Whether you like it or not, Tibet is now a major tourist destination in Asia. This morning I was looking at a popular on-line travel forum and someone was asking how to get to the "remote" city of Lhasa. Yes, I know that Lhasa is still extremely far from other places in China, but with over 15 flights arriving in Lhasa daily from across China (and even from Kathmandu) and with 6 daily trains and countless buses pouring into the city each day, the Tibetan capital hardly seems remote to me anymore. In 2009, over 5.61 million tourists visited Tibet. Most of these came during the peak tourism season which lasts from July 1st through October 1st. During the high season, over 20,000 tourists pour into Lhasa each day. Getting train tickets to Lhasa can be extremely difficult during the high season. Most hotels are also near capacity during this time.
The train to Lhasa opened on July 1, 2006. In 2006, there were 2.65 million tourists to Tibet. In 2007, there were 4.02 million tourists in Tibet. During the problem filled 2008 travel season, only 2.2 million tourists came to Tibet, but more than 2 1/2 times that amount came in 2009. For the 2010 travel season, officials hope that over 6 million tourists will go to Tibet. Sixty years ago Lhasa was just a small Himalayan trading and monastic town. Now it is a modern city home to over 450,000 people with many more from eastern China arriving each year to settle and do business.
Though Lhasa isn't as remote as it once was, it is still the heart and soul of Tibet. Anyone going to Tibet needs to include it on their list of places to see. If the large amounts of tourists during the summer season scare you (they scare me!) then go in the fall season. After mid-October, the crowds in Lhasa begin to disappear. By early November, Lhasa becomes far more quiet with very few tourists around. The weather in Lhasa is still pleasant during the fall and even into the early winter. Lhasa is probably warmer in the winter than you think. Even in the middle of winter, the high temperatures in Lhasa are between 8 and 10C (46-50F) and the skies are usually filled with sunshine making it feel warmer than it is.
There are still plenty of regions of Tibet that remain off-the-beaten-path. Far western Tibet (Ngari prefecture) and nearly all of eastern Tibet (Chamdo and Nyingtri prefectures) see relatively few tourists. If you are wanting to see some of the best preserved Tibetan cultural areas, then consider going to the Amdo and Kham regions found in Qinghai, western Sichuan, southwestern Gansu and far notrhwestern Yunnan provinces. These areas are actually home to over 60% of the total Tibetan population and often times the Tibetan culture in these areas is far more preserved than the Tibetan culture found in and around Lhasa. These areas see very few tourists and are the best places to go to see the remote regions of the Tibetan Plateau.
For more travel information on Tibet, send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org