In the West, there’s something of a mystic to Tibet. In popular culture books and films like Seven Years in Tibet paint a picture of a place that—to Europeans—is remote and exotic. For the politically-minded Tibet is a place of controversy, considering that China militarily annexed the region—itself about the size of Western Europe—in the mid-20th century. For followers of Buddhism it’s probably best known as the one-time capital of the Dalai Lama, the leader of the theocratic government that reigned before being annexed by China and its saffron and burgundy-coloured monks.
Although this could probably said about anywhere, Tibet is certainly a location that has much to offer the traveller. Regardless of what one is interested in there’s something to be seen—save perhaps tropical beaches and warm weather! One of the best ways to see all that Tibet has to offer is by cycling through the region. But be warned that it really is for experienced cyclists only!
No visit to the region would be complete without seeing Tibet’s capital Lhasa, which is home to the Potala Palace—the only building that American architect Frank Lloyd Right famously had a photo of in his office. By nearly any measure this is the cultural heart of the region and was for centuries the centre of the Tibetan government. At some 3600 metres above sea level, it’s difficult enough to breath while simply sitting, let alone cycling. If you’re planning a fit, you’ll need to budget in a couple of days for your body to get accustomed to the altitude.
Once you’re a bit better capable of breathing these heights—remember that the whole time you’re on the plateau you’re unlikely to get under 3000 metres—there are countless natural and cultural wonders to see. The plateau itself is filled with eerie, other worldly beauty with snow-capped mountains and barren plains are too cold to support even grass. But there are gorgeous valleys, often but not always settled by people with colourful houses and, in the right season, green crops that look even more vibrant than normal when seen against such a monochrome backdrop.
The mountains—some of the highest in the world, including Mount Everest—are unlike almost anything else and make for a stunning backdrop. Do remember though that there’s not much in the way of tourist infrastructure—though that is changing—so in addition to the rough environment you may well be camping.
But despite the evident hardship Tibet is definitely worth the visit!