenuous climbing involved, with it all being low to the ground and with no huge sets of stairs to climb to get there. Located in the midst of the city, surrounded by the famous Barkhor Street, it is one of the most stunning sights of the region, and the most sacred temple in Tibet.
Check out the monasteries of Sera and Drepung as well, and the famous Ganden Monastery, as well as the palace at Norbulingka if you can, as they are stunning sights that will leave you breathless, without you feeling out of breath.
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Day Four: Visit Drak Yerpa Monastery and Enchanting Yamdrok Lake
A trip to the beautiful Lake Yamdrok and the monastery of Drak Yerpa is an ideal outing for your fourth day in the region, exploring a little of the plateau outside the capital city, and a chance to see more of the stunning Tibetan landscapes and scenery.
Tibet has a vast number of lakes dotted across the region, with the majority lying in the northern part of the plateau, and fewer in the southern river valley region. However, of the three holiest lakes in Tibet, one lies just a short drive from the Tibetan capital, just a little way to the southwest along the Friendship Highway.
Lake Yamdrok is one of the Great Three Holy Lakes of Tibet and beautiful sight in its own right. Shaped a little like a fan or some strange Chinese character, this wondrous lake is said to have been formed from the dropped earrings of a goddess, that spilt onto the earth and became the lake.
A little way to the northeast of Lhasa, just north of the Lhasa River, lies the holiest cave retreat in Tibet, Drak Yerpa. The monastery of Yerpa Drubde once lay at the foot of these cave-dotted cliffs, though it was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. Now only the caves remain, as hermitage retreats for the holiest of Tibet’s devout Buddhist lamas and teachers.
The most famous names in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism have spent time in these caves, including the 33rd Tibetan King and the builder of the great Tibetan Empire of the 7th and 8th centuries, Songtsen Gampo.
It was his Tibetan wife that established the first of the chapels at Yerpa. Other names include the Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, and the Buddhist Master from Bengal that spent 12 years proselytizing in the Tibet, Atiśa.
Day Five: Do some Shopping in Barkhor Street and Departure
Anyone that has heard or read anything about Tibet and Lhasa has heard of the famous Barkhor Street, the roads that form the kora route around the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. While it is the most important kora route in this part of Tibet, it is also one of the best places to go in Lhasa if you want to do a little light shopping before your journey home.
If your flight or train is not leaving until after lunch, then you have plenty of time to get out and roam around the beautiful streets and alleys of the city, though you might want to stick to Barkhor Street, as it has so much you may find you do not have time to see it all in one morning.
Legend says that, after the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, built the Jokhang Temple its ultimate magnificence attracted pilgrims from all across Tibet in their thousands. These pilgrims, on finding the sheer magnificence of the temple to be truly wondrous, began to walk in a circuit around the temple.
They also start performing the ritual kora walk that is done only around holy and sacred sites, praying and spinning prayer wheels as they walked. As a result, a well-trodden path soon appeared and was followed by successive generations, eventually forming the route of Barkhor Street as we know it today.
Covered with slabs of hand-polished stone, Barkhor Street is a shopper’s paradise, in the Buddhist sense of the term. The street is not broad, but it accommodates thousands of feet daily, and a huge variety of shops and stalls line both sides of the road, all the way around the temple.
While you can get some of the more commercialized souvenirs of Tibet, the street is ore famous for its local Tibetan handicrafts, and you can buy small hand-held prayer wheels, the long-sleeved Chuba clothing, Tibetan knives (though you do need to make sure you can take them with you and have the right paperwork), small Tibetan thangka paintings, and a plethora of other local crafts and artefacts that make great gifts for friends and family, or just ideal souvenirs to remind you of your trip, and remind you to come back again soon.
Despite being a huge place to visit, it is possible to have a great tour of Tibet with just a few days of spare time. The area around Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, is filled with amazing and astounding sights, including some of the most prestigious monasteries in the world, and one of the holiest lakes too.
So, if you were thinking that four or five days is not enough time to travel to Tibet, then think again, and come and talk to us. We would be happy to help you arrange your short-stay tour of Tibet.