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Which is better Nepal or Tibet?

Discussion in 'Travel advice' started by MikenSham, Dec 28, 2016.

  1. MikenSham

    MikenSham New Member

    I am confused between two destinations Nepal and Tibet. I can only go to one of the two destinations mentioned and it would be my last holiday until another year. I would like to know which is better Nepal or Tibet?

    Both look like amazing and different places to visit and its is very confusing to decide between the two, so I need some expertise help.

  2. briannagodess

    briannagodess Well-Known Member

    Hello, welcome to the forum!

    (Images from Donald Macauley, Neiljs, Goran Hoglund and Dennis)


    Lying alongside the world's highest mountains are the country of Nepal and the region of Tibet. Both destinations offer quite mesmerising sceneries and adventurous trails for the travellers. Both destinations also share a border with one another, as well as the country of India to the southwest and Bhutan to the east. But what makes them differ from each other? How can you choose from these destinations brimming with natural beauty and thrilling adventures?

    Nepal is one of the most diverse countries in the world in terms of landscapes and other features, owing to its varying geographical locations. As such, it is sometimes referred to as the Amazon of Asia, as the biodiversity of flora and fauna here is quite high. Nepal might not be as developed as other countries, but the warmth of its people, their struggles and positivity can surely inspire you. Famous for its trekking routes, Nepal also has its fair share of cultural and heritage sites that are sure to captivate the history lovers.

    On the other hand, Tibet, is a region of China, much like Hong Kong and Taiwan. With a history that can be traced back to over 20,000 years ago, Tibet is sure to fascinate the old world lovers. Though plagued with conflicts of the Chinese Government proper and the government in exile, the Central Tibetan Administration, don't let that discourage you from visiting this unexplored region of the world. Tibet is sometimes referred to as the Roof of the World, as it occupies the highest plateau on Earth. With its assortment of Buddhist monasteries and unique Tibetan culture, you're bound to cherish a trip to Tibet forever.

    Nepal or Tibet - Which is Better? (A Comparison Guide)

    While it's hard to compare these two destinations, sometimes, travellers just don't have enough time to visit both of them. Thus arises the need for a comparison guide, to help them distinguish which of these two destinations best fits their goals and interests. Beforehand, let us just be clear that these two destinations are unique in themselves, definitely worth a visit even for just once in your lifetime. But if you don't have time enough for the two, read through this guide and find out which of them suits you better as a traveller.

    1. Entry Visas and Such
    • Nepal - Nepal and India has a border-friendly policy, meaning, residents of both countries can have free movement within each other's territories. Indian residents just need to showcase their valid Indian passport, voter identification card, driving license or any other identification proof accepted by the government. For travellers of other nationalities, at least for most countries, Nepal has a visa on arrival policy, just make sure you bring your valid passport plus an identification proof. However, Nepal restricts on nationalities of Afghan, Cameroon, Ethiopian, Ghanan, Iraqi, Liberian, Nigerian, Palestinian, Somalian, Swaziland, Syrian and Zimbabwean origin, whereby they are required to obtain a visa prior to entering the country. You can access most of Nepal with this visa but some areas would remain restricted (Manaslu, Tsum Valley, Kanchenjunga Base Camp, Upper Mustang, etc.) and you would need a special permit for them, in addition to the fees.
    • Tibet - Tibet is essentially a part of China so you would need to obtain a Chinese visa prior to entering the region. There are some visa-free nations that won't be required to obtain a visa prior to entering China or even Tibet, like Singapore, Seychelles, Japan and others but for most countries, including India, a Chinese visa is required. A Chinese visa can be obtained through a Chinese Diplomatic Mission or a registered travel agency. A single-entry Chinese visa costs around Rs. 2,000. Further, you need to obtain a Tibet Travel Permit for entering the Tibet Autonomous Region. Now, this part is complicated because you cannot obtain your Tibet Travel Permit from the Tibet Tourism Bureau if you don't have a Chinese visa yet. However, some Chinese embassy officials would require travellers to showcase their Tibet Travel Permit if they indicate Tibet as part of their itinerary. As a precaution, do not mention Tibet as part of your itinerary when applying for a Chinese visa as you might end up getting rejected since you won't have the Tibet Travel Permit yet. You can obtain a Tibet Travel Permit, after applying for the Chinese visa, through a Tibet-based travel agency only. The travel agency would arrange everything, from the travel permit, to the accommodation, to the transportation (private vehicle only), to the driver and up to the tour guide, meaning that you would need to be part of an organised tour. The cost varies depending on the itinerary, the trekking and staying options you prefer. Now, the Tibet Travel Permit lets you access only the cities of Lhasa and Nagqu. If you're planning on visiting restricted areas (Shigatse, Tsetsang, Gyangtse, etc.), you would need to acquire a separate Alien's Travel Permit in the Foreign Affairs Section of the Lhasa Public Security Bureau. Make sure that your travel permit is sent to you prior to entering Tibet as you cannot enter the region without it.
    2. Accessibility
    • Nepal - Nepal is accessible by land from India and by air from other countries. By land, there are direct buses from Delhi to Kathmandu, which costs around Rs. 2,300 per person. It can take around a day for the whole journey to be completed. You can also combine train with bus journey, boarding a train from Delhi to reach Gorakhpur and riding a bus to reach the Sunauli/Bhairawa border areas. From Bhairawa, the Nepali side of the border, you can then ride another bus to reach Kathmandu. Another option is to reach Varanasi, as there are direct buses here going to Kathmandu and even some buses going to the Sunauli/Bhairawa border areas. For those closer to Kolkata, you can also ride the train to reach the New Jalpaiguri Railway Station. From this railway station, take an auto rickshaw or taxi to reach the Siliguri Bus Station where there are buses going to the Panitanki/Kakarvitta border areas. There are direct buses here going to Kathmandu as well. All of these transportation options won't cost you more than Rs. 3,000 for a one-way trip, especially if you choose a lower class of seat in the train. If you have your own vehicle, you can also take that across these border areas but you would need to obtain a pass in the Nepali border area for this, as well as pay a daily fee for your vehicle. If reaching Nepal by air is more comfortable for you, there are direct flights from Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Varanasi to the only international airport of Nepal, located in Kathmandu, the Tribhuvan International Airport. There are also direct flights to and from Dhaka, Lhasa, Doha, Istanbul and many more Asian cities and Gulf cities. Flights from Delhi to Kathmandu are more affordable, ranging between Rs. 5,500 to Rs. 7,500 per passenger.
    • Tibet - Tibet is accessible by land from Nepal and by air from other countries. Yes, there are land borders between Tibet and India (Shipki La in Himachal Pradesh, Lipulekh La in Uttarakhand and Nathu La in Sikkim) but they require a special permit in order to be passed through and even then only Indians, Tibetans and Nepalis can pass through these areas under trading or merchant reasons. Now, there is a land border between Nepal and Tibet too, the Kodari border, which was usually opened for travellers that are part of a group with a legal group visa obtained through a Tibet-based travel agency. However, due to the earthquake that ravaged Nepal and Tibet in 2015, the overland border remains closed though it is expected to be opened summer of this year, 2017. As of now, the only real way of entering Tibet from other countries is by air. There is only one international airport in Tibet, that is the Lhasa Gonggar Airport but it only has international flights to and from Kathmandu. Other flights are local ones from various airports in China like Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Kunming and many more. These airports have flights to and from Delhi, the capital of India. Alternatively, you can also opt to reach China by flight, from any of its cities but the closest airport to Lhasa is the Chengdu International Airport. Flights from Delhi to Chengdu cost around Rs. 22,000 to Rs. 25,000 for a one-way trip. From Chengdu, you can take the train that reaches Lhasa, but keep in mind that during peak tourist season, the seats might be fully booked.
    3. Places to Visit
    • Nepal - Despite its small size, Nepal won't disappoint when it comes to sightseeing. Of course you can't miss its capital, Kathmandu, the chaotic yet vibrant part of the country. Designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kathmandu's Durbar Square is the home of the only living goddess of the world, Kumari Devi. Uniquely a Hindu and Buddhist shrine, the Swayambhunath Temple, commands attention because of its striking white facade and golden spire. Regarded very sacred by the Hindus is the Pashupathinath Temple, located on the banks of the Bagmati River. This is where the last mortal remains of the deceased are cremated. If you love nature getaways, then reach the city of Pokhara, located about 200 kilometres away from Kathmandu. Aside from its temples, Pokhara boasts of several lakes that are sure to entice you. The Phewa Lake, a clean and clear water reservoir, surrounded by views of the mountains. It also has some boating facilities that both lone and group travellers can enjoy. Still far from commercialisation is the Begnas Lake, with reflections of the distant mountains on its clear waters, you're bound to spend a few hours here but still won't be able to get enough. You can also trek to reach the peaks of either Sarangkot or Poon Hill, where stunning sunset views await you. If you are a true blue adventure seeker, you can try out circuits in Annapurna, Tsum Valley or Upper Mustang. Here, you can find various ruins of Buddhist sites which can only be reached by trekking. For the wildlife lovers, there are many wildlife reserves in Nepal as well worth exploring like the Khaptad National Park and the Chitwan National Park.
    Phewa Lake in Pokhara.jpg
    Phewa Lake in Pokhara (Image from Bijay Chaurasia)
    • Tibet - With your normal Tibet Travel Permit, you can only visit two destinations, one of which is Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. There are many attractions the capital, starting with the Jokhang Temple, regarded as one of the holiest temples of the region. The temple was built by Princess Wen Cheng, with the help of her husband, King Songtsan Gampo, during the 7th century. It has a classic Tibetan facade, with bright red and orange hues and golden spires. Interestingly, the Sera Monastery is famed for the daily spectacle of debates that the monks indulge in. Located to the northeast of Lhasa, this monastery is unique of its kind and has many meditation areas around it. The largest monastery of the city is the Drepung Monastery, which also holds a three-storey statue of Maitreya Buddha. It is also historically important because it was once the home of the Dalai Lama of Tibet. Other monasteries worth visiting in Lhasa are the Ganden Monastery and Drak Yerpa. Also worth exploring is the Potala Palace, perhaps the most crowded attraction of the city. With its imposing white and red facade, plus its large size, it's hard to miss in the city. Once the home of the Dalai Lama, it boasts of over a thousand rooms, lots of Buddhist paintings and statues, plus golden stupas decorated with precious stones. Last but not the least, take a stroll around the Barkhor Street, witness the culture of local Tibetans and also purchase a few authentic Tibetan handicrafts to take home. In Nagqu, you can enjoy the countryside view of Tibet. You can take excursions into natural attractions like Namtso Lake and the Nagqu Arctic Alpine Grassland.
    Potala Palace in Lhasa.jpg
    Potala Palace in Lhasa (Image from McKay Savage)

    4. Activities
    • Nepal - The most popular activity in Nepal is none other than trekking, which you can try in the usual trails such as Kathmandu Valley, Annapurna and Langtang. The lesser taken trails are the Upper Mustang, Dolpa and Manaslu. If you're that brave and fit, then you can even try for trekking to the Everest Base Camp in the Nepal side. The ideal time for trekking is summer, when temperatures are more bearable in the higher regions. For the thrill-seekers, why not try bungee jumping in Tatopani? You would be jumping from a suspension bridge and into a river canyon. Another adrenaline-pumping activity is paragliding, which you can do in various areas around Nepal like in Pokhara, Bandipur and Sirkot. Fly like a bird with skydiving, done in Kala Patthar, with a view of the Mount Everest and the frozen Gorak Shep below. Other adventure activities like river rafting, canyoning, zip lining and mountain biking can also be done in various areas of Nepal. As mentioned above, you can even indulge in a wildlife safari in the national parks or wildlife reserves of the country. Less extreme activities like bird watching and meditation can also be enjoyed while in Nepal.
    • Tibet - In contrast, Tibet has less to offer when it comes to activities. Most adventure seekers try out trekking here though, exploring pristine landscapes and barren lands with no civilisation at most times. Some of the most popular treks here are the Mount Kailash Pilgrimage, Yangpachen and Gyama Valley. You can even trek to reach the Everest Base Camp, approached from either the Kangshung Face Base Camp or from the Advanced Everest Base Camp. If you are also able to get the special Alien's Travel Permit, you can take the nature trail to visit the most sacred and pristine lakes of Tibet. Boasting of crystal clear water, the following reservoirs of Lake Yamdrok, Nam Tso and Lake Manasarovar can definitely make you admire Tibet even more. However, they all require day trips away from Lhasa so make sure you plan accordingly.
    5. Best Time to Visit
    • Nepal - Nepal has extreme climate variations, depending on the geographical location of the region itself. First, you have the terai region, or the plain areas of Nepal, this includes cities of Janakpur, Bhimdatta and Birgunj. It also includes the wildlife areas of Bardia National Park and Chitwan National Park. Since these areas are located at a lower altitude, the best time to explore them would be during winter, when temperatures are lower. Summers are good too, if you're visiting the wildlife areas, when your chances of spotting wild animals are higher. For the hill region, or the sub-Himalayan areas, this includes the cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Pokhara. Generally, this region has the best climate out of all the areas so you can visit places here any time of the year. Winters are better though for sightseeing due to the pleasant climates. Or if you love greenery, the monsoons lend their hands at making the region greener and lush. For the last region, the Himalayan region, this includes Mustang, Dolpa, Manaslu, Annapurna and Mugu. These regions are best explored for trekking during the summer months though some higher areas remain hidden from the rain too during monsoon.
    Annapurna (Image from Greg Willis)
    • Tibet - Just like Nepal, Tibet has extreme climate variations, depending on the geographical location of the region. We can divide Tibetan climatic conditions into three regions, namely: Central Tibet, Southeastern Tibet and West Tibet. Central Tibet includes Lhasa, Changtang and Drichu, which generally have temperate climates owing to the lower altitudes of these regions. Thus, you can visit this region of Tibet any time of the year without any issues though summer is usually the peak tourist season. Now, for the higher regions of Tibet, they usually remain closed for visitors from the end of February or March until April each year. This is because these areas usually remain covered in snow during this time. You can still explore the lower lying regions of Southeastern Tibet during this time. But if it's the West Tibet regions that you're planning to visit, like Nagqu and Nyingchi, they're best explored during summer season only.
    Nam Tso in Nagqu.jpg
    Nam Tso in Nagqu (Image from Reurinkjan)

    6. Transportation
    • Nepal - For an economical means of transportation, your best bet are buses. In bigger cities such as Pokhara and Kathmandu, it's not unusual to find both air-conditioned, also known as express, and non air-conditioned, also known as regular tourist, buses. During peak tourist season, bus routes to known destinations, like the Chitwan National Park, are also opened up. Micro vans also ply within the city and also for long-distance travels. For reaching base camps for trekking, usually, jeeps or four-wheel vehicles are utilised for this. For intercity transfers, you can also opt for taxis which are available in most big cities of Nepal. Auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are also available in the plain regions of the country. If you're keen on driving on your own in Nepal, you can also hire a private car or even a private car with driver but the rates can be very high.
    • Tibet - Travelling within Tibet means relying on the private vehicle that your tour organiser hired for you. There are public buses that run from point to point in Tibet but foreign tourists are not allowed to utilise them. If your tour operator has hired a jeep, primarily for trekking routes, then you can also utilise this form of transportation. Other than these, you can also rent a bicycle for short-distance travels within low lying cities like Lhasa.
    7. Staying Options
    • Nepal - Staying options in big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara are plenty. For budget hotels in Kathmandu, there are good options like Hotel Discovery Inn and Hotel Silver Inn, which won't cost you more than Rs. 1,000 per night. For mid-range options in Kathmandu, there are good options like Hotel Ganesh Himal and Avataar Kathmandu Hotel, which won't cost you more than Rs. 2,000 per night. For a luxurious stay, try out the Hyatt Regency or Dtarika's Hotel, both are also located in Kathmandu. With these hotels, prepare to shell out around Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 20,000 per night. Price ranges are almost the same for Pokhara. If you're in a tight budget, guest houses like Nirvana Peace Home and Bodhi Inn are good options, with rates under Rs. 500 per night. If you intend to stay in more remote areas, you'd have to make do with guest houses or smaller resorts.
    • Tibet - There are lesser staying options in Tibet and of course, your tour organiser would be arranging for them as well. You can, however, request for a particular hotel that you would like. For budget hotels, there are many around Lhasa, like Fengchao Hotel, Seven Days Inn and Tibet Baiyi Hotel. All of these budget hotels cost around Rs. 1,500 per night so slightly higher as compared to the budget hotels in Nepal. For mid-range hotels, you can opt for Tashitakge Hotel or Sailing Hotel, both are in Lhasa, with room rates under Rs. 3,000 per night. There are also some five-star hotels like St. Regis Resort and Hotel Guibinlou in Lhasa, with room rates around Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 6,000 per night. In other localities like Nagqu or Nyingchi, there are a few average hotels to choose from.
    8. Food Options
    • Nepal - As varied as its landscapes is the cuisine of Nepal, designated as Nepalese cuisine. The cuisine infuses influences of various regions like Tibet and India. Still, the influence of local culture and traditions can still be tasted in the different dishes of Nepal. For a truly unique gastronomic experience of Nepalese cuisine, do consider staying in a guest house where you can indulge in a home-cooked meal. Dal bhat is to Nepal as to what thali is to Rajasthan. Just like the favourite complete meal of the Rajasthanis, the dal bhat is a complete meal consisting of either rice or bread, side dishes such as curried meats or lentils and other vegetables. The combination of a thukpa and momo can be usually spotted during winter season, when temperatures go down in the region. Though tracing their origins from Tibet, the Nepalese versions are spicier which give them a distinct flavour.
    Dal Bhat in Nepal.jpg
    Dal Bhat in Nepal (Image from Sistak)
    • Tibet - Though Tibetan food is available outside of the region, nothing beats tasting this cuisine right from the place where it originated. Tibetan cuisine is largely influenced by the geographical location of the settlers. They rely mostly on goat and mutton meats, as well as dairy products obtained from yak. What makes Tibetan cuisine stand out is its reliance on simplicity, allowing the natural flavours of the ingredients to stand out. Of course, you can't mention Tibetan cuisine without the cult favourite, momos. Momos are soft dumplings, filled with stuffings of meats or vegetables. Tsampa, made from barley flour and butter tea, is another staple of the Tibetan cuisine. Noodles such as thenthuk and thukpa are also important dishes of the Tibetan cuisine. Try and taste these wonderful meals through a guest house and you'd understand why Tibetan cuisine differs from other cuisines of China and also of the world.
    Momos in Tibet.jpg
    Momos in Tibet (Image from Backpacker Lee)

    9. Budget Friendliness
    • Nepal - There's no question that Nepal is budget-friendly destination. Since it doesn't require any visas for Indians, you save some money right from the beginning of the trip. Then, you can even opt to reach it by land, through the border of India with Nepal, which can also save you money as you won't need to spend Rs. 3,000 at the most for this. Even air travel is more affordable from India to Nepal. Perhaps the most expensive part about visiting Nepal is the transportation, since you'd have to hire a vehicle if you intend to visit more remote areas or trekking bases. Though there are entry fees in some heritage sites, religious sites and trekking bases, they aren't that high enough to burn your pocket. With just Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000 per night, you can stay at a decent guest house or hotel in Kathmandu. For more remote areas, you can stay at a guest house where you won't be paying much as well. For food, you can survive on Rs. 500 per day, more or less. But if you intend to stay in trekking camps, the rates would be higher.
    • Tibet - Tibet is not really a budget-friendly destination, especially as compared to Nepal. First, you need to shell out Rs. 2,000 for your Chinese visa. Then, you need to allot some budget for air travel since Tibet is only accessible by air right now. As mentioned above, flights from Delhi to Chengdu cost around Rs. 22,000 to Rs. 25,000 for a one-way trip. Then, you'd have to consider the train transfer from Chengdu to Lhasa which costs around Rs. 3,120 per person. Next, you have to consider the organised tour that is mandatory to visit Tibet, which costs around Rs. 32,000 to Rs. 65,000, depending on the itinerary and number of days you'd like to spend in the region. The good news is that this package already includes your accommodation, transportation, tour guide and driver. For meals, if you are into trying out local dishes, you can spend around Rs. 300 to Rs. 600 per day.

    So how do we choose between these two destinations? Nepal has recently seen a boom in the tourism industry and thus, it's not uncommon to find popular tourist places like Kathmandu and Annapurna crowded during peak season. The remote areas around Nepal remain pristine and untouched by commercialism though. If you love trekking, Nepal has many circuits to keep you busy, as well as adventure activities like paragliding, skydiving and bungee jumping that you can also try. Kathmandu and Pokhara are popular tourist destinations, filled with heritage sites and natural attractions, respectively. Or if you'd like more off the beaten track destinations, Upper Mustang and Tsum Valley are must visit regions for you. Famed because of its budget-friendliness, Nepal is a backpacker's paradise and you would surely get all your money's worth when in here.

    Tibet is more for the Buddhist culture immersion. Nestled in a remote location from mainland China, though it suffers from isolation, Tibet has preserved its ages old traditions and culture which is why it's an open-air museum destination. Yes, it has been steadily seeing an increase in tourists but still remains far from the commercialised destinations around the world. If you enjoy pristine natural attractions and wonderful views of the snow-capped peaks, Tibet would give you these and more. The traditional Tibetan architecture of the monasteries here are also worth exploring, you won't find such gems elsewhere. There are no adventure activities here, except for trekking, but the experience of visiting Tibet, being immersed in the unique Tibetan Buddhist culture, would be imprinted in you for a lifetime.

    Good luck and I hope this helps you in choosing between these two destinations!:)
    Traveleering likes this.

  3. Alexandoy

    Alexandoy Member

    Both Nepal and Tibet are in my bucket list that I hope to realize within 10 years. However, I am more fascinated in Nepal maybe because of the Himalayas which had captured my fancy since I was in grade school. When I saw the movie Himalayas, my desire to go to Nepal was heightened ever more. I asked one Nepali during a conference that I attended in Singapore some years ago, it's about the yak. He said that they don't eat yak that's why I was confused. Anyway, with Tibet, it is a cultural and religious trip so maybe it can wait longer. Besides, the Dalai Lama is not there anymore and from what I gathered, the Tibetan monks are being suppressed by the government.