VISITING TIBET WITH MY WIFE EITHER BEFORE JULY 6 OR AFTER JULY 22 NEXT YEAR – IS EITHER BETTER? HOW LONG WOULD YOU SUGGEST AND WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS? IS THERE A SAFE WAY TO BOOK ON THE PRESSURISED TRAIN, AND SHOULD WE STOPOVER IN SHANGHAI ON THE RETURN JOURNEY? K. KRUSZELNICKI, SYDNEY
After July 22 is better simply because the festival calendar is kicking into big gear later in July. Festival dates slide around, but in July there's Zamling Chisang which happens all over Tibet, involving smouldering clouds of incense powder, and the Gyantse horse race about this time – which makes good sense if you're visiting the monastery, and you should. I reckon two weeks is going to be enough. You need a couple of days to acclimatise, take it really easy, climb steps at a snail's pace and hydrate massively. Apart from Lhasa, Gyantse and Shigatse have huge monasteries and they're well preserved. Gyantse has several thousand murals, although some are not strictly traditional. Southeast of Lhasa and not too far away, Tsetang is the base for visits to the Yarlung Valley which is where the Tibetan people trace their origins, still furnished with massive burial mounds. Nearby Samye is probably the oldest monastery. To the north of Lhasa you've got Namtso Lake, sacred and the highest salt lake in the world, at close to 5000 metres and ringed by mountain peaks. This is usually a two-night, three-day trip from Lhasa, with Tsurphu Monastery on the way.The word of heaven on all things to do with trains comes from the mouth of The Man in Seat 61 and he has plenty to say on this, and on train travel in China generally. See seat61.com/
A stopover in Shanghai would be my pick, with China Eastern as the logical airline. Shanghai is a taste of the future, and you get to travel on the world's only operating maglev train en route to the city.
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