Trips to Tibet are always a possibility, either as an add-on to one of our Himalayan expeditions, or as a separate tour.

It is possible to fly to Lhasa from Kathmandu and to return by Jeep along the ‘Friendship Highway’ - or to reverse the routine. (Some people feel that it is wiser to approach the highlands of Tibet by vehicle, which allows a lot more time for acclimatisation.) With either procedure one can always do a side-trip to the Rongbuk Monastery and Everest Base Camp - a great experience!


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ClickImpressions of Tibet


Esté Swart - Buffelsjagsrivier:

I have always had a rather romantic view of Tibet - reading Heinrich Harrer's Seven Years in Tibet, shaped the image that I have carried in my mind. So what I didn't expect was a very modern airport in beautiful surroundings, very efficiently run by friendly people. And a very modern city too, with high buildings, lots of cars, big supermarkets, posh fashion shops playing western music and selling western clothes … and lots of people!

    To say I was disappointed is too strong, I think my tainted view was being revised. 

    The first day of monasteries was overwhelming - the very bright wall paintings with lots of detail, the smell of incense and yak-butter candles, vendors trying to sell their wares. The inside of the monasteries are small, dark rooms, full of life-sized Buddhas and more colourful wall hangings and paintings. It was lovely and interesting but too much for my western mind and my senses were being overloaded with smells and sights! 

    Then I rested well, relaxed and started to look at Lhasa with new eyes.  I realized it was a very old city, with a history you can put your teeth into and at the same time new and modern. When we drove through the new part and suddenly saw the Potala I got goose bumps, it was so beautiful! I started to enjoy every monastery, every smell and especially the people!

    Lhasa is full of Tibetan pilgrims, chanting and spinning their prayer-wheels while walking round the Potala or the Jokhang. They have beautiful faces and are in traditional dress. Red-cheeked children play between the vendor stalls, looking very happy and content. Nearly every Tibetan wares a big sun hat and some have tiny dogs on leashes.

    The old part is lovely, with ancient buildings, winding alleys and lots of Tibetans walking the Jokhang kora or manning small shops. 

    Once you realize that the old Tibet is forever gone, you can start to appreciate the part that is still there. It felt a bit like a city with lots of working museums. And the mountains surrounding Lhasa are breathtaking!

    All in all, I enjoyed Lhasa very much, I loved the strange monasteries and people. It all comes down to your attitude and not to have unrealistic expectations and not to think in terms of Tibetans, Chinese, old and new Tibet.

    Thank you again for organizing everything so efficiently!


Carmen Copestake - Knysna:

Namaste Malcolm!

Herewith my impressions of Tibet.

    At the brand new airport, wide spaces, spick and span and sparkling but freezing cold and a bit impersonal, we were met by our charming young Tibetan guide Jigme. The flight over the mountains was disappointing because of the cloud cover and the inability to see the mountain splendors. However, the Tibetan landscape did not disappoint. There had been a snowfall the same morning, so the surrounding mountains were dressed up for us for the occasion. It was beautiful.

    The drive to the city did not disappoint either. The landscape reminded me a bit of Kagbeni and Muktinath - a very wide flat, flat plain through which the Lhasa River meandered surrounded by barren mountains. Every now and again we would pass by a village whose main reason for existence was agriculture - irrigated fields of wheat, and vegetables growing in hundreds and hundreds of tunnels. The vegetables sold on the streets and markets were of excellent quality - fresh, plump, colourful and delicious looking.

    What impressed me immensely was the reforestation of the plain. Thousands upon thousands of young trees had been planted. As far as the eye could see, there were young trees growing very nicely in this otherwise barren landscape. 10 out of 10 to the Chinese in their effort to prevent further erosion and soil poverty! Where no food was growing, there were small trees. In 20 years time, this could be a veritable forest.

    The city was a surprise. I knew the Chinese had been busy sinofying the place, but I was surprised at the extent of their ‘success’. Only a very small part of the old city seemed to remain hugging the Jokhang Temple. For the rest the streets were immensely wide and straight. These were flanked by shops and buildings which were straight, squared off and lacking any character. If it were not for the bright signs, it would have been most boring indeed. The traffic was not as chaotic as Kathmandu, but what Kathmandu did not have was the amount of army vehicles which reminded one that it was still a police state.  If it were not for the Potala, the old city and a few other monasteries, this would be a city to avoid at all costs.

    Having said that, remember that the three of us had just done an extremely taxing 3 weeks of trekking in the Annapurnas. My feeling was that we were tired and had not recovered from all that physical hard work. Then seeing monastery after monastery after monastery was just too much. Unless one is deeply into Buddhism, it is just overkill. What we would have appreciated more, would have been more variety and less monasteries and Buddhas.

    The Potala was fabulous, though. Jigme took us there at about midday, so we missed the all the tourists and the big crush and queues. Good thinking on his behalf. We had the place to ourselves, and it was lovely.

    The Norblinka Palace (or Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas) was vaguely interesting, but the gardens which could be wonderful were neglected and drab. 
Our visit to the Drepung Monastery was very successful. We were in time for many ceremonies, including prayers. The deep chanting of all the monks was beautiful and very moving. After that we watched them debating in the outside court yard. A lot of hand clapping and stamping of feet accompanied this exercise.

    Our trip out in the country to the Ganden monastery was also interesting mainly because we were out of Lhasa and it was different.

    A word about the Gorkha Palace Hotel: it was a splendid choice, both from a comfort and beauty point of view as well as situation. It was right in the middle of the old city and couldn't have been better. We were right there in the hub of what was left of the old style Tibetan culture with all their shops and work shops and stalls and buzz.

For future trips to Lhasa, I feel that what is needed is a more diverse program other than just monasteries. This program could be tailored to the interest of the visitors. What we would have liked to have done, was take the trip out to the lakes (3 hour drive) spend the whole day and night there exploring and then return the next day. If there are lodges there where one could stay, I think that would be a splendid option. I wish we had done that. We had lots of reports of the great beauty of the lake areas.

    Was our trip to Lhasa worth it? Yes definitely. It was very very interesting  from a social, political, religious point of view. I shall never forget the sight of hundreds and hundreds of ordinary Tibetan citizens circling round and round and round the Jokhang Temple swinging their prayer wheels and chanting their prayers. We spoke to people who gave us insights into both sides - the Chinese and the Tibetan. On the one hand you have the Tibetans who have lost their independence and culture and autonomy to the Chinese police state. On the other, you have learning, order, forward going, trade and industry, food and work which replaced a feudal backward society. So take your pick.


ClickMount Kalias


Another extremely beautiful destination in Tibet is Mount Kalias, a mountain sacred to four different religions, and from where three very important life-giving Asian rivers flow. It lies on the south-western Tibetan plateau, and is a holy place that pilgrims have visited for thousands of years. The four faiths teach that Mount Kalias (6,714m; 22,028ft) is the centre of the universe – the ‘world pillar’ around which all existence revolves.

    Indeed, from the desolate Barkha plains Mount Kalias presents an awesome spectacle, especially when viewed from the iridescent turquoise lakes of Manasarovar and Rakas. There is a pilgrim circuit trail that circumvents the mountain and which can be covered in about four days – allowing for the extreme altitude (+/- 4,950m; 16,250ft), visits to monasteries and a thorough appreciation of the stunning scenery. Along the way you could expect to find yourself in the company of “cheerful gaggles of Tibetan ladies, semi-naked trident-bearing Indian saddhus (holy men) and white-robed Jains” (Steve Razzetti).    

    Most pilgrims approach Mount Kalias by vehicle from Lhasa, but trekkers can fly to Simikot in Nepal and hike up a remote trail that leads over the Nara Lagna pass (4950m; 16,236ft) and from there gain access to Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kalias “through one of the most enchantingly beautiful and unspoiled corners of Nepal, instead of suffering the week-long ordeal of an overland journey from Lhasa” – Steve Razzetti.  

    For a longer trek, it is possible to start the journey even further south at Jumla, following the ancient trade routes north into Humla via Rara Lake, thus turning “an otherwise hurried visit to Tibet and Nepal into an odyssey befitting the approach to a mountain as revered as Kailas” (Steve Razzetti).

Quotations: Trekking Atlas of the World.


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