To put it simply, Tibet sits in the heart of Asia, right between India and China. Some consider it to be the far Eastern edge of Central Asia, while others classify it as East Asia.
In this wonderfully clear map from Michael Buckley, we see the vast, high-altitude Tibetan Plateau, and the surrounding regions: India, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, China and (not labeled) to the north, Xinjiang (East Turkestan).
The Tibetan Plateau
The Tibetan Plateau is a geographically spectacular area, surrounded by range upon range of extreme high-altitude mountains which provide the sources for many of Asia’s great rivers, including the Indus, Sutlej, Yarlung Tsampo (which becomes the Brahmaputra in India), Salween, Mekong, Yangtse, and Yellow rivers.
The most prominent of the mountain ranges bordering Tibet is the Himalayan Range — including Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak — to the south. But there are many other impressive ranges as well.
The Kunlun Range to the north separates the Tibetan Plateau from the deserts of East Turkistan, and the Qilian Range to the northeast forms the border with the Hexi Corridor and the Gobi Desert.
To the east are the Hengduan Mountains and to the west the Karakorum range.
A Bird’s Eye View of the Tibetan Plateau
In the NASA image above, you can see the mountain ranges marking the borders of the Tibetan Plateau quite clearly.
The dark brown scoop in the center of the image is the Tibetan Plateau, with the Himalayas marking a clear, curving boundary with green India on the south, extending up toward the Karakorum Range to the west.
To the north, we see where the Tibetan Plateau separates from the golden-colored oval Tarim Basin, and it’s huge Taklamakan Desert, both of East Turkestan (Xinjiang).
Continuing along the line demarking the Tibetan Plateau from East Turkestan’s desert to the northeast, we can trace the dark curving edge of the Qilian Range, and see the lighter brown shades of the Gobi extending up to the northeast.
There is a large dark dot in the northeastern section of the Tibetan Plateau that is Lake Kokonor. Continuing down, south along the darker edge of the Plateau, we find the Hengduan Mountains roughly circling back toward the Himalayas to complete the circle.*
Current Tibet Maps
Most current maps show Tibet as part of China, since China occupied Tibet in 1959, so you will usually see maps like the map of China below, which does not show Tibet as a separate country.
In this context, you will see that Tibet is called Xizang, or the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), which is considerably smaller than the Tibetan Plateau region. The historically and ethnically Tibetan areas outside the area called Xizang are included, in such maps, in the areas of Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu.
A map of the historical and ethnic areas of Tibet would look more like this:
If you were asking “Where is Tibet?” because you are interested in traveling there, you might like our 100 best Tibet travel tips page.
In addition to the Tibetan map images and sites linked to from above:
Last updated: April 16, 2017 at 17:24 pm