UPDATED AUGUST 1, 2011
The Tibet Tourism Bureau announced on July 22, 2011 that they will begin arranging permits for the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). The TAR has been closed since early June, but now it is open again except for Chamdo prefecture in the far east.
Currently, all prefectures of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), including Lhasa, are closed to all foreign travelers. Permits stopped being issued last week and the reports from Lhasa indicate that permits will not start being issued again until at least July 25 of this year. Of course, officially Tibet is "open" according to most Chinese consulates, embassies and even the Tibet Tourism Bureau, but in reality it is closed with no permits being issued. If you are looking for any official news of this, you probably won't find it. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the "peaceful liberation of Tibet" and celebrations are scheduled to take place through the TAR. Foreigners are not being allowed to the region in case there are protests (or worse) during the anniversary celebrations. If you have booked a tour to Tibet between now and late July, I strongly suggest contacting your agency for a refund or moving your tour to later this summer or fall when the area reopens.
Today (August 1, 2011), the Ganzi Prefecture Public Security Bureau announced that all 18 counties of the prefecture were open again to foreign travelers. There is heavy road construction throughout the prefecture making travel very slow. The bus from Chengdu to Kangding normally takes 9 hours, but can sometimes take 11 to 13 hours. The road from Xinduqiao (65kms west of Kangding) to Litang is under heavy construction. Buses and trucks are only being allowed to travel one way each day. Odd numbered days has buses going west while even numbered days has buses going east. This will last until September 30, 2011. There is also heavy construction on the road going north of Kangding to Luhuo (Drango) county. The road is fine to Tagong and to Bamei, but from Bamei to Luhuo, the road is quite bad and under heavy construction. There is also heavy road construction on the road north of Litang to Xinlong (Nyarong). Lastly, there is also road work being done between Xiangcheng and Shangri La in northwest Yunnan province.
On July 9, 2011, the Kangding police reported to Zhilam Hostel that all 18 counties of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan is closed to foreign travelers. The only place that remains open is Kangding town. All other areas are supposedly closed, but I did not see any checkpoints on a recent trip to Litang. As of yesterday, there was a checkpoint along the way from Chengdu to Kangding and numerous checkpoints throughout western Sichuan. The Ganzi Prefecture government has said the closure will last until July 31st, 2011.
All other Tibetan regions found in Qinghai, southwest Gansu and northern Yunnan remain open, at least for now. The Amdo and Kham regions, also considered to be Tibet to the Tibetan people, make up 50% of the land mass of the Tibetan Plateau and are home to 60% of the total Tibetan population. In many regards, the Amdo and Kham regions are better places to go to experience traditional Tibetan culture. Most repeat travelers to Tibet agree that Amdo and Kham are the best regions of Tibet to travel to.
If you have any questions about traveling through the TAR or the open Tibetan regions of Amdo and Kham, feel free to email me at email@example.com.