Ethical Guidelines For Travel in Tibet

It is part of the Chinese government's economic policy to encourage tourism in Tibet, especially wealthy westerners on package tours. The Chinese government desperately needs money to support the influx of Chinese immigrants into Tibet, tourism provides the perfect source to boost the economy. You may find that your journey into Tibet is a whistle-stop tour of recently renovated Tibetan monasteries, and long stays in Chinese run hotels.

However, as the Dalai Lama said himself, whilst many tourists will leave behind a wad of US dollars in Chinese pockets, many will also leave, following encounters with Tibetans, with a wealth of information about Tibet that the outside world, would otherwise have not known.

The Tibetan people are very easygoing and accommodating people, and quick to laugh, especially at our western antics. However, because Tibetans are struggling to regain their independence from China and to restore freedom of expression and religious belief they ask foreigners to follow certain principles. Here are some of those principles along with other helpful hints.

Religion and Culture -
Tibetans are extremely religious and appreciate foreigners to follow a few simple customs: always walk clockwise around temples, religious sites and within monasteries. Take off hats when visiting monasteries. Don't smoke. Don't place books, religious or otherwise on the floor. Donations left on alters or donation boxes in the larger monasteries will be controlled by the Chinese authorities. Donations of money, clothing, film, books and food, can be given directly to the monks or nuns and will be much appreciated.

Shopping -
Due to the large influx of Chinese, many Tibetans are being forced out of business. Support the Tibetan economy by buying from Tibetan shops and stalls. Many antiques have been destroyed in Tibet or removed from Tibet. Please leave antiques in Tibet. A good way to avoid this is to not buy from vendors who will try to sell you things secretly.

Eco-Tourism -
Do not buy animal products made from wild animals, especially those that are endangered. When trekking use only kerosene, even if wood is available. Do not leave litter.

Group Travel -
Travel in Tibet is permitted only in groups now, and must work through a travel operator in Lhasa. Select a company run by Tibetans. They have more complete information and you help to promote their fragile economy. Call International Campaign for Tibet in D.C and ask for references.

Safety Considerations -
Ngawang Choephel was recently imprisoned in Tibet for eighteen years, accused of espionage. Ngawang was a visiting tourist from America and the law under which he was convicted is directly applicable to foreigners. A growing number of tourists have been detained, questioned, fined and expelled from Tibet for various activities and contacts with Tibetans. Whilst contact with Tibetan people is of upmost importance in understanding the problems in Tibet, be careful, as contact and visits to Tibetans homes can lead to police questioning of the Tibetan. It is illegal to sleep in a Tibetan house or apartment without prior official authorization. Photographing and videotaping scenes which are not normally of interest to tourists may lead to surveillance and questioning. If you do talk to Tibetans be discreet. Dalai Lama photos should only be given to Tibetans in private.

Planning Your Journey

1. Guide books will help you locate Tibetan Hotels and give you advice on visas and ways into Tibet. Good books include:

Tibet Handbook - Footprint Handbooks,by Gyurme Dorje
Tibet Guide - Wisdom Publications
Tibet: A Travel Survival Kit - Lonely planet Publications
Trekking in Tibet: A travellers guide - By Gary McCue

2. We recommend the following books to give you a better understanding of the Chinese invasion, and the current situation in Tibet.

Sky Burial - by Blake Kerr, Noble Press, 1993
Freedom in Exile - By H.H. the Dalai Lama, Harper Collins
My Land, My People - By H.H. the Dalai Lama, Potala Corp.

Travel in India and Nepal

1. For travels in India and Nepal, with up to date advice on Hotels, restaurants, and ways to travel we recommend the following books which are often nicknamed 'The travellers Bible'

Nepal or India: A travel Survival Kit - Lonely Planet PLC
Nepal or India: The Rough Guide

2. When first arriving in India or Nepal, until you are able to find your feet and adjust to the culture it is often nice to be looked after by a Tour company. They can be useful in booking hotels and arranging travel.

A particularly good agency for Travels in India and Nepal, and particularly Dharamsala, is:

Potala Tours and Travels LTD
1011 Antriksh Bhavan, 22 K.G. Marg
New Delhi 11100001
Tel +91 11 732 3284, 373 1620
Fax +91 11 371 3309, 463 1117

Further WWW information on Travel to Tibet

Travel to Tibet - Frequently Asked Questions

TIBET: The Internet Travel Guide

Return to How You Can Help Tibet page
Adapted from a page on the Magic ofTibet site.
Last revised: 18th October 1997.