Trekking and exploration in Tibet.
Only a few Europeans had ever traveled in Tibet until the early 18th century. Less than two dozen foreigners, most of whom were missionaries had visited the Holy city of Lhasa. Political and natural barriers were equally formidable to sealing off most outsiders from entering Tibet.
Europeans first heard of a distant land called 'Tubbat' around the 8th century from Arab traders who traded on the silk routes. Marco Polo managed to travel close to Tibet in the 13th century during his journey in Central China.
Two Jesuit priests, Father Andrade, and Father Marques, disguised themselves as Hindu pilgrims, set off to cross the Himalaya near the source of the Ganges River two centuries later. They were known to be the first Europeans to have entered Tibet; quite soon after, the Jesuits infiltrated Central Tibet. Father Gruber and D'Orville became the early Europeans to reach Lhasa.
British India had just begun to send trade representatives to Tibet during the end of the 19th century when war broke out between Nepal and Tibet in 1791. A large army was deployed to march on to Kathmandu via Tibet. The British Indian army remained in Tibet after withdrawing from Nepal. This support by British India helped to stage to open up Tibet's borders for a new generation of trekkers, adventurous European travelers, minus Bibles on hunting expeditions via India. Travelers from numerous countries tried to reach Lhasa, but only Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese Buddhist was successful. He disguised himself as a Tibetan Buddhist monk.
Change of Policy for Foreigners visiting Tibet
These days foreign tourists can visit Tibet on a group tour by booking with Chinese travel agencies or through Nepalese travel companies with contacts in Tibet. However, Tibet can be closed by the Chinese government with no notice or official announcement at all.
An invading British army forcefully unveiled Lhasa in 1904. It forced the Tibetans to sign a treaty that prevented them from dealing with other foreign countries. The Chinese Emperor enforced this policy to avoid further unauthorized visits to Lhasa and Tibet one the British army returned to India.
The strict closed-door policy on foreigners was relaxed from 1911, and the first climbing expeditions were permitted to enter Tibet soon after. The British organized seven mountaineering expeditions between 1921 and 1938. None of the teams were successful. Several dozen intrepid travelers both official and unofficial made their way into Tibet during this period.
Tibet was once again closed to foreigners and climbing expeditions from 1950 for more than three decades which encouraged the British, Swiss and other foreigners to approach Everest through Nepal which had recently opened her doors to the outside world when the first 8000 meter mountain - Mount Annapurna was climbed by the French and in 1953 the British managed to get Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa on the summit.
Foreigners were allowed to trek in Tibet with Government organized tours from September 1984. Tibet was opened to individual visitors who could backpack. The Tibetan countryside was officially opened to anyone who could rough it, carry a backpack and set off into the mountains.
The Chinese economy has improved by leaps and bounds, which in turn has brought many changes to Tibet which includes a new railway link from mainland China into Lhasa. This has brought in a boom in domestic tourists. In 2007, the official government figures announced that almost four million domestic tourists had visited Tibet which dwarfed the number of foreign tourists.
These days, foreigners can either go on a private tour with a local travel agency or join an international company that offers organized tours into Tibet. Foreigners wishing to visit Tibet have to book with a bonafide tour operator.
Someone who wants to visit Tibet needs to get in touch with either a travel company in their country or Nepal or with a Chinese travel company to confirm in advance. The local travel agency will start the application of Tibet Travel Permit, and a copy will be handed to your local, Nepal travel company. If one is traveling by train to Tibet, then a photocopy of the travel permit will do; however, if they are flying into Lhasa, they will need to have the original travel permit.