Category Archives: Tibet 西藏

Tibet – The Itinerary

Our stay in Tibet was a total of 13 days. At first it looked short for Tibet especially when our wishlist includes: Namtso, Everest Base Camp (EBC), Potala Palace and 2 big events in Tibet which coincide with our stay.

First event is the Shoton Festival (or Yoghurt Festival). It falls on the 1st day of the lunar 7th month every year and is a highlight of the religious year. Read:  The Ordeal at Shoton Festival, Lhasa.

Second is the Nakchu Horse race. This is where the herders and cowboys of northern and northeastern Tibet will come and celebrate summer on the grasslands with several days of horse-racing, yak riding, traditional equestrian games, archery and music. The nomads will also dressed in their finest. Unfortunately, the night before we were due to travel down to Nakchu from Nam-tso, we heard that the horse racing was cancelled due to unrest and conflict.

Everest Base Camp (EBC) remained closed during our stay there. So it was no-go then but translated to a lower trip cost as going to EBC requires extra RMB400 for vehicle and RMB180 for each pax. Thou, we were still quite pissed later when we found out that it’s only closed to foreigners and not to the Chinese tourists.

Our passport to Tibet

Our final itinerary as follows:

Day 1 Xi’an – Teracotta Warrior 兵马俑

Day 2 Xi’an – Mount Hua 华山

Day 3 Fly to Lhasa  拉萨 (3650m)

Day 4 Lhasa  拉萨 (3650m) : Barkhor Square 八廓 -> Jokhang Temple 大昭寺 -> Sera Monastery 色拉寺

Day 5 Lhasa  拉萨 (3650m) -> Nam-tso  纳木措 (4770m)

Day 6 Nam-tso  纳木措 (4770m)-> Lhasa  拉萨 (3650m) *en-route visited a nomad family

Day 7 Lhasa  拉萨 (3650m) > Yamdrok-tso 羊卓雍措 (4441m) -> Gyantse 江孜 (3977m) -> Pelkor Chode Monastery 白居寺 and Gyantse Kumbum 江孜千佛塔

Day 8 Gyantse 江孜 (3977m) -> Tashilhunpo Monastery 扎什伦布寺 -> Baber (4250m)

Day 9 Baber -> Sheger Chode Monastery on the hill of Sheger Dzong (Crystal fort)

Day 10 Baber -> Shigatse 日喀则 (3860m)

Day 11 Shigatse 日喀则 (3860m) -> Lhasa  拉萨 (3650m)

Day 12 Lhasa  拉萨 (3650m): Ganden Monastery 甘丹寺 (4300m) and Drak Yerpa 叶巴寺 (4885m)

Day 13 Lhasa  拉萨 (3650m)

Day 14 Lhasa  拉萨 (3650m): Shoton Festival 雪顿节 @ Drepung Monastery 哲蚌寺 -> Potala Palace 布达拉宫 -> Norbulingka Palace 罗布林卡

Day 15 Lhasa  拉萨 (3650m) -> Home Sweet Home

Since our permit was only approved 3 days before the trip and with the uncertainty ahead for us we did not book our 1st night stay in Lhasa. Accommodations for the whole trip was booked by the agency which I saw them flipping through the Lonely Planet and called them for availability. As it was also the peak period, our choice was limited especially in Lhasa. It got slightly easier as you go further from Lhasa.

Our 1st 2 night stay was at Flora Hotel at the Muslim Quarter. At RMB240 per night for a triple room. The owner was a nice uncle, a Nepali Muslim. It was clean with attached bathroom. However, as it’s near to the mosque so every night we are rocked to sleep and got woken up in the early morning by the prayers.

T, from the agency was eager to recommend us to stay in this hotel run by his friend. It’s a boutique hotel called Shambhala Palace. It’s not cheap. After some discounts a night stay cost us RMB390 including breakfast. We decided to splurge for our last 4 nights in Lhasa after our tiring road trip. The hotel was hidden deep in the old town, not easy to find. When we enter the room, well actually we were quite taken aback… Not the typical hotel room, the room is decorated in natural wood and stone with antique Tibetan furniture. Dim yellow lights making you feel the room is more for honeymooners than for us. (guess our dear atas Chris will love it if he was here) No TV, well T was saying it’s a place for you to relax, meditate…. Shambhala Palace has 17 rooms and there’s also a rooftop terrace overlooking the Potala. We also found 3 cute little huskies staying there!

Shambalah Palace

The rest of the hotels we stayed are:


Sheep Hotel (RMB60 per bed per night)

The 2 thick blankets kept me warm but they are heavy

In metal cabins, the rooms are quite clean with proper beds, clean sheets and many thick blankets to keep you warm in the night. Nam-tso is at 4770m elevation so during the night it will be very cold. There’s no toilet near the hotel, so it’s back to nature.


Gyantse County Chugu Hotel (RMB190 per night for triples)


Kanjong Hotel aka Snowland Hotel (RMB300 per night for triples including breakfast)

Pricey but it was one of the better hotel around. The restaurant has comfy sofas where we sat there doing our reading drinking a thermos of sweet tea during one of the lazy nothing to do afternoon.

Over a cup of sweet tea with biscuits we bot at a nearby store


Young House Hotel (RMB200 per night for triples including breakfast) 

The room was not bad and there’s a spa facility in our bathroom! The only downside is that it’s way way out of the city centre. It’s located in this area where the road is under construction which according to our guide it was under construction since early this year and it did not seems to be completing any sooner.

It’s a spa!!!


Over-dosing on Monasteries in Tibet

The main religion in Tibet is Tibetan Buddhism. There’s many monasteries in Tibet, if not for the destruction done during the Cultural Revolution, there would be more. The effects of the Cultural Revolution left about 6000 monasteries and nunneries destroyed, religious artefacts and scripts burned, monks and nuns imprisoned. Now, only a handful and the famous one are allowed to physically remains and restorations are thus allowed on these.
During our 13 days in Tibet, on average, we visited one a day. A bit over-dosed on monasteries at the end of the trip but I must say some monasteries were really magnificent. Go in the early morning and you will see pilgrims doing their kora round the monastery, murmur of mantras and carrying flasks of yak butter  for butter lamp offerings, oh and yes, all monasteries all smell thick with yak butter.

A suggestion. Bring along a copy of Lonely Planet so that you can understand who’s who are the many statues in the monasteries. Regretted not bringing one, sigh…

The Jokhang 大昭寺 

Entrance fee: RMB85 

Our first stop in Lhasa was the Jokhang Temple at Barkhor Square. A spiritual centre of Tibet and the destination of millions of Tibetan pilgrims. The outer courtyard and porch of Jokhang are usually filled with pilgrims making the full-length prostration towards the holy sanctum. It was constructed by the founder of Tibet – King Songtsen Gampo in probably AD 642 to house an image of Akshobhya brought to Tibet as part of dowry of his Nepali wife, Princess Bhrikuti. It also houses the original gold statue of the 12 years old Sakyamuni, brought from Chang’an by the king’s Chinese wife, Princess Wencheng.

It’s our first encounter with a Tibetan monastery and pilgrims. It was already over-whelming from this first visit.

The Jokhang 

Sera Monastary 色拉寺
Entrance fee: RMB50

Sera is situated north of Lhasa, it is one of the 6 great monasteries of the Gelug Sect (yellow hat) of Buddhism in Tibet. It was built by Sakya Yeshe, one of the disciples of Tsongkhapa in 1419. It once housed 5000 monks which now are reduced by almost 90% and we see repairs to the buildings are still on-going. We were here mainly to view the Buddhism scriptures debate by the monks which take place during the weekdays between 3-5pm. Mock debates in ritual way are staged for the monks to prepare for their monastic exam. At 3pm sharp, the door to the debating courtyard opened and tons of tourists rushed in to chope a good spot. Monks, some will sit cross-legged under the trees where some will pose questions to them and giving a vigorous hand clap to end a statement or to make a point. I wondered how concentrated can the monks be. Other than the hand clapping, camera shutter sound filled the courtyard. Tourists roamed the area like vultures. We did not stay long (since we don’t understand), left after taking the “obligatory” photos.
Debating underway
Pelkor Chode Monastery 白居寺 and Gyantse Kumbum 江孜千佛塔
Entrance fee: RMB60
One of the must-see, located in Gyantse. Founded in 1418, Pelkor Chode Monastery was once a compound of 15 monasteries of 3 different orders of Tibetan Buddhism (like our multi-racial?) — Gelugpa, Sakyapa and Buton. We arrived in Gyantse in the late afternoon thus it was one of those rare occasion where we get to view the monastery in peace (i.e. no irritating & loud Chinese tour guide with their Chinese tourists), thus it’s also possible for better chapels photography which we paid RMB10-30 for each chapel. The Gyantse Kumbum is a 35m tall choten commissioned by a Gyantse prince in 1427. We entered the Kumbum and follow a clockwise route that will lead us up through to the 6th floor (thou we did not see any stairs to the 6th). There are tiny chapels on each level housing statues of buddhas, deities, kings of Tibet.
Pelkor Chode Monastery
Gyantse Kumbum
Tashilhunpo Monastery 扎什伦布寺 
Entrance fee: RMB80
A culturally important monastery in Shigatse. Founded in 1447 by a disciple of Tsongkhapa, Genden Drup. Tashilhunpo monastery is also the traditional seat of the Panchen (great scholar) Lamas, who are second to the Dalai (wisdom of the sea) lamas in the Gelukpa tradition. Here, you see the chapel which house the world’s largest gilded statue – a 26m figure of Jampa (Maitreya), the Future Buddha. This statue was made in 1914 under the 9th Panchen Lama and took 4 years to complete. There’s also individual chapels housing the tomb of the 10th and 4th Panchen Lama and 1 chapel for the tomb of the 5th to 9th Panchen Lama. Kora can be made from the monastery up the hills and it took 1 hour to complete.
Tashilunpo Moanstery
Sheger Chode Monastery 
Entrance fee: RMB10 (It was initally closed when later a young monk attended and brought us around for free)
We visited this monastery when we were climbing up the Sheger Dzong (fort) in a hope to catch a glimpse of the peak of Mt Everest (Known as Qomolangma in Tibet). This is a small Gelukpa institution built in 1269. At the height of its power, there were around 800 monks, but now it remains about 30. The young monk brought us around the monastery explaining to us the statues (of cos with translation from our guide) than he gave us each a red ribbon for blessing. We are supposed to wear it (which later we tied it to our bag) for 3 days than tied it at the highest place.
Ganden Monastery 甘丹寺 
Entrance fee: RMB45
This was not in our itinerary initially but because of the cancellation of the Nakchu horse racing festival, we gained an extra day. Instead of refunding us the money for the 1 day usage of the land cruiser, the agency arranged for us to Ganden Monastery and Drak Yerpa, 50km and 16km northeast of Lhasa.
Manificent Ganden
Travelling along the Kyi-chu valley, the car drove up the winding road to Ganden. At 4300m above sea level, a short walk up to the monastery from the car sent me breathless and slight giddiness (I wonder is it because I’ve fully digested my breakfast). Ganden, however provide superb view of the surrounding Kyi-chu valley. From here, you may also trek to Samye for about 3-4 days amidst lakes, alpine landscapes, herders’ camps and sacred sites.
Ganden Monastery is the first Gelukpa monastery and has been the main seat of this major Buddhist order since. Founded by Tsongkhapa in 1409, Ganden suffered the most during the Culture Revolution due to its political influnce. Today there left only 360 monks (or less) as compared to 2000 previously. The original tomb and the preserved body of Tsongkhapa were destroyed by the Red Guards. Now only fragments of Tsongkhapa’s skull are housed in a new chorten. There’s a protector chapel here where the 3 main Gelukpa protectors sit (Choegyal, Dorje Jigje and Palden Lhamo). Women are not allowed in this chapel. A monk was inside the chapel during our time of visit and hitting on the drum, on hearing the thumping of the drum gave me a bad headache.
At another section which houses the throne of Tsongkhapa, pilgrims get thumped on the head with the yellow hat of Tsongkhapa and the shoes of the 13th Dalai Lama, for blessing.

On the day of our visit, we were lucky to also attend the daily assembly of the monks. It was funny that I saw more foreigners here than Chinese and it’s the only monastery that we visited where there’s no hike in the entrance fee.

Daily assembly
Drak Yerpa 叶巴寺
At an elevation of 4885m, it consists of several meditation caves where King Songtsen Gampo had meditated. It was said that Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava had meditated and practised tantric yoga in the cave too. Climbing up a flight of stairs, we visited the caves in clockwise direction. At one of the cave, following the other pilgrims, we squeezed through a hole in the rock wall, it was said that no matter whether you are thin or fat, if you are a good person, you will squeezed through easily. Well, we are all well-behaved so no difficulties for us. At one of the highest point, we also tie the red ribbon (previously given to us by a monk) on the trees.
@ Drak Yerpa
Drepung Monastery 哲蚌寺 
Entrance fee: RMB50
One of the great three of the Gelukpa. Founded in 1416 by another of Tsongkhapa’s disciple – Jamuang Choje. Our purpose here was mainly to attend the Shoton Festival (雪顿节), so we did not visit the chapels there. See post on The Ordeal at the Shoton Festival.
The Potala 布达拉宫
Entrance fee: RMB200 (We really got a shock at the fee hike. It was RMB100 but increased since 1 July 2012.)
Potala is one of the great wonders of world architecture and easily the landmark of Lhasa. Upon our arrival in Tibet, the first building that greeted us was the Potala. The 5th Dalai Lama started the construction of the palace and was the chief residences of the Dalai Lamas until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India during the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Today, it serves like a museum and houses the tombs of 8 Dalai Lamas.
The Potala 
The Potala limits the number of visitors daily and you will need to make a reservation the day before your visit. If successful, you will receive a slip indicating the timing for you to visit. The next day, you will need to arrive at least 30mins before your alloted timing. After you’ve climb up the many steps you will reach the entrance to the main palace and you will buy your entrance ticket here.
The Norbulingka 罗布林卡
 Entrance fee: RMB65

The summer palace of the 14th Dalai Lama

This is the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas. If not for the Shoton Festival, we’ve no intention to visit. After the visit at Drepung, Tibetan will proceed to the Norbulingka for picnics and traditional Tibetan opera performances.

Traditional Tibetan Opera performance


Tibetans having a picnic at Norbulingka

Guess the most interesting of the Norbulingka is the new summer palace built by the present Dalai Lama (14th Dalai Lama) where in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama made his escape from the Norbulingka disguised as a Tibetan soldier. Here we saw the Dalai Lama’s audience chamber where on the wall are murals depicting the history of Tibet and the mythical beginning of the Tibetan people. They believed that they are the union of a bodhisattva and a monkey in the Sheldrak cave. Than there’s the Dalai Lama’s private quarters which is still very well maintained and the assembly hall which he would address heads of states.

The Ordeal at Shoton Festival, Lhasa

Shoton Festival is also known as the Yoghurt Festival. Before the 17th century, Buddhist discipline required monks to stay in their temples for weeks in the summer. This is to prevent them from stepping onto small creatures outside the temples and also to teach them to live in harmony with one another. When finally allowed to leave their confinement, monks went down the mountains where laymen would prepare yoghurt for them as alms. The monks enjoyed the yogurt and happily celebrated their newfound freedom. This is the origin of the Shoton Festival at Drepung, which takes place every August.
Today, the Shoton Festival will begin with the dramatic unfurling of a giant thangka banner of the Buddha (Sakamuni), amidst incense smoke, the sound of bugles, and scripture recitations. People rush to it to make offerings before it is rolled up again in less than two hours. After that they will proceed to the Norbulingka for picnics and Tibetan opera performance.
Super crowded!
 It happens to fall on the 2nd last day of our trip. We set off to Drepung at 5am. It’s a very big festival in Lhasa and most of the Tibetans will be there to witness the unfurling of the thangka. Our car cannot park near the monastery so we’ve to walk a far bit. The nightmare came when we got stuck somewhere before we head up the other side of the mountain. There were so many people and everybody was pushing. A few times, I almost lost my footing. Being sandwiched, I started to feel breathless. Me and Kenn later got separated from Yin and our guide and both of us got pushed out from the main crowd to the side which gave me some relieve actually. I am really scared to become a victim of over-crowding and stampeding. We saw people (even the policeman) falling off the bridge but luckily nobody was seriously hurt. Some elderly or children who almost fainted were carried away for fresh air. After waiting for sometime, I saw Yin and our guide being pushed out from the crowd too and I am so glad to be reunited with them and luckily they were unhurt!
The thangka of Sakamuni
 What had actually happened was that near the foot of the mountain where the thangka was, polices stopped the people from moving forward. They’ve set up a security check there requesting them to produce their ID thus causing the over-crowding and pushing. The situation started to get out of control and finally they stopped the stupid check. We decided to go via another route, trek at the edge of the mountain and do some climbing up. I am glad once again that we are quite used to such terrain so it was not that difficult for us. 

Lamas with the bugles
Finally we reached the place where we could see the thangka, of course we missed the unfurling of the thangka, but nevertheless we still pray for blessing and throw the white hada towards the thangka. We need to walk round the thangka (clockwise) towards the monastery and down the hill in order to get back down to our car waiting somewhere for us.

Tibet vs Altitude Mountain Sickness

Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) is not a stranger since we’ve climbed mountains above 3000m above sea level (note: AMS usually hit when you are at 2500m or above). I am quite blessed as AMS did not hit me during my mountain trips, partly because we ascent gradually.

Known as the roof of the world, Lhasa is at 3650m above sea level and other parts of Tibet hover around 4000m (+/-).  Singapore is at sea level (well our highest hill is 163m) and Xi’an is about 400m above sea level. We will be flying into Lhasa and meaning a sudden increase in the altitude for us, so getting AMS seems inevitable.

View from the plane. It’s summer, so no snow-capped mountains.

I did my online research and borrowed Tibet travel guides from the library and a major part in the guides are always about AMS, how to prevent it and the treatment. Some advises from the various guides:

  1. Exercise to keep fit. No worries for us since we exercise so regularly.
  2. Avoid catching a cold before entering Tibet.  To counter this, we went for a flu jab 6 weeks before.
  3. Do not bath on the first night in Tibet. This to avoid catching a cold while your body is adjusting to the altitude.  So in a way I was quite glad we did not take the train as train travel is 2 days long and we may not have a shower for the 2 days while on the train.
  4. A good night sleep the night before entering Tibet. Well, after a hard day climb at Mount Hua in Xi’an we were too tired to stay up too late for the night.
  5. After getting off the plane, walk slowly and take some deep breath. Some guides suggested to bring a luggages instead of carry backpack. Some warned not to get too overly excited at the snow-capped mountains surrounding when you arrive. Well, I don’t have a decent luggage to bring, so I tried to pack as little items as possible into my backpack to make it as light as possible (final weight at about 9/10Kg).
  6. Prepare AMS pills.  Well, other than eating the chinese medicine – Hong Jing Tian (红景天) we also visited the doctor to get Diamox, to be eaten at least 24 hrs before entering high altitude, continued to eat once you are acclimatised usually around 4-5 days.  Diamox is said to help you to breathe slower and deeper allowing you to get more oxygen. However, they do have some side-effect. For me I experience some tingling sensation on my hand and face. Luckily this round was not as bad as when I was in Nepal so it’s still bearable. 
  7. Drink plenty of water. Hmm… considering the condition of the toilets there, we really did not want to drink too much water. 

It got kind of scary and made worst when the news came where 2 Singaporeans died of AMS in Tibet, although we will not be going to altitude above 6000m, but the fact that we are flying in got us real worried.  We also heard from friends who were reduced to just a floating being throughout the whole Tibet trip, having bad headache, giddiness, no appetite, etc. The whole trip just wasted.

Arriving at Lhasa Gonggar Airport ( 拉萨贡嘎机场)

The night before the flight, me & Yin decided to take Diamox, while Kenn said we are over-reacting. Better be safe. As the plane approached Lhasa, I got real uptight thou trying to calm myself down.  I was already thinking how I will be reacting once I step onto the ground. When the plane door open and I step out, nice cool air and blazing sun greeted me. I slowly walked down the staircase, hopped onto the airport shuttle bus and proceeded to collect our backpacks. Hmm… all the while I feel fine, less some dizziness I believe arose from  me being over paranoid.. hahaha.

Other than the blood clotting in my nose and the slight giddiness I had when waking up in the morning at Namtso Lake (4th day) and while walking at Ganden Monastery (12th day) , I was feeling alright throughout the trip. Kenn had a free flow nose bleed the morning we are to set off for Namtso Lake (3rd day in Tibet) so he finally started on his Diamox.

Walking up many stairs / slopes at Sheger Fort

Breathlessness was inevitable especially when climbing up stairs or slopes but after awhile of walking I would be back to normal. Really glad that we are all well during the trip and we’ve acclimatised well to the high altitude so we were really able to enjoy the beautiful scenery in Tibet and enjoyed some of nice food there.

Planning Tibet. It’s a Nightmare

(Post was updated on 2 Sep 2012)

Where shall we go in August? Climb mount Fuji? Got radiation leh. Go Greece or Turkey? It will be terribly hot then. Go Mongolia? Wah, the air ticket cost about S$1600. Go Europe, Euro in our favor now! Nay, it’s summer, it will be damn crowded and pricey. Go Baltic States? Sound decent. Why not Tibet? It’s the best time to go.  It’s raining season, we will not have a clear view of Mt Everest! It’s your luck!

That’s how our journey to Tibet began.
Beautiful scenery greets you everywhere in highland Tibet
Planning a Tibet trip is not easy and can get very annoying, frustrating and finally resigned to fate.
First we need to search for a reputable tour agency to help us arrange trip and apply our permits. Due to China’s ever-changing requirements, it is actually not possible to do independent travel now, you will need to arrange for a tour. Heard from a friend getting an agency based in Tibet is cheaper than one based in China.  I read in Lonely Planet that those based in China will still have to go thru their counterparts in Tibet to apply for the permits. Finally we settled for one providing customised tour itinerary with transport and enlish speaking guide exclude accommodation and meals.
Next was flight and train tickets. We’ve decided to drop overland route from Chengdu as we will need more days and we want to keep to the 15 days visa-free travel to China. To counter High Altitude Sickness (AMS), it was advisable to enter Tibet by train, but the agency had advised that it would be difficult to get train tickets in August as it was peak tourist period. Well, later I got to know that it’s school holiday in China, so there will be many Chinese travelling to Tibet by train. So after monitoring the flight cost for awhile we bought air tickets to Lhasa with China Eastern Airline, going to Xi’an for 2 days first.  As we are entering Tibet by plane, we will need to receive the original Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) permit before we can board the plane and the tour agency can only mail to a city in China.
The nightmare coupled with roller-coaster ride came then. After we confirmed the itinerary and quotes for the tour, bought our air tickets and transfer a RMB1000 deposit, news came that Tibet was closed to all foreign tourists indefinitely due to a incidents of self-immolations in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet. The agency told us then to wait till 15 July since TTB only process permits 15 days before the intended travel.
On 20 June, good news came that TTB started to process permits for foreign tourists but with funny restrictions:
  1. Need to travel in a group of at least 5 and with the same nationality. Gosh! What? We only have 3 and it’s not easy to get another 2 at such short notice! Who has 2 weeks leave and who wants to go Tibet?
  2. Transfer to the TTB (not the tour agency) of an amount of US$500 for each pax (i.e. US$500 x 5pax = US$2500) first. Only upon receipt of this amount (with evidence of transfer from your goodself), TTB will process the permit.  Please note thou, whether if approved, is still unknown. If permit is issued, this amount will be deducted from your tour price. If it is not, it will be refunded (of course, you lose out on all the bank fee/charges & exchange rates).
  3. Everest Base Camp (EBC) is closed (till now)!

The agency confirmed that the permit situation was very uncertain it’s not guaranteed that the permit will be processed and we were made worst as we do not meet certain requirements.  We were about to give up on Tibet when they stopped us and said they would try their best and they required us to remit US$2500 to TTB first. It’s quite a big sum of money (almost like 70% of the total tour fee paid).

They were confident thou. So should we take the risk and put the trust in them? Maybe we were too desperate (really don’t want to waste the air-ticket to Lhasa), we quickly confirmed the revised itinerary (without EBC), confirmed the tour price and amount to pay and off we went to transfer the $ over and leave to fate.  At the same time, we started planning our contingency itinerary, thou the conclusion was to just pack a China Lonely Planet, fly to Xi’an and see how.
Just 3 days before we were due to fly to Xi’an, the agency informed us that the permit was approved and had mailed out the permit to our hostel at Xi’an using a 3 days mail service.
So this was it. The nightmare and roller-coaster ride before the trip. We still packed in the China Lonely Planet in our bag just in case we were refused entry at the airport and we were forced to go elsewhere in China.

For up-to-date Tibet travel permit situation for us foreigners, you may refer to this website — Land of Snows.