Tibet: the very name evokes feelings of awe and mystery; a remote land isolated by the formidable Himalayan ranges. A country of ancient Buddhist culture, awe-inspiring landscapes, lively monasteries and centuries-old caravan trails; Tibet is no ordinary destination.
Known as The Roof Of The World, the Tibet Autonomous Region of China covers a high plateau at an average elevation of 4000m. It is bounded by the Kunlun Mountains to the north and the Himalayas to the south. Tibet covers an area of 1.2 million sq. km, and has a population of 2.3 million.
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Geography of Tibet
Area : 1.2 million sq.km
Capital : Lhasa
Temperatures : 23C/73F in summer -15C/5F in winter
With an average elevation of 4,000 m, Tibet is one of the highest inhabited regions in the world. Aptly nicknamed “The Roof Of The World”, Tibet’s southern boundary contains many of the world’s highest mountains including Mount Everest (8848m), the highest point on earth. Owing to these incredible heights, Tibet is one of the most isolated areas on earth, with its sparse population living from 1200m to 5100m above sea level across the plateau.
Several of Asia’s greatest rivers originate in Tibet before flowing through the Himalayas into India, Nepal, Bangladesh, China, and Southeast Asia. Tibet’s Himalayan mountain range and great rivers provide natural borders for many Asian nations.
The Festivals of Tibet
New Year (February or March)
The New Year is the greatest festival in Tibet. In ancient times, the blossoming of peach trees was considered as the start of a new year. Later, after the systematization of the Tibetan calendar in 1027 A.D., the first day of the first month became fixed as the new year. On New Year’s day, families come together to eat and laugh, make offerings and greet each other with the auspicious words “Tashi Delek”.
Saga Dawa Festival (May or June)
This festival is the holiest in Tibet. Three memorable occasions coincide on this day: Buddha’s birth, Buddha’s death and Buddha’s enlightenment. In Lhasa hundreds of local pilgrims join in circumambulating the city and picnicking at Dzongyab Lukhang park at the foot of Potala.
Gyantse Horse Race (May or June)
Horse races and archery contests are generally popular during summer in Tibet. Gyantse enjoys the prestige of being the earliest in Tibetan history to hold these events, founded in 1408. Contests in early times included horse races, archery, and shooting from horseback followed by a few days’ entertainment or picnicking. These days ball games, track and field events, folk songs and dances, and market fairs are also a part of the event.
Changtang Horse Race Festival (10 August)
The most important festival in north Tibet, thousands of horsemen and nomads throng to Nagchu for this event. For a couple of summer weeks, the grasslands around Nagchu turn into a city of tents. The atmosphere is festive as locals display their fine horses and local products to barter and trade. There will be thrilling horse races, archery, and demonstrations of horsemanship. Song and dance troupes from different regions of Tibet also add to the fun.
Harvest Festival (September)
Farmers in Lhasa, Gyantse and Shannan celebrate their harvest at this time. Popular recreations include horse racing, costume fashion shows, song and dance performances, and picnics.
Kongbo Traditional Festival (November of December)
Long ago, when Tibet was in danger of large-scale invasion, the Kongpo people sent out an army to defend their homeland. However, the timing of the war meant the soldiers would miss the New Year festivities, so they decided to celebrate it ahead of time on October 1st before their departure. To commemorate those brave soldiers, the people of Kongbo now hold an annual festival of entertainment such as dancing, horse racing, and archery.
Rivers and Lakes in Tibet
Tibet has hundreds of rivers and lakes, sustaining life across the Tibetan plateau and beyond. Swans, geese, ducks, and other water birds nest on the banks of rivers and lakes, while dozens of species of fish thrive beneath their surface. These are some of the most famous or most revered lakes and rivers in Tibet:
The Yarlung Zangbo River: twisting like a silver dragon from west to east through the valleys of south Tibet, it finally curves south and empties into the Indian Ocean through Bangladesh. In the old days Tibetans would make treacherous crossings of the river on yak hide boats. These days adventurous travellers can take an exciting canoe journey down some parts of the river.
Manasarovar Lake: this holy lake is situated 30km southeast of the famous Mt Kailash. Buddhists believe the lake has come from heaven, and the holy water can cure all kinds of diseases. By washing themselves in it, believers can be purified, released from their sins, and find happiness. Not far from the holy lake, Mt Kailash also attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year.
Yangzongyong Lake: in Langkamu county this lake is also called “Fish Store Lake”. An idyllic natural environment provides food and habitat for millions of fish to thrive in this lake, hence its name. Additionally, colourful ducks and geese live on the surface of the lake, and the pastures surrounding it are home to various other wildlife.
Namu Lake: with an area of 1940 square km, Namu Lake is the 2nd largest salt water lake in Tibet. In the lake are 3 islands, which create a sanctuary for aquatic life. One of the islands is made of sandstone, which is characterized by natural stone pillars and bridges. The beaches of the lake are a beautiful natural pasture. `
Religion of Tibet
The overwhelmingly dominant religion of Tibet is Buddhism. Only a small population of about 2,000 people believe in Islam, while Christians don’t even number 100. Bon, the aboriginal religion of Tibet, is a type of shamanism that chiefly worships nature and spirits. At one time Bon was the prevalent religion of Tibet, but the introduction of Buddhism several centuries ago changed the country’s religious outlook forever.
Therefore it can be said that Buddhism is the sole religion of Tibet. The faith has penetrated so deeply into the roots of Tibetan life that it is an intangible part of their culture. Well-off families even have their own private chapels or prayer rooms in their house. Many aspects of daily life are infused with Buddhist meaning and influence.
Tibetan legends say that the first Buddhist scripture descended from heaven in the 5th century during the reign of the 28th King Tho-Tho-Ri Nyantsan. Later, during the 8th century, the Indian Master Padmasambhava was invited to spread Buddhist teachings in Tibet which greatly accelerated the development of Buddhism on the plateau. More great Masters such as Atisha visited to offer advice and teachings, as Tibetan Buddhism grew larger in followers and scholars. Finally, in the 15th Century, the great reformer Tsongkhapa founded the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. From this time Buddhism spread like wildfire across the plateau, and rose to its position of being undoubtedly the paramount religion of the Tibetan nationality.