By Stacey Kishi
Religion, art and culture all contribute to the unique sacred qualities of Tibet. The idea of traveling to this land, as a pilgrimage or as an adventurer, brings visions of mystery and excitement. But the concept of such a journey and the reality of traveling there can be overwhelming. There are fortunately, numerous resources available to the traveler seeking to experience sacred places in Tibet.
Whether you are traveling independently or with an organized group, the right travel guides are essential. They can provide historic and cultural background as well as practical information on what to pack.
Tibet Handbook – A Pilgrimage Guide, by Victor Chan, (Moon Publications, 1994) is the most comprehensive guide on the history, culture, art, sacred sites, and pilgrimage routes of Tibet. Chan provides extensive information of Tibet’s temples, hermitages, monasteries, burial sites, tombs, and sacred landscape features such as mountains, caves, and lakes. This publication is a great resource, but with over 1,000 pages, only 25 of which focus on practical information, be prepared to add 5 pounds to your backpack! The book is probably best used as a research tool before embarking on your pilgrimage. New editions, unfortunately, are not being published, although copies of the book may still be found in travel bookstores and stores specializing in used books.
Tibet: Travel Survival Kit, by Chris Taylor, (Lonely Planet, 1995) is indeed a traveler’s survival guide. This guide equips you with practical and portable information in 242 pages. It contains sections on where to stay, eat and shop, even listing hours of the local post offices. A useful chapter is included on language, complete with useful phrases in Tibetan and Chinese; Lonely Planet also publishes a Tibet phrasebook. Travelers to Tibet’s sacred places will find the concise chapters on history, architecture, and religion to be of interest. These sections also include nice drawings and explanations of sacred symbols and important gods, goddesses, and bodhisattvas. There are, in addition, highlighted mini-sections on sutra and tantra, the mandala, pilgrimage, and the world of a monk. Descriptions of individual sites are succinct with solid information.
Trekking in Tibet – a Traveler’s Guide, by Gary McCue, (Cordee, 1991, 301 pages), contains individual trekking tours ranging from one day to two weeks. It is a good companion guide to the Lonely Planet guide, covering similar regions with treks around Lhasa, Ü, Tsang, and Western Tibet. There have been changes in Tibet since this book was written, but it is still a great resource for those who want to see Tibet by foot, in the manner of a traditional pilgrim.
Tibet: Roof of the World, by Elisabeth B. Booz, (Passport Books, 1994, 248 pages), is another practical guide with numerous outstanding color photographs. It is also distinguished by excerpts from classic literature on Tibet. Passages by Lama Govinda, on the magnetism of Tibet’s mountains, and Thubten Jigme Norbu and Heinrick Harrer, on the finding of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, will appeal to travelers interested in sacred sites and the religion of Tibet. The book contains a useful glossary of Tibetan words, a good reading list, major maps in color including contour maps detailing altitude, and drawings of religious objects, Tibetan sacred symbols and figures.
A few other guides that are available include: Tibet Handbook by Gyurme Dorje (Passport Books), Humla to Mt. Kailash by Armington & Upadhyay (Malla Treks) and Tibet Packet by the Himalayan Explorers Club.
Besides selecting the travel guide that is right for your journey, valuable knowledge can be gained by the aid of technology. Unlike printed guides, material found on the internet may be more current and up-to-date, especially if you are concerned about the political situation. Here is a listing of some helpful sites:
The Lonely Planet web site has country updates, maps, visa and embassy information as well as travel tips from other travelers. For inspiration, you can also view a slide show of Tibet. Have travel questions? Just go into the Thorn Tree and post it there.
Another interesting site is the Greatest Places page. It contains general information about Tibet, great photos and also a link to other sites related to Tibet, such as Current Issues.
If you have only limited time, search the web for tour agencies that lead trips to Tibet. Independent travelers can use commercial tour itineraries as models for their trip; check out what locations these tours are going to and how long they plan to stay there.
Do not forget to use your favorite search engines for specific topics including Tibet, Lhasa, Tibetan Buddhism & Manuscripts, Sacred Places and more. Most of the sites listed above, in addition, contain links to other web sites that can provide more information.
For more help, you may want to contact the nearest Chinese Embassy and other travel organizations. Gain knowledge from other people’s journeys, books and videos as well. Discovering Tibet from its monasteries to mountains can be an exciting experience of a lifetime. Enjoy and have a great trip!
Stacey Kishi, membership coordinator at Sacred Sites International, is a devoted traveler to the world’s sacred sites.