Looking for somewhere naturally beautiful and culturally rich and fascinating to visit? Look no further than Tibet, the country within a country. Explore off the beaten path Tibet.
Officially part of China, Tibet was its own state for centuries before Mao’s Army invaded and stripped the Dalai Lhama of power in 1951. Since then Tibet has been nominally an ‘Autonomous Region’ with authority equal to that of a province. Tibet’s traditional capital, Lhasa, sits at about 12,000 feet and is one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited. The wounds of the ‘51 takeover and the protests against Chinese sovereignty that have spanned the sixty years since have left there mark, and Tibet feels at once ready to thrive and atrophied in a back closest somewhere.
Nothing tells you you’ve entered a new space more in Tibet than the landscape. Tibet sits upon the largest plateau in the world, a geological feature which shares its name with the country. As a result, the land is first and foremost mountainous. The landscape feels like a mixture between something from Mad Max, Planet of the Apes or an alien land. It’s raw, powerful, and stunningly beautiful. Monochromatic rocks soar up in every direction creating dusty valleys that contrast wide-open blue sky. It’s hugely expansive and largely untouched, but there are still signs of modernization as one sees small streams and brooks, crooks and crags littered with plastic bags, bottles and cartons.
The first thing you’ll notice upon entering Lhasa is the Potala Palace, which rules over the old city from its vantage on a hill and is genuinely one of the most beautiful structures I have ever seen. In terms of buildings, the Potala Palace is without a doubt the leading attraction in what is really a rather flaccid city. There’s a central marketplace where you can buy all kinds of great Tibetan objects—prayer flags, prayer wheels, prayer bowls and rugs. You might have noticed that’s a lot of prayer, and that’s because despite Chinese domination, Tibet is still fiercely proud of its regional Buddhist past, and the absence of the Dalai Lhama is strongly felt. Food in Tibet is mostly Yak based, like their agriculture, and you can find the pack animal stuffed into pretty much every thing you might be able to imagine. There’s yak dumplings, yak stew, yak butter, yak with noodles, broiled yak, yak on a stick etc. It’s not the most diverse, but it could be worse.
Daytrips outside and around Lhasa mostly consist of visiting various temples in the area. There’s not too much difference between them other than their location, some of which are truly remarkable. There are temples of mountains, overlooking gorges, and at the bottom of scenic valleys. Near them one can always see prayer flags beating in the desolate wind at holy sites, their rainbow squares a stark and beautiful contrast against the rocky backdrop of the plateau.