JOURNEYS has suspended travel to Tibet as of August 31, 2012.
Travel to the Chinese province of Tibet is indefinitely prohibited for foreign visitors due to controversial elections and social unrest. We have no indication of when it will re-open or any stated reasons for the closure or conditions that will allow reopening. Under these circumstances JOURNEYS finds it necessary to suspend trips to Chinese Tibet.
Fortunately, there are alternatives for experiencing Tibetan culture, Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan-type landscapes in areas where there are no restrictions on travel interaction with local people or access to religious or historic sites. Specifically, we recommend travelers consider JOURNEYS trips to Yunnan, Ladakh, Nepal and Bhutan for a full flavor of traditional and geographic Tibet with none of the bad taste of Chinese repression.
If you are planning to visit other areas of China, we recommend including the province of Yunnan in place of Tibet. You will have the opportunity to experience many Chinese minority groups in addition to Tibetan communities residing on the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. You can visit Tibetan villages, monasteries and hike in the Himalayas and on the Plateau. Yunnan is accessible year around (unllke the Province of Tibet) and independent and group travel are permitted with minimal special arrangement. The Chinese government now requires all travelers to submit a confirmed itinerary listing all hotel reservations prior to granting a tourist visa for any area of China. JOURNEYS will take care of this for you.
See our Great Gorges and Sacred Peaks and Yunnan Jade Dragon Journey trips.
The area outside of China which most akin to Tibet in culture, religion and geography is Ladakh. JOURNEYS has been offering Ladakh trips since 1982 and the area has change remarkably little in 30 years. There are many active monasteries which you are free to visit. The temples and palaces contain superb paintings and other Buddhist artwork. Many of the monks speak English and the Ladakhi people are extremely hospitable toward visitors. The best season for travel to Ladakh is April-October, though we are now offering Snow Leopard tracking trips during the late Fall, Winter and early Spring.
The Tibetan Buddhist areas of Nepal are a bit less accessible unless you trek. The Sherpa people of the Everest area of Nepal migrated from Tibet about 350 years ago and, until the Chinese occupatioon of Tibet in 1959, maintained close trade, cultural and religious ties with Lhasa. Sherpas actively practice the same forms of Tibetan Buddhism as were once widespread across Tibet and now these monasteries of the Everest and other areas of Nepal are much more active, prosperous and integrated into the lives of local people than the monasteries of Tibet. Kathmandu is probably the world's greatest center of Tibet Buddhism with active monasteries representing Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Korea and other areas. Some monasteries offer hostels and courses for English speaking tourists.
Bhutan is a deeply religious, Buddhist nation with ancient ties to Tibet. Now there is very little commerce or exchange across their mutual high Himalayan border, but the Buddhist pantheon and mythology of great mystics is truly alive in Bhutan. You are permitted to enter Bhutan's great monasteries and temples which are actively maintained as combined religious and civic administration facilities. Great religious festivals (tsechu), no longer permitted in Tibet, are reliably and colorfully celebrated in Bhutan
It is possible that Tibet will again open to foreign travel, but it will never again offer the experience of Tibetan culture that the Chinese are working concertedly and successfully to suppress and homogenize with the dominant Han culture. For a taste of traditional Tibet, consider Yunnan, Ladakh, Nepal or Bhutan.