By Michelle Baran
China has once again stopped issuing travel permits for foreign visitors to Tibet, according to several tour operators.
“Right now, China is not allowing anybody in,” said Will Weber, co-founder and co-director of Journeys International, which has been bringing travelers to Tibet since 1986.
In recent months, China had made obtaining a permit for travel to Tibet more stringent by requiring that people travel in a group of five or more, and all be of the same nationality.
But as of Sept. 1, China stopped issuing any new travel permits to Tibet for foreign visitors, and there is no way of knowing how long the restriction will be in place or why it was put in place, according to operators.
“Last year they did the same thing,” said Anita Captain, director of Greaves Tours. “Last year it lasted for a month and this year, no idea. They don’t give a reason.”
Indeed, the U.S. Department of State advises travelers that permits to travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region within China are not always granted, as the Chinese government may deem the area restricted to foreigners.
Despite the difficulty and red tape in getting to Tibet, a western province of China known for its Buddhist heritage and for being home to the northern Mount Everest Base Camp, is a coveted destination for many travelers.
“There’s just such a caché about Tibet,” said Weber. “For some people it doesn’t matter what they find when they get there, there’s such an attraction.”
But for now, Weber said that Journeys International has decided that until further notice, it is not taking deposits for Tibet and has removed the destination from its website.
Instead, the tour operator is offering alternative itineraries for travelers to experience Tibetan culture, such as the Yunnan province in China; Ladakh, India; and the high Himalayan valleys of Nepal and Bhutan.
“These are areas where cultures deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism still thrive unrestricted by government oppression or control,” Journeys International said.
According to Abercrombie & Kent, a portion of Rongbuk, the Everest Base Camp route in Tibet, has been closed to tourists until further notice.
For travelers who want to go to Tibet, Captain said she would still submit a permit application for them because it’s possible the current restriction will be lifted by the time they want to travel.