Solo Travel To Tibet – Not So Easy
As I have written previously, for a variety of reasons I generally prefer independent travel over group travel. Just my own preference. Not long ago I decided to travel to China. Visiting Tibet was an important part of my agenda. I mean, how can you go all that way and not visit “The Roof of The World?” Well, eventually I got to China and I did visit Tibet. But … I went with a group. Wonder why? Read on.
When I decided to head out for my China Trek I started planning my solo itinerary. China is a big place, but with an openness to adventure it seems that a solo trip isn’t unrealistic. So I got my passport updated and obtained my China Visa. ( I had been told not to mention on my visa application an interest in visiting Tibet because my China visa might not be approved. Go figure. ) I was excited as I put the pieces of my trip together. Beijing – check. Xian – check. Chengdu-check. Three Gorges – check. Hong Kong – check. Tibet – whoops! No Check. Although Tibet today is officially considered to be part of China, it is technically known as the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. And, as I discovered, travel to Tibet is subject to a separate set of restrictions.
A visa for China will not allow you to enter Tibet. Visiting Tibet requires that you obtain a Tibet Travel Permit. Without it – no tickets to Tibet will be issued and no entrance will be allowed. How do you get a Tibet Travel Permit? That’s the problem – at least for the solo traveler. Travel Permits to Tibet are only issued through Chinese travel agencies and the agencies can only issue them to members of travel groups. The Travel Permit has been required for some time but in 2012 new requirements were added including the feature that travel groups must consist of six or more travelers and they must be of the same nationality. I have not been able to ferret out any clear explanation of this policy. There is a certain, shall we say “history” between Tibet and China. Tensions ebb and flow. I have been told that no Tibet Visitor Permits are issued for early spring due to various “anniversaries” related to political incidents. As far as solo travel to Tibet is concerned, I suspect that basically China does not want unescorted individuals entering and wandering around Tibet. With group travel there is an “official” guide who has responsibility for visitors. Your guide keeps your permit which is, by the way, only valid for travel to Lhasa. Travel beyond the capital of Tibet requires another “Aliens” permit and another layer of red tape and guide services. If you would like more information you might try the Tibet Travel Planner site (click here). This site gives a good amount of information which appears to be fairly accurate as far as I can tell. Still, a reading of their section on Tibet History shows some interesting observations, especially those related to the “peaceful liberation of Tibet” which leave the impression that they are sensitive to some amount of Chinese oversight. So read and use with an eye to that possibility.
I looked for possible ways to to avoid or “get around” this group travel restriction. There are some companies who will apparently “bundle” you in with other like minded, and same nationality solo travelers to create a group for Tibet travel. But that sounded a bit “iffy” to me. You have no guarantee that you’ll have a “group” at the time you want to go. And you have really no idea who you might be “bundled” with. And apparently there are some agencies who will somehow “sell” you a travel permit for Tibet.
But as far as I can tell, that is totally illegal. Call me silly, but the possibility of being arrested by the Chinese Government for traveling in Tibet on illegal travel documents just didn’t seem like a good idea. Given the political realities and the governmental regulations, I finally abandoned my plan to travel independently to China and Tibet. China you can do on your own – not so with Tibet. Fortunately, I eventually discovered a fine tour company which provided the exact itinerary I desired, including Tibet. The group was small in size and my travel companions were wonderful. Ultimately it all worked out quite well.
Go With The Flow …….. And Enjoy The Adventure!
Dr.B, The Photo Trekker
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© 2013, Bruce W Bean, Ph.D. All rights reserved.