The mystical land of fantasy known as the ‘Roof of the World’, Tibet, is the heart of Buddhist culture and philosophy and one of the most mesmerizing destinations in the world today. Bordered by China, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma, Tibet is home to over two million people of rich ancient cultures. You, a Nomadier, from the sand dunes along the Brahmaputra basin and through the high passes coloured with flags beating endlessly against the stone cairns to the blue salt lakes of Namtso, will watch a beautiful history coming back to life.
Mt. Kailash, the perennially revered and snow capped mountain also known by its Tibetan name, Gang Rinpoche or Supreme Mountain, is revered by four different religions and regarded as the most sacred pilgrimage destination in Asia. Here, you can experience an unexplained mystic that continues to bewilder each and every visitor since mankind’s origins. Yet another irresistible attraction is the Mansarover Lake, the 4500 mt. high source of sacred, ancient and voluminous rivers like Indus, Sutlej, Brahamaputra and Karnali.
If you’re thinking, this is all that Tibet has to offer, think again. A forbidden kingdom awaits you! Lhasa, the forbidden kingdom, is one of the highest cities in the world, home to the earliest signs of the Tibetan Buddhist culture like the Jokhang, Potala and Norbulingka palaces and where you will find it easy to time travel several centuries back. Outside the cities, you’ll engage with natives in their long chubas and exquisite turquoise jewellery who will share with you whatever little they have, exhibiting an inspiring Buddhist compassion. Catch the truly Nomadier lifestyle in land rich in mountains, monks, mystery, and adventure.
Tibet, a rich and beautiful land, is located in the main part of Qinghai-Tibet plateau near the south-West frontier of China. Tibet borders with Sichuan, Yuannan, Qinghai and Xinjiang in China; to the south it neighbors India, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma, and is bounded by Jammu & Kashmir on the west.
Geographically, Tibet can be divided into three major parts, the east, north and south. The eastern part is the forest region, occupying approximately one-fourth of the land with virgin forests running the entire breadth and length of this part of Tibet. The northern part is an open grassland, where nomads with their yaks and sheep paint a serene canvas in the Nomadier’s mind. This part occupies approximately half of Tibet. The southern and even the central part is mainly an agricultural region, occupying about one-fourth of Tibet's land area. With all major Tibetan cities and towns such as Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse ad Tsetang located in this area, it is also considered the cultural center of Tibet.
Contrary to popular belief that Tibet is the land of snow, it snows only once or twice in a year and owing to the perpetuity of bright sunshine, it is not at all cold during the daytime even in the coldest of winters. Tibet in fact is so sunny that it produces a year-round sunshine of over 3,000 hours. The popular belief and land of snow title applies more aptly to the world’s greatest mountain ranges located in this region having many of the world’s highest mountain peaks. These ranges run by leaps and bounds across the country showing their beautiful snow covered peaks against the bluest of skies.
Tibetan wildlife is diverse and unique with many endangered species of the world residing in the region. The Tibetan Antelope, Himalayan Musk Deer, Marmots and the exclusive birds of Tibet, along with the exotic flora, add to what makes Tibet so close to paradise. One of the better-known animals of Tibetan wildlife is the Tibetan Antelope but their numbers, due to illegal human hunting, are rapidly diminishing. Their habitat spreads across central Tibet and Amdo Tibet (Qinghai province) and one can often spot males fighting aggressively with each other to protect their harem, by using their 2 feet long, sharp horns to good effect!. Females do not possess these horns and therefore the Tibetan antelope’s gender is more easily distinguishable.
Tibet is also home to most of the world’s yak population and most of these are domestic, nomadic and farm animals. Besides these domestic yaks, there is also a small and vulnerable population of wild yaks. These large beasts can grow up to 6 feet high with their weights easily crossing 1 tonne. Yaks do not like low altitude and for someone who has never seen one, they are best described as a high altitude woolly cow. The Himalayan Musk Deer is a rare and protected species of deer. They are mercilessly hunted for their gland secretions that produce the fragrant musk scent. In some Tibetan areas though, Tibetan locals have sometimes managed to tame some of these wild deer.
The Himalayan Marmots are like large ground squirrels that live in holes in the ground. They hibernate in winter and have a diet of grass, roots and berries during the summer. The Chinese call this Himalayan Marmot a snow pig. This animal is naturally a social creature and they call out to each other in times of distress by whistling. These cute animals are quite shy of humans who hunt them for their meat and fur. The style in which the Marmot sits gives the impression that it is praying and therefore many Tibetans believe them to be a holy animal.
Birds exist in abundance on the Tibetan plateau. Tibetan White-eared Pheasants are beautiful birds and on some monastery grounds are quite tame because they are not hunted in such places. Himalayan Griffins are famous in Tibet because these are the vultures that eat bodies during a sky burial! Owls, Eagles, Cuckoo Birds, Woodpeckers, Falcons and many more interesting birds also live on the Tibetan plateau. Other noteworthy Tibetan wildlife includes Black Bears, the Himalayan Brown Bear, Wolves, Foxes and the Snow Leopard.
Tibet is a soothing amalgam of vibrancy in culture and philosophies deeply rooted in the principles of non-violence and a feeling of respect towards the universe. The pulse of Tibet’s culture and tradition are its amiable people. The ideology of people in this land differs greatly from any other nationality. Here, religion seems almost everything. Many live for the next life, rather than for the present. They accumulate deeds of virtue and pray for the final liberation-enlightenment.
Frequent visitors to Tibet can make out folks from different regions through their dress and the dialects they use. Folks from agricultural regions dress in woolen home-woven gowns, and those from the grassland are clad in sheepskin. Men folk from Chamdo wear huge tassels of black or red silk which were used in old days for protection in fight, while the Lhasa residents are more stylish and modern. Dialects in Tibetan are in variety but mainly can be categorized into four: Lhasa, Tsang (Shigatse and Gyantse), Chamdo and Amdo.
One can expect a varying mix of food in Tibet with tastes and cuisines differing in pastoral areas and agricultural areas. The staple food though majorly includes roasted highland barley flour, wheat flour, meat, or red food, and milk, or white food. The principle consumption in summer is the white food, while in winter is the red food. Local favourites in the pastoral areas are mutton sausage and dried beef. Tibetan flavors are fresh, light and tender with salt, onion, and garlic acting as common additions. The butter tea, famed across lands is a must try, although not all can adapt to this very different style of tea preparation.
An interesting Tibetan custom is the presenting of a Hada to express best wishes on many occasions, such as wedding ceremonies, festivals, visiting the elders and entertaining guests. The Hada is a long narrow scarf made of silk and embodies purity and good fortune. Also when you come to a Tibetan family, the host will propose a toast, usually barley wine. If you want to please them by following a little known practice, you should sip three times and then drink up! The Sky Burial is another unique form which is quite common in Tibet but strangers are not allowed to attend the ceremony. As a responsible visitor, you should respect this custom and keep away from such occasions.
Tibetans celebrate many festivals starting with the Tibetan New Year (February or March), also considered the greatest festival in Tibet. According to legend, in ancient times when the peach tree was in blossom, it was considered as the starting of a new year. Another major festival celebrated is Saga Dawa Festival (May or June) which is considered the holiest as it is both the day of Buddha's birth and Buddha's enlightenment. Tibetans are particularly fond of horse racing and the Gyantse Horse Race & Archery (May or June) and the Changtang Chachen Horse Race Festival (August) deserve special mention for the fervor they generate. Sometimes, even yak racing forms a part of such events! Tibetans also celebrate during the Shoton Festival (August), Bathing Festival (September), Kungbu Traditional Festival (November or December) and the Harvest Festival (September).
The Adventure Quotient
Tibet not only offers the ideal ground for religious satisfaction or for spiritual explorations but also for a host of adventure activities sure to get a true Nomadier salivating. For starters, it is the roof of the world, and sights of gigantic mountains all around and almost the entire world down below are enough for the sternest to let out a sigh of disbelief. Treks can be physically demanding and mentally calming at the same time as you walk with nothing but wilderness till where your eyes can see. But really, camping is perhaps the best way of enjoying the wonders nature has bestowed Tibet with and sharing the warmth of its people. This said, adventure is inherent to every step you take in Tibet as most of Tibet is untrammeled and the thrill of being the first to step on a piece of this forbidden land is an experience no true Nomadier can stay away from!