History and Religion
The pre-Buddhism religion of Tibet was Bon. The religious history of Tibet largely evolved around the defeat and marginalization of the Bon concurrently with the spread of Buddhism. However, some aspects in association with the Bon animism are still practiced to this day, for instance, the lake and mountain deities worshiped and appeased with rituals and offerings, while the animal sacrifices were abolished and replaced with the incense and liquor offerings at present time. Lhatse, the arrow-shaped poles and banners dotted on the mountain tops as part of Bon tradition, is still very much celebrated annually at the 13th of fifth month in Tibetan calendar. The warrior spirits, the tribute to the ancestral land and physical surroundings that Lhatse embodied clearly out weight the Buddhist views of pacifism and detachment. In Rebgong of Amdo, where the shamanistic sacrificial rituals held biannually in summer and winter, also show more military ideals in line with Bon and folk belief, than the more pacifist Buddhist practices.
Despite the fierce competition among the different Buddhist sects for religious domination, which inter tangled with the struggles for political power, and led to bloodshed and foreign interventions in the history, at present time, the coexistence of the different traditions is the norm. Some prominent religious institutes even offer a non-sectarian curriculum and text collections. Ngawa (Aba) of Amdo region is a prefect place to see the monasteries of different traditions and lineages at one locality. A great time of visit would be during the Monlam Chenmo in February when the monasteries celebrated together and pay visit to each other.
The region of Do Kham (Eastern Tibet) is a dynamic place to learn at least three important features in regard to the transformations in Tibetan religious history. Firstly, the renaissance of Buddhism in Tibet. Secondly, the incorporation of Bon deities and practices in Buddhism, and the revival of the Bon through assimilation to the forms and views of Buddhism. Thirdly, the non-sectarian and non-prejudice movement in Tibetan Buddhism. Many of our trekking, cultural and festival tour programs cover these sites.
Besides, our private and package tours in TAR (central and western Tibet) offer the classic routes in religious sites such as the three greatest Gelupa monasteries of higher learning (Sera, Gandan and Drepung), as well as the other most prominent sites -- Jokhang, Ramoche, Potala Palace, Samye, Tashi Lhunpo, Sakya Gonpa, Yumbo Lhagang etc., reflecting a more dominant and orthodox influence of Buddhism at the Tibet's political center, than that of the Eastern region.
Nature and wildlife
An immense diversity of flora and fauna are found on the Tibetan plateau, a region that is relatively uncharted and has traditionally been host to a low human population. There are roughly 530 species of birds, 190 species of mammals, 40 species of reptiles, 30 species of amphibians, and 2300 species of insects throughout the plateau. Numerous salt water lakes draw migratory birds from Siberia, including the black-necked cranes. Mammals that graze on the open grasslands of this region include gazelles, wild donkeys, wild goats, wild yaks, blue sheep, urials, and ibex. Wolves, foxes, birds of prey such as the lammergeier, griffon, and golden eagle, and numerous species of waterfowl are also found in this region. In addition, the snowy highland regions of southern Tibet house brown bear, red pandas, and the rarely glimpsed snow leopard. Forested areas of lower elevation are home to the black bear, clouded leopard, and terai langur. Some southeastern areas of the plateau are home to wild boar, lynx, jackals, wild dogs, and spotted cats. Lesser panda, the ling yang antelope, wild and bighorn sheep, mountain antelope, musk deer, and mountain lizards also reside in particular regions of the plateau. The Tibetan plateau is home to a number of wildlife reserves, including the Napa Nature Reserve and the Kekexili National Nature Reserve. These exist to protect the special diversity of species on the plateau, many of which are unfortunately endangered. Plant life on the plateau is equally diverse, reflecting the diversity of terrain in this region. Marsh meadows, alpine deserts, grasslands, wetlands, sand dunes, river basins, forested gorges, farming regions, saline lakes, and high mountain slopes give rise to a plethora of variegated flora.
Our trip programs in trekking and photography offer great chances to appreciate the natural beauty of Tibet.
Climate and Terrain
There is much variation in the climate of this region, but in general it is very dry, with low humidity, strong winds, and relatively cold weather for most of the year. During all seasons, the high and low temperatures within a single day can face as large as a 20°C difference. Generally early mornings as well as late evenings and nights are fairly cold, while the middle of the day is fairly warm. Temperatures at night can drop dramatically, even in summertime. The sun's rays are strong and warm on this high-altitude plateau. In the wintertime, the plateau usually experiences cold but calm weather, with little snow except in the higher mountain ranges. Summer monsoon rains primarily occur in the southern and lower eastern regions. In many areas there may be sudden strong winds, causing severe dust storms. In general, several layers of clothing that are easily added or removed as the day progresses is a good idea, in order to stay comfortable both in the heat of summer days, and the chill of the nights. While this is a large region with significant variations in temperature by location, general temperature ranges during the daytime (i.e. not including the much colder nighttime temperatures) by season are as follows:
Summer: 20 - 30°C (June-August), with a mild rainy season in July & August.
Spring and Autumn: 5 - 20°C (March-May & September-October).
Winter: -27 - 5°C- (November-February)
The landscape of the plateau is the least from a homogeneous scene. As one of our customer remarked, "it is as if we are traveling across Europe, only in shorter days." Even for a several-day itinerary in northern Amdo, you might drive through the endless grassland that reminds one of the Scotland on day 1, climb the alpines and scroll by lake side with a scenic view resembles the Switzerland on day 2, pass through the Canyons and deep valleys on day 3, then shortly afterward enter into the Gobi desert enroute to the famous Mogao caves of the Silk Road on day 4. And this is only at a tiny corner of the plateau! Wait till you explore the valleys, forestries and pasturelands surrounded by the snow-capped mountain ranges in Kham region.