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The overwhelming majority of tourists in Tibet are Chinese, on package holidays or coach tours through an area that’s becoming an undeniably trendy destination for China’s middle classes. They can be seen on mass at any major sites or land marks, taking the seemingly obligatory shot of themselves in front of it with hands down by their sides.

It’s not uncommon to see them fully dressed up in traditional Tibetan robes and braided hair, snapping away at themselves and looking about as local as Brits on a Greek island dressed in Togas and trainers.

Most of the aforementioned package holiday makers behave pretty appallingly during their stay, paying little respect to sacred sites or indeed the local people. One traveller recalls seeing some twenty Chinese tourists with their digital cameras flashing in the face of a little old Tibetan lady as she cowered in a corner with her hands over her eyes.

Better behaved and more eco-conscious are the non-Chinese tourists who also make up a significant number of the travellers in Tibet. Many are on two or three week organised trips, some flying in from Beijing or arriving by train, but the vast majority travelling in 4WD cars from Nepal. Lhasa is the biggest hub for meeting other travellers, who post their notices on the walls and boards of cafes and guest houses.

Most visitors to Lhasa stay only a couple of weeks, usually on some sort of semi prearranged package from Kathmandu. The Chinese like tour groups, and as such adventure tour operators are often able to offer the more interesting itineraries, but still stick around only for a matter of weeks. There is in fact little reason to hang around any longer. There is currently almost no scene for volunteers, English teachers, yoga or meditation practitioners, spiritual retreats, or the long term hippies that you might expect to find in near by Nepal or India.

Actually the Chinese tend to discourage this, and prefer that you turn up, see the sights, spend your money and then bugger off rather more swiftly and don’t get too under the skin of the place or you might just see through the surface and realise what a fucking horrible shame it all is.

Indeed in recent years, the Chinese have actively been encouraging tourism, a gesture that leads many to assume things are on the up for the country. But tourism is still controlled in a way that’s unprecedented in other parts of China, and any apparent desire to see it increase is financially motivated.

The need to be a “group” so authorities can monitor more people with less effort; the necessity of obtaining various permits for various parts of the country, installing spies sometimes robed like monks to chat to tourist about their trips, their guide and their opinions, and the fact that some large areas are still entirely closed off to visitors can only really suggest one thing. They’re hiding something, and not very well.

Take anything more than a casual glance at the country and your bound to notice some of the appalling, continuing injustices as detailed in the following section: Tibet Today.

People that do stay longer in Tibet more likely work in the universities or for an NGO and have completed all the necessary red tape long before they ever arrive. See Work in Tibet Section for more info…

Tariq El Kashef

Tariq El Kashef is the author and editor of – The Online Egypt Travel Guide