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12 Tibet travel etiquettes and taboos you should know

A Tibetan turns a prayer wheel. Photo:

Tibet is rich in tourism resources and the Potala Palace is an enchanting place to visit. However, there are lots of local customs and taboos you should pay attention. If you do not do enough homework before traveling to Tibet, you may land in various troubles in the journey. Below are 12 etiquettes and taboos for reference.

1. Do not drive worshipped cattle or sheep

In Tibet, if you find cattle or sheep in red, yellow and green cloth roaming in the countryside, do not drive or hurt them, the animals are Tibetans’ offerings to their god. Eagles are seen as deity birds by Tibetan, do not hurt them.

2. Don’t touch temple statues

Don’t enter temples without permission. Don’t touch statues and scriptures, take photos and smoke without permission. You should walk counter-clockwise around Buddhist temples. Please be aware that some chapels forbid women to enter. Do not use paper printed with Buddhist scriptures to rub something. Overall, visitors need to respect and abide by local customs.

3. Don’t stamp on threshold when walking into Tibetan tents or houses

Don’t stamp on the threshold when walk into Tibetan tents or houses. Do not spit before the Tibetan people. If the Tibetan people put out tongue at you, it is to show their respect, not to laugh at you. When visit Tibetan homes, you should sit in cross-legged position, but do not point sole of your foot towards people and look around.

4. Smoke as less as possible

Tibetan lamaists don’t smoke, and smoking is banned in temples. However women or even young girls in pastoral areas usually smoke, it is also polite to offer cigarettes when asking for directions. Of course, it is better for tourists to smoke less and breathe air to avoid the lack of oxygen.

5. Avoid catching cold or respiratory problems before entering Tibet

Avoid catching cold before entering Tibet, if you already have it, postpone your travel because of cold isn’t easily gone in plateau area and may also cause severe pulmonary edema and many other complications. So, preparing some cold medicines and intestinal medicine is very necessary. Secondly, the Tibetan climate is characterized by dry air, lack of oxygen and low air pressure. Therefore, before entering Tibet you should carry some topical external nasal ointment and throat tablet to relieve dry nose and throat. Moreover, considering the strong ultraviolet rays on the plateau, travelers should take sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

6. Don’t go to watch sky burial

Tibetan government and tourism agencies do not encourage visitors to see sky burial, especially the deceased‘s family don’t want others to watch, this is a national habit as well as human nature. If you happen to encounter celestial burial, please avoid it consciously.

7. Do not buy wild animal skins, skulls, etc.

Do not buy any wild animal’s furs, wild Tibetan antelope horn, and wild yak skulls in Tibet. This kind of act is meat to support of rampant wild animals poaching in Tibet. In fact if the visitors are found to carry these items when they leave Tibet, it is likely to face a lot of trouble.

8. Ask for permission before taking photos of Tibetans

Don’t give them money in order to take pictures of locals; don’t take photos of things they do not want. You can offer them some food or medicine to increase their trust in you.

9. Do not go to Tibet without permit

All non-Chinese passport holders do not try to enter Tibet without legal documents. Foreigners to travel to Tibet must get the approval of tourism or foreign affairs departments and apply for a permit. In addition foreign travelers must take part in an organized tour including permits, a tour guide and a private vehicle with a driver.

10. Do not call Tibetans by their name directly

When address your Tibetan friend, you can add the world “La” after the name, “La” is a courtesy title, showing you respect him/her. It is very impolite to call their name directly especially for the first time meeting.

11. Do not touch Tibetan’s head

In traditional Tibetan culture, other people should not touch one’s head casually except for monks and the elders. Touching head is a very rude behavior in Tibet.

12. Male and female visitors can’t sit together in Tibetan houses

When visit Tibetan homes, men should sit on the left and women on the right, male and female visitors should not sit together. Don’t enter the house when finding a burning fire or a branch with red cloth on its top in front of the door, which indicates that the family has a patient inside.

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