Tibet is a region where spirituality and the physical landscape are inextricably entwined. Monks at prayer (or engaged in lively debate over Buddhist sutras!) crowd around ancient monasteries on picturesque hillsides. Remote religious retreats offer solitude and tranquillity by the shores of azure Himalayan lakes. Devout pilgrims make their daily kora circuits around temples where the air is thick with incense. The world’s tallest mountains form a heart-pounding backdrop. There's no doubt about it - Tibet will stir your soul.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Qomolangma, the Chinese name for Mount Everest, translates as 'Goddess Mother of the World'. Seeing her up close, you soon understand why people are moved to such superlatives. Climbing Everest is an incredible feat of endurance and peril, and one that has proved irresistible to many explorers and climbers. When asked why he wanted to reach the summit, the famous English mountaineer George Mallory offered the legendary reply: 'because it’s there'. Despite huge growth in visitor numbers over recent years, the Mount Everest National Park remains almost completely undeveloped. There are very few man-made structures besides the small roadside town of Shegar, also known as New Tingri, from where you can trek to base camp. It remains one of the world’s true wildernesses.
Lhasa, Tibet’s spiritual and political capital, is a city of contrasts. As one of the world’s highest altitude cities, it has a ready-made air of otherworldliness. The western side, with its concrete shopping malls and glass-fronted high-rise buildings, displays the unmistakable stamp of modernisation and Chinese influence. However, the east of the city still retains an old-world Tibetan charm; its winding alleyways are lined with rickety, whitewashed houses and lamp-lit temples full of prostrating pilgrims. Rise early and join the locals on their daily kora (pilgrim circuit) around Jokhang Temple, gaze up at the magnificent Potala Palace, and wander through the city’s labyrinth of backstreets for a true sense of life in Lhasa.
Visitors to Tibet who pull on their walking boots, particularly between spring and autumn, are rewarded with some truly epic experiences. The hike from Rombuk Monastery to Everest base camp is a popular short route, and there are also scenic trails around the sacred Mount Kailash - a renowned pilgrimage location - and the beautiful Holy Lakes of Namtso and Yamdrok. One of Tibet’s most well-known kora pilgrimage routes takes you around Lhasa’s magnificent Jokhang Temple and through the electric atmosphere of the surrounding Barkhor neighbourhood. Pilgrims begin arriving at dawn and a steady stream of movement continues throughout the day. Traditional Tibetan homes and stalls are rapidly disappearing, changing the face of the Barkhor, but for many travellers this remains a highlight.
Trekking across the ‘roof of the world’ in Tibet, at an average elevation of 4,500m, is and adventure hard to beat. It’s not the easiest destination to get to, but the unparalleled rush of standing in one of Earth’s rawest landscapes is like nothing else.