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Tips for Photography in Tibet

Taking photos is an indispensable part of most travels, especially when in a place as beautiful as Tibet. Tibet itself, with its unique culture and beautiful scenery as well as its people, gives you a great opportunity to take photos. However, due to the special conditions of Tibet, there are some helpful tips for photography in Tibet that can aid you in taking better photos in an unusual and unfamiliar environment.

The Uniqueness of Tibetan Photography

You might ask what is special about Tibet. Without visiting and seeing it for yourself you would never know, and you would be missing out on what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet. The diverse topography of Tibet ranges from the highest of mountains to the huge, expansive plains, and the rolling hills to the deep, subtropical valleys and gorges. Tibet is not just a high, cold place. It has a variety of different landscapes and climates that change from one place to another.

In the west of the region, the altitude is higher, giving rise to a high alpine landscape, with many barren areas and a very changeable climate. While in the east, around the capital of Lhasa, the climate is milder, with less chance of snow even in the depths of winter, and lush green valleys and plains that are dotted with yaks and nomadic herdsmen. The weather is very changeable too. While it can be cold at Mount Everest, the sun can be shining through in a warm summer’s day in Lhasa.

 Tibetan landscapes You are guaranteed to find amazing scenery

Different times of the year also add to the variable climate conditions of the plateau. Winter looks to be very cold but is actually quite pleasant in many parts of the region. Even at Everest, the winter is not so bad that you could not visit. Only in the far northwest of the region, in the highest and most barren areas, is the winter weather unbearable. Summer is also an anachronism, as the summer season is also the monsoon season. And while monsoon often means rain, very few parts of Tibet see much rain even at the height of the monsoon season. And when it does rain, the downpours are short, and soon pass.

Whatever the weather, climate, or landscape, you are guaranteed to find amazing scenes that will delight the lens of your camera with their innate beauty. Even the people and culture is very different from anywhere else in the world. A happy people, Tibetans are devout Buddhists, and it is an inherent part of their culture, closely woven into the very fabric of their lives. To witness and experience this uniqueness in the people of Tibet is a rare opportunity to learn and understand more about Tibetan culture, and to capture the very essence of it on film for all eternity.

Different Travel Route for Different Themes of Photography in Tibet

Tibet is a land of many beautiful places, a multitude of lakes and mountains, and a site for almost every type of photography tours. All across the region, you will find amazing sights to shoot, and delightful people to interact with, as well as a huge variety of animals and birds that are only found here on the high-altitude plateau at the roof of the world.

Swiss Alpine Photography

For those wishing to get some good shots of the famous Swiss-like alpine scenery of the region, there are few better place to do it than in the eastern prefecture of Nyingchi, just east of Lhasa. Often known as the Swiss Alps of Tibet, it is at a slightly lower elevation that the far west, which gives it that distinctly alpine climate, complete with snow-capped mountains.

Mount Namche Barwa is the highest mountain in Nyingchi, standing 7,782 meters above sea level. Sitting directly opposite Mount Gyala Peri, at 7,150 meters, the famous Yarlung Zangbo River runs between them, snaking its way through the Namche Barwa Valley, the deepest valley in the world. This great canyon has been named as the largest in the world and is a haven for photographers.

 Draksum-tso Draksum-tso

A short ride outside Lhasa, heading east along the G318 brings you to the beautiful alpine lake of Draksum-tso. Set in a stunning alpine landscape, the lake is known to be the soul lake of the ancient King Gesar, and his spirit is said to reside within. On an island in the lake, reached by a small, narrow, wooden bridge, lies the idyllic Tsoum Monastery, founded by a 14th-century lama of the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

Niyang River is the longest tributary of the famous Yarlung Zangbo River and stretches for over three hundred kilometers from its source just west of Mira Mountain. It is known locally as the mother river of the Gongbu people of eastern Tibet, and the name means “ the sad tears of a fairy. The river is a great place to get shots of both steep, heavily forested valley sides and the flat alluvial river plain, as the landscape of the river valley changes as it gets further west.

Spring in Nyingchi is also the famous time of the Nyingchi Peach Blossom Festival when the entire area becomes covered in beautiful peach blossoms in the millions of peach trees that cover the prefecture. From mid-March to the end of April the peach blossoms are a beautiful sight, covering both the trees and often the ground with their pink and peach colored flowers.

Mountain Peak Photography

In the far west of the region, high up in the mighty Himalayas, there is a unique opportunity to photograph some of the highest mountains in the world. After heading west along the highway to Shigatse, you will be met with an amazing sight; hundreds of high mountains spearing their jagged peaks towards the heavens.

 Mount Everest Mount Everest

The first, and most obvious of these mountains is the most famous mountain in history, Mount Everest. As you drive from Shigatse towards the Nepal border, the mountain soon comes into sight in the distance, so high that it can be seen from hundreds of miles away. The closer you get, the more majestic it appears, until you finally reach the epitome of Everest photography, Everest Base Camp. The views from the base camp are stunning, and from the flay plain in which the camp is set, the mountain rears up into the sky, just begging to be photographed. One of the best sites from which to take shots of the mountain from a distance is the hill behind the Rongbuk Monastery, a popular place for tourists and climbers alike to stay.

Another great peak to photograph is Mount Shishapangma, the 14th highest peak at 8,013 meters. From its base camp, you can get a breathtaking view of the mountain, and the entire Langtang Himalaya range, which straddles the Sino-Nepal border. However, Shishapangma is wholly in Tibet and has the added attraction of having a subsidiary peak that is 8,008 meters high.

The most sacred mountain in the world, and the site of thousands of Tibetan pilgrimages, Mt. Kailash is probably the one place that you will never forget in Tibet. This pyramid-shaped mountain is the subject of many myths and the object of a million camera lenses. Its symmetrical sides make it an ideal peak to photograph from every angle, and if you take the kora walk around Mountain Kailash, you can get a full 360-degree view to find the best possible shots.

Alpine Lake Photography

Alpine lakes are abundant in Tibet, but there are three that are more photogenic than the others. The three Great Holy Lakes of Tibet, Yamdrok, Namtso, and Manasarovar, are without a doubt, the most beautiful lakes in the world.

 Lake Namtso Lake Namtso

To the north of Lhasa lies Lake Namtso, surrounded by the snow-capped mountains. A beautifully clear lake, the best time to photograph it is from May to September, and just before sunset and just after sunrise. The golden glow of the sun shines off the Nyainqentanglha mountains and is reflected in the lake’s surface.

Along the road to Shigatse you will find Lake Yamdrok, lying in a flat plain and surrounded by grasslands and yaks. The clear blue waters are an amazing sight, and the rolling hills make a great backdrop to the lake’s photos. Best photographed in spring and autumn, the lake is dull-looking under the cloudy, rain-filled skies of the summer months.

Manasarover, in the far west of Tibet, is a holy lake that has meaning for many different religions. The highest freshwater lake in the world, the name means “ the immortal lake of jade&rdquo and is considered the holiest lake in Tibet. Not far from the site of Mt. Kailash, Manasarovar is best seen for photography from late April to late October, when the skies are bright, and the still waters reflect the clouds as they drift lazily by.

Pilgrimage Photography

Indubitably, the best place to find pilgrims in Tibet is in Lhasa, around the famous Jokhang Temple. An ancient and primitive structure, Jokhang is the holiest temple in Tibet and the site of thousands of pilgrims who come to prostrate themselves before its holy gates. Mornings are the best times to shoot, and from the Jokhang Square you can get great shots of the pilgrims spinning the holy prayer wheels as they perform the kora around the temple.

 Lake Manasarovar Lake Manasarovar

Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar are also big sites for Tibetan pilgrimage, and you can see long lines of pilgrims traveling around Mt.Kailash and Manasarovar Lake at almost any time of the year.

Wildlife Photography

In the northwest of Tibet lies Ngari Prefecture, an amazing place that is inhabited mostly by wild animals and birds. With vast lush grasslands and abundant sources of fresh water, it is the home to more than forty species of wild animals, which are under national protection. This natural habitat is the home to wild donkeys, Tibetan antelopes, Mongolian gazelles, wild gold yak, and the spectacular black-necked cranes.

Travel along the northern route from Lhasa to Kailash, Ngari, and you will have a chance to photograph these rare and beautiful creatures in their natural habitats, as they run wild across the vast expanse of the northern Tibetan plains.

Other Tips for Photography in Tibet

• As the altitude of Tibet is pretty high (an average altitude of over 3,000m), you should pay attention to protect your camera from extreme temperature and harsh climate. If necessary, take some technical precautions. Dust cover, lens hood, lens tissue, a brush, detergent, repair outfits and other useful things are recommended to be taken with you.

• And because the sunshine in Tibet is rather strong, please do remember not to let your camera insolate under the sunshine and you can equip your camera lens with UV lens to protect it and get better sly capture. Be careful using your camera when it is dusty or windy.

• Take enough films, a large-content memory card, and batteries. Take one time more films than the ordinary amount. You are not supposed to buy films in Tibet unless you are lucky enough to avoid buying any fake films. And the batteries may not work as well as they do in other low-altitude places because of the low-temperature there.

• Take a small table-tripod if you can.

• When you try to take photos inside the monasteries, ask for permission from the Lama in the monasteries first. But you should know that it is usually forbidden to take pictures inside the chapels or you may need to pay a high price to be allowed to do so.

• You are highly suggested to take a lamp with you to get a clear view when taking photos inside the monasteries because most monasteries are very dim.

• When you take photos inside the monasteries, be careful to protect your camera from butter. You should know that there is butter everywhere in the monasteries. Moreover, you had better not let the pilgrims touch your camera, especially its lens. Do not use the camera when it is unclear or rainy.

• Respect the person you invite to take a shot, be polite and not to disturb them. You can give them some tiny presents for thanks. In some remote places, you should not ask women to take pictures with you, which may make their husbands annoyed.

• In Lhasa, you may come across some avaricious guys asking you for money when you take photos in public places, and you can refuse to do so.

• For your convenience, your photographic apparatus should be as light as possible, because traveling in Tibet, the highest place in the world, is no easy thing.

Master Kungga Dundruk

About the Author - Master Kungga Dundruk

The Lhasa-born prodigy used to study business overseas, and got his Bachelor of Business in Nepal and India before moving back to his homeland. With pure passion for life and unlimited love for Tibet, Kunga started his guide career as early as 1997.

Responsible, considerate, and humorous, he devoted his entire life to guiding and serving international tourists traveling in Tibet. As a legendary Tibetan travel guru with 20-year pro guide experience. Currently, he is working in Tibet Vista as the Tour Operating Director. Whenever our clients run into trouble, he is your first call and will offer prompt support.

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