Tibet is once again open to travelers after being closed for several months. The Chinese government closed the region to outsiders following the much publicised protests that broke out recently. Many restrictions are still in place however.
Mid-March 2008 saw the closing of Everest Base Camp and Lhasa to tourists with other areas following. As of the first of July Lhasa was re-opened and tourists are slowly returning to Tibet.
Information on travel conditions in Tibet is somewhat conflicting and constantly changing. There is confusion and differences in opinion among various tour operators and government agencies. The following seems to reflect the current state of affairs:
- The following areas/places are open: Lhasa, Friendship Highway through to Nepal including the familiar towns along the way, Everest Base Camp and Mt Kailash. Not all of Tibet is open.
- Not all of the major monasteries popular among tourists are open. Among others, Drepung monastery is closed, but the Potala Palace is open.
- Trips have to be arranged as a group tour with a set itinerary. This is done through an agency and a travel permit is only attainable by this means.
- It seems possible to have only one person in a “group” and people in the same group do not need to be of the same nationality (an update on previous reports that all had to be from the same country).
- The permits and tour package have to be arranged before the time or from certain places in China. The Chinese embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal, is currently still refusing to issue permits and thus tours from Nepal are not possible at this stage.
- A guide must accompany the group at all times and there are numerous check points where the travel permits are scrutinised.
- It seems there is no flexibility in itineraries. Hotels have to be booked in advance and guest registers have to be submitted to the authorities daily.
It is anticipated that more restrictions will be lifted in the coming weeks.