How to get into Tibet
Tibet, nestled between the Himalayas in the south and the Kunlun Shan in the north, conjures images of blue skies, flapping prayer flags and red-cheeked Tibetan monks. Officially Tibet is called the Tibetan Autonomous Region by the Chinese, or Xizang, pronounced "she-zhang" which means Treasure House of the West. It sits at the far west of China, just south of Xinjiang Autonomous Region. The northern tip of India borders Tibet's western side and Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar snuggle up to its southern border. To the northeast lies Qinghai province and to the east lie Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
The Tibetan plateau averages about 4,000m (12,000 feet) above sea level. Some of the world's highest mountains surround Tibet. Over 1,500 lakes are scattered throughout Tibet and the mountain waters give way to several major river systems in Asia: the Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo), the Indus and the Mekong (Lancang Jiang). A visit to Tibet is not a walk in the park, but proper preparation combined with a healthy attitude for the rustic will make any visitor to Tibet fall in love with the place.
There are many ways to get in to Tibet, by air, by highways, by railway. The most convenient way is to by air from Chengdu in China or from Kathmandu in Nepal. The second choice is by highways.
By Air: From within China, most travelers fly to Lhasa (Tibet's only airport) from Chengdu but it is also possible from Kunming and a few other Chinese cities. From outside China, it is only possible from Kathmandu, Nepal. Tickets can be purchased abroad, but you can also get to Nepal or China and then book from there. Flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa will take near about 1 hour and 15 minutes. All tickets must be purchased through a travel agency. Lhasa Gonga Airport is located in Gonga County with 100km to Lhasa city. The military Airline (United Airline) provided one civil flight from Lhasa to Chengdu from Monday to Saturday. A flight for freight transport also carries passengers from Lhasa every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Highways (Overland): While there are a number of routes into Tibet, officially only two allow foreign travelers. The first is via Nepal. Many travelers book overland tours via the Friendship Highway that runs from Kathmandu to Lhasa. The 920km (570 miles) trip is spectacular although don't expect a shower along the way. It takes three to five days with stops at sites along the way. The second option is via Golmud in Qinghai province. The terrain is desolate so it's not recommended unless you happen to find yourself in Golmud, wishing to be in Lhasa. If this is the case, you may have a better time on the train.
Railway:The railway which runs across the “the roof of the world” has been linked up and the world's highest altitude railroad is now open. Reaching a maximum altitude of just over 5,000m, the new Qinghai-Tibet railway passenger carriages pump oxygen inside compartments and have UV filters on the windows to cut the glare in the thin air. The train also carries doctors on board to ensure the safety of any travelers affected by the high altitude. Passengers are able to enjoy various entertainment activities during the journey, including Tibetan dancing and Karaoke.
The new track, which began operating on July 2, links Lhasa to the existing network of railroad tracks in China. The train will stop at several famous sightseeing spots along the route, such as Qinghai Lake, Hol Xil, Kun Lun Mountain and the Potala Palace. Now passengers can depart Beijing by rail and arrive in Lhasa 48 hours later.