Where is Tibet?

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.

2020 Travel Advisory: Due to the current health crisis, Tibet is temporarily closed to all foreign travelers. There has been no announcement regarding a re-open date. However, travelers can pre-book travel for a later date. At the same time, you will support local Tibetan-owned businesses at a time when they are struggling to survive. To learn more, ask us for an introduction to a reliable Tibetan travel agency here.

Mount Kailash and major Asian river sources on a map of the Tibetan plateau.
Mount Kailash and major Asian river sources on a map of the Tibetan plateau. From www.meltdownintibet.com.

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).

HOW TO VISIT TIBET

If it’s your dream to visit Tibet — to have an amazing, authentic journey in the Land of Snows, support the Tibetan people, and get home safe — you’re in the right place.

We’re Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, a Tibetan-American couple, and your Tibet travel experts. We’ll show you exactly how to visit Tibet — get your visa and permits, find a reliable agency, choose either the “sky” train or a flight, and avoid getting altitude sickness in the breathtaking heart of the Himalayas.

You will find all the Tibet travel info you need in our How to Visit Tibet: An Insider’s Guide.

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.

Rivers and Bordering Mountain Ranges of Tibet.
Rivers and Bordering Mountain Ranges of Tibet. © Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal

If you’re interested in travel to Tibet, you will need to get a permit through an agency, since no independent travel is allowed to Tibet.  You want to be sure to choose a Tibetan-owned agency, which hires Tibetan guides only. The simplest way to do this is ask us to connect you to a reliable Tibetan-owned travel agent to plan a great trip for you that also supports the local Tibetan economy and culture.

Most travelers are interested in 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.

The Tibetan Plateau seen from space
The Tibetan Plateau seen from space (NASA)

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 modern map of China
A modern map of China. See www.mapsofworld.com/china.

A map of the historical and ethnic areas of Tibet would look more like this:

Want to be ready to travel to Tibet when it reopens?

Tibet Travel Plan

Sign up to get instant access to our FREE Tibet Travel Planning Guide that shows you exactly how to:

  • Get your visa and Tibet permits
  • Avoid altitude sickness
  • Choose a reliable, Tibetan-owned agent
  • And much more…so you can feel peace of mind about your trip, and have a great, safe journey!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Along with instant access to your free, comprehensive online guide for planning your Tibet travel, you will also get our weekly newsletter, with tips, tools and strategies for simple, safe and meaningful Tibet travel.

Our Privacy Policy

Related Links

If you were asking “Where is Tibet?” because you are interested in traveling there, you might like our complete guide to How to Visit Tibet Easily, Safely and Ethically

Sources

In addition to the Tibetan map images and sites linked to from above:

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibetan_Plateau

Updated on August 5, 2020. First published on May 6, 2012.

Your Tibet travel advisors, Lobsang and Yolanda

Most people who want to go to Tibet don't know how to get there or who to trust for help. We’re Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, and we help make Tibet travel more simple, safe and ethical so you can feel peace of mind about your trip. Learn more about us and YoWangdu here.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Vivek Shukla says

    Hi,
    Its so beautiful, I think its better to be left as a separate country, to run there own government according to themselves, which will definitely let them hold the bountifulness and calmness as it was , as it is and for sure it will be.

    Hope All the best for the country and country Men

    Thanks.
    Love you Tibet

  2. Uday Gupta says

    Hope Tibet will be enjoy his independence very soon as independent country as before. China occupy illegally. very unfortunate.

    • Rory says

      Agree with you 100%.

      When you see Indian Tibet, such as Ledakh or Lahaul and Spiti, you see how beautiful the people are and can see their culture in all its glory.

      A democratic, free Tibet.

      The only place I’ve ever been where there is no poverty or inequality, where the women are at least the equals of men, where everyone is smiling all the time.

      It really is paradise on earth. So much better than here in the UK.

      I pray to God that we do see a free, independent Tibet very soon.

      Peace and respect.

  3. Bholu says

    Hello, Please don’t show “Aksai Chin” as part of China. It’s disputed land and earlier it belonged to India, so it makes more sense to show it within Indian Territory. Thanks fot the information though.

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Bholu, Thanks for making us aware of this. We don’t have the capacity to make our own maps yet, but if we find one with Aksai Chin noted independently or under India, we would share.

      Thanks!

  4. Sathyashrayan says

    Useful Information. I am a Indian. I know the difficulty of getting a TAR permit for Indian passport holders. my doubt. The special permission for a Indian passport holders is only for TAR region but not for whole tibet Plateau. To visit yunnan,chengudu, qinghai, gansu does not attracts TAR permit. Just Chinese visa is enough. Am I correct?

  5. ashish says

    Hello ,

    I am a traveler from india. I have a special love for Tibet and Tibetans. I ve been in Ladakh fr a while and have stayed at monestries like Lamayuru , Thiksey , also went to Takht sang(Tiger Nest) Bhutan once. I feel getting more and more attracted by this culture as i am growing older and understanding life. Having stayed with tibetan yak men and came to knew about how they survive easily. It was always a great experience .once my Bike was about to fall from Changla pass top , due to a heavy snowstorm. a 80 year old old man who stayed with his wife and daughter gave me shelter for that night and saved my life(about 5000 meters above sea level) . I won’t ever forget that.

    Sharma

    • Rory says

      That’s so good to hear. I went to Leh on my very first trip to India in 1994-5 and it’s honestly the most beautiful place and people I’ve ever encountered on any of my travels.

      How did you get to Ledakh, btw? I came from Kashmir, but when I left to go to Manali in HP, we had to spend 19 hrs on the bus going from Leh to Keylong. Over two passes at 5,500m.

      And from Keylong to Manali, it was just up and down over the Rhotang pass. Me and several of the other gora tourists did it on the roof of the bus.

      The best journey of my life.

      So glad you are getting attracted to the culture.

      When you combine Tibetan culture with Indian freedoms such as democracy, free speech, the rule of law etc, then you have the best culture on the planet and proof of how Tibet would be were it not occupied by the Chinese dictatorship.

      Respect.

  6. Paddy says

    Thanks for accepting me, I recently purchased a pencil sketch map of Tibet, it’s very detailed with lots of images of important characters around the edges, really delighted with it. Looking forward to more posts from you.Nameste.

  7. Diana says

    I stronly beleive in the fact that Tibetian nation’s light will succeed, and will get peace at the end.
    It is the time the light-workers to hold each other’s hand strongly to raise the vibration of the world .
    Togehther we can stop the wars, and make peace on the planet Earth.
    I congratulate for you/your team for making this beautiful site, and for showing the Tibetian culture.
    It is not the religion what is imporatnt as there are so much religions. I’m mostly interested in the heart, mind opening of religions, and i feel that tibetian religion is one of the highest one in this aspect.
    So good work carry on.
    Namaste

  8. Jon says

    China even though they boast how old their culture is they act in such childish and oppressive ways. Bullying Tibetans and denying everything. The British went through their own stage of wanting to take everything and thinking it was perfectly ok to do that and now we’ve got off balance letting our country being over run by foreigners but at least we do not treat others like the Chinese government do now. One can only hope they will grow up and realise the Tibetan people are a treasure and should be left alone and helped in the way they want not the way the Chinese government thinks is right.

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Sunil, On this site we are focused on Tibetan culture rather than the very serious political issues concerning Tibet. For the definitive answer to your question, we suggest you read His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s autobiography, called Freedom in Exile, and perhaps Dragon in the Land of Snows, a History of Modern Tibet, by Tsering Shakya.
      All the best to you!

  9. san says

    Does Tibet fall only in between India and china? you can not put it simply as you stated above. i think you need to gain some more knowledge to write it.

  10. Susan Gee Rumsey says

    When you see how many important waterways originate in Tibet, it is easy to understand why another country would want it for their own. Thank you for this most interesting post that explains so much.

    • yowangdu says

      Thanks for writing in, Susan! It is remarkable how critical how many major rivers have their source in Tibet, making it politically critical to multiple countries.

Leave A Reply