Inaccessibility, both geographical and political, keeps many travelers from visiting Tibet. Those who do manage to make it to the “roof of the world,” the “third pole,” will pay for the experience: Between transportation, accommodation, food, and the hefty permit fee levied by China, US$500 is about as budget as you can get for a week in the region.
I was traveling in China recently, and Tibet was always on my mind. Not having that kind of money to spend, I wondered: Is it really necessary to pay all that in order to access Tibetan culture? The answer is no, as many towns on the border with the Tibet Autonomous Region retain a strong Tibetan identity. Almost 90% of the populations in these border towns are Tibetan. On this trip, I decided to visit Shangri-La (Yunnan province), Daocheng, Litang, Ganzi, and Tagong (Sichuan province).
For those looking to mimic this itinerary, set aside at least two weeks to do so — road conditions are poor, and the trip can’t be done in a hurry. In return, you’ll get a solid introduction to Tibetan daily life and social customs, Tibetan Buddhism, and one of the most intense landscapes on Earth.