Colourful flags and horse in China
Asia

Horse riding trails in Tibet

The historical regions of Kham and Ando are former Tibetan provinces and home to the descendants of warriors and horsemen. Tibet, deep within the Himalayas, remains a spiritual destination - an abundance of monasteries and fluttering prayer flags set against the grandeur of the high mountains. Travelling through the vast plateaus on horseback is the best way to meet the warm and welcoming nomads who call this harsh environment home.
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From the horse’s mouth

  • The Kham Riders (Tagong Festival)
    July 2019 ADELE aged 36
    This trip was my first on horseback, and I think I might be hooked! This trip went far and above all my expectations. From the support I received initially in getting my visas, to the local folks running the trip and the incredible guides I could not have had a better experience. The landscape itself was stunning, and... Read all
    More about this trip
  • The Kham Riders (Tagong Festival)
    July 2019 Elke Hilda H. aged 46
    The Kham Riders was un unforgettable experience: being immersed in the Tibetan culture of the Kham region with its warmhearted people, its gorgeous landscapes and brilliant horses.The local team is superb: perfect combination of an American guide, Angela, who accompanied us during the non-riding days -who is very... Read all
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  • The Kham Riders (Shamalong Festival)
    July 2015 Clemency aged 64
    A stunning trip on the Tibetan plateau. The combination of Angela and Djarga as lead guides was perfect, and the rest of the team were so helpul and friendly. The landscape is rolling, empty, beautiful, and in the distance the snow-capped mountains. We swam in hot springs, and in a lake at 4450m. The horses are small... Read all
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  • Horse race at Shamalong Festival Tibet
    Attend the Shamalong Festival in Tibet
  • Horseback riding trail in Tibet
    Pack yaks and mules are used
  • Horseback pack trip with the Shamalong Festival in Tibet
    Snow capped peaks of Tibet
  • Tibet horseback riding pack trip the Shamalong Festival
    Riding into camp in Tibet
  • Prayer flags in Tibet, China
    The equestrian guide with the traditional prayer flags
  • Horse riding pack trip and Tagong Festival Tibet China
    Explore the Tibetian culture with the Tagong Festival

Visa & Health

Formalities

The Autonomous Region of Tibet is a province of China therefore a passport with at least six months' validity is required by all Australian, British, Canadian, USA and EU nationals.
Foreign nationals must carry their passports at all times as police carry out random spot checks; these are more frequent around times of heightened security such as sporting events.
Visas:
Visas are required by all nationals referred to above to enter China.
Types and cost:
Single-entry: £30 (UK nationals), £90 (US nationals), £20 (other nationals).
Double-entry: £45 (UK nationals), £90 (US nationals), £30 (other nationals).
Multiple-entry within six months: £90 (UK nationals), £90 (US nationals), £40 (other nationals).
Multiple-entry within 12 months or more: £180 (UK nationals), £90 (US nationals), £60 (other nationals).
You must also pay a service fee of £36 (standard), £48 (express) or £54 (postal applications).

Visa applications for China should be made one month in advance.

The express service requires three days, and the regular service takes four days. Postal applications are usually processed and returned within 10 working days, if all the documentation is in good order

Make sure that you apply for a Chinese visa and do not mention Tibet on your visa application.

To enter Tibet, you must also obtain a Tibet travel permit. We require your passport details at least one month before your date of departure so that we can arrange this for you. Please note, the Tibet Tourism Bureau often puts a hold on issuing permits during times of political tensions and demonstrations and regulations are subject to change at short notice.


Advice for visa application

Many consulates (including those in the UK) issue visas through the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre
Visa for China - http://www.visaforchina.org
rather than directly through the consulate.

Addresses of consulates

  • Paris | Ambassade de Chine
    11 avenue George V
    75008 Paris
    Tél. : 01 49 52 19 50
    Fax :
    chinaemb_fr@mfa.gov.cn
  • Chinese visa application service centre
    12 Old Jewry
    EC2R 8DU London
    Tél. : +44 (0)20 7206 0589
    Fax : +44 (0)20 7710 6001
    ukcentre@visaforchina.org
  • Ambassade de France en Chine
    Faguo Zhuhua Dashiguan
    60, Tianze Lu
    100600 Pékin (Beijing)
    Tél. : (+86 10) 85 31 20 00
    Fax :
    presse@ambafrance-cn.org

Health

The high altitude and intense sunshine can cause serious problems for many travellers. It is recommended to wear high spf sun screen at all times with a full brim hat and sun glasses. Also remember because of the high altitude it is very easy to get dehydrated, so drink plenty of water.
Altitude sickness is a serious risk in Tibet. Symptoms range from breathlessness and headaches to lack of coordination and vomiting and can occur at any elevation over around 3000m (almost everywhere in Tibet). It is extremely important to allow several days to acclimatise. For travel outside Lhasa arrange your itinerary so that you don't gain more than 500m of altitude per day.
As with other parts of China hepatitis B is endemic. Sporadic outbreaks of avian influenza (bird flu) have resulted in a small number of human deaths. Rabies is present and may be a concern if travelling or trekking through rural parts of Tibet. If bitten, medical advice should be sought immediately.
Medical infrastructure is poor in Tibet and services are almost non-existent in rural areas outside of Lhasa. Medical insurance is strongly advised and should include evacuation insurance. The nearest recommended medical facilities are in Chengdu and Kathmandu. Traditional Tibetan medicinal treatments are available in Lhasa.
Food and drink:
All water used for drinking, brushing teeth or freezing (ice cubes) should first be boiled or otherwise sterilised. Bottled water is widely and cheaply available. Be especially careful when eating at small street-side stalls or restaurants where standards of hygiene may not be high. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Bubonic Plague: Although rare, there are cases of bubonic plague every few years in remote areas of Tibet. Try to avoid eating rodent meat, especially from marmots, as much as possible.

Insurance

It is a condition of your booking with Equus Journeys that you have travel insurance which covers you for the riding activities to be undertaken. Your travel insurance should cover you for medical expenses and repatriation. Your guides will require your travel insurance details before they allow you to ride and may refuse to let you ride if you cannot provide them. You should take your insurance documents with you.

Voltage

220 volts AC, 50Hz. However, most 4- and 5-star hotels are also wired for the use of 110-volt appliances. Round or flat two-pin plugs and flat, angled three-pin plugs are use.

Budget and money

Currency information:
1 Renminbi Yuan (CNY; symbol ¥) = 10 jiao/mao. Notes are in denominations of ¥100, 50, 20, 10, 5, and 1. Coins are in denominations of Y1, 0.5 and 1 jiao/mao. Counterfeit ¥100 notes are commonplace. The Yuan is often referred to as the ‘kuai’ in street slang.
Credit cards:
Credit/debit cards (Visa, Diners Club, MasterCard, American Express etc) are accepted in top-end hotels in Lhasa but are of very limited use elsewhere.
ATM:
ATMs are available in many towns, though those in Lhasa and Shigatse are most reliable. Cash advances from a credit card are available in Lhasa.

Telephone and jetlag

Lhasa and several other cities have public telephone booths where you can make fairly cheap international phone calls (around £0.35 per minute to the UK). The cheapest way to make calls is through Skype, though not all Internet cafés are equipped with the software. Another way to call internationally is to buy a pre-paid calling card, available from most convenience stores in units of ¥20, 50, 100 and 200.

Mobile phone: Tibet's mobile phone coverage is good and you can even make phone calls from Everest Base Camp! Roaming agreements exist with most major international mobile phone companies. Alternatively, you can buy a prepaid GSM SIM card (from China Mobile) that allows you to use your mobile like a local phone with a new number. You'll need your passport to register. Buy scratch cards to top up your balance.

The dialling code for China is +86. You then need to add the dialling code for the Tibetan province - in Chengdu this is 895.

The time zone is GMT +8

Country information

Country ID

Area: 1,228,400 sq km (474,288 sq miles).
Population: 3 million (2011).
Population density: 2.5 per sq km.

Language: The official language of China is Mandarin Chinese, though most Tibetans speak Tibetan as a first language. Most Chinese immigrants (and taxi drivers) don't speak English or Tibetan. English is not widely spoken.
Capital: Lhasa
Political regime: People's Republic. China comprises 23 provinces (China considers Taiwan its 23rd province), five autonomous regions, two special administrative regions and four municipalities directly under central government.
Religion: Almost all Tibetans are Tibetan Buddhists, a form of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism called Vajrayana. Popular Tibetan folk religion is heavily influenced by the pre-Buddhist Bon religion, a shamanic belief system in spirits, spells and exorcism.

History

Tibet's history has long been dominated by its powerful neighbour China. The early Tibetan empire was one of Asia's largest, even beating the Chinese capital Xian in 763 AD. The arrival of Buddhism in the eighth and ninth centuries fundamentally reshaped the nation's psyche, transforming the warring empire into one of the world's most spiritually advanced centres.
Tibet was first conquered by an outside power, the Mongolians, during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 CE). But with the rise of the Ming Dynasty there was a brief period of sovereignty until the Mongols took over again in the mid 15th century by supporting the Dali Lama who had fled to Mongolia. Mongolian clans had on and off political control of Tibet until the Tibetans appealed to the new Qing Dynasty to remove the Mongolians in the late 17th century. At that point Tibet in the official view of international politics became a tribute state to the Qing Dynasty. Although the presence of the Qing Dynasty was not felt by the average Tibetan, the Qing government did have bureaucrats and troops stationed in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. With the decline of the Qing Dynasty, in the mid 19th century, the mountain kingdom of Tibet gained more and more autonomy and by the 1890s Tibet was independent in every aspect accept in name. Any dream of an independent Tibet at that time was ended in 1912 when the new Republic of China paid all the debts of the Qing Dynasty in order to maintain the internationally recognized borders of the Qing Dynasty. Dealing with internal and external threats the Republic Government did not have the resources to influence any control over the internal running of the Tibetan Autonomous Region but the Republic government used international pressure to make sure other countries did not recognize the Tibetan Autonomous Region as an independent country.
When the Communists defeated the Republic in 1949 they quickly turned their peasant army towards the “liberation” of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. By 1951 the TAR was incorporated into China, with limited resistance, by the signing of the 17 point agreement. If the 17 point agreement had been honored the Tibetan Autonomous Region would roughly have a similar government relationship with Beijing that Hong Kong has today. But due to conservative Tibetans and Communists the tensions escalated until the 1959 uprising during which the Dali Lama fled the Tibetan Autonomous Region to India. In 1965 the 17 point agreement was nullified and the Tibetan Autonomous Region was established. Since that time the degree that the Tibetan Autonomous Region is actually autonomous has changed with who ever is currently in charge in Beijing.
Today Tibet's economy is booming and tourism is big business with over two million visitors a year, most of them Chinese. The Communist leadership points to huge investment in infrastructure, airports and the controversial railway line as proof of its commitment to improving the lives of Tibet's people. Frustrated Tibetans on the other hand point to mass Chinese immigration, limited employment opportunities and state interference in religious affairs. With China refusing to engage the Dalai Lama in any meaningful way, Tibet's future remains at best uncertain.

Geography

The Tibetan Autonomous Region is considered a high altitude plateau with high altitude lakes and stunning peaks. Most of the province is used for yak grazing because it is one of the few domesticated animals that can live up there. Tibet shares international borders with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. Tibet has some of the world's tallest mountains, with several of them making the top ten list. Mount Everest, at 8,848 metres, is the highest mountain on earth, located on the border with Nepal. Several major rivers have their source in the Tibetan Plateau (mostly in present-day Qinghai Province). These include Yangtze, Yellow River, Indus River, Mekong, Ganges, Salween and the Yarlung Tsangpo River (Brahmaputra River). The Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon is among the deepest and longest canyons in the world. The Indus and Brahmaputra rivers originate from a lake (Tso Mapham) in Western Tibet, near Mount Kailash. The mountain is a holy pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Tibetans. The Hindus consider the mountain to be the abode of Lord Shiva. The Tibetan name for Mt. Kailash is Khang Rinpoche. Tibet has numerous high-altitude lakes referred to in Tibetan as tso or co. These include Qinghai Lake (Koko Nor) which is the largest lake in the People's Republic of China.

People, culture and traditions

Tibetans are generally very easy to get along with. Always walk clockwise around a stupa, religious statue or a mani wall (wall made from stones engraved with religious mantras) and spin prayer wheels clockwise. Don't smoke or talk loudly in a monastery. Don't attend sky burials if uninvited and even then never take photographs. Tibetans will often present an honoured guest or visitor with a white silk scarf known as a kathak.
Avoid discussing politics with your guide or monks as you can never be sure who is listening or watching. Don't take photographs of bridges, military installations or the army and avoid getting caught up in political disturbances.

Choosing the right riding holiday

Choosing the right riding holiday

The Khampas warriors were members of a Tibetan armed group which fought against China's occupation of Tibet from the 1950's until its downfall in 1974. Also called Buddha's Warriors, the groups main aim was to defend and preserve the Tibetan way of life after communist China invaded the western region in 1950, destroying the monasteries in eastern Tibet in 1956.

Initially forced into an uneasy compromise with Beijing, the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 and the local Khampas tribesmen revolted, forming a resistence movement which employed mainly guerilla tactics against the Chinese army. They set up base camps in a remote Himalayan region bordering Tibet, called Mustang, but life was hard and food was sparse and it has been said that many Khampas resorted to boiling their shoes to eat.

Khampas warriors were known to be skilled horsemen and they would gallop out of Mustang into Tibet to harrass the Chinese and then gallop back again. The annual horse festivals are a celebration of Khampas history and an opportunity for them to show their skills on horseback - with riders hanging of the sides of their saddles and scooping silk scarves from the ground at a full gallop, or twirling muskets over their heads and firing at targets on the ground.

Both of our horseback trails in Tibet include a horse festival attended by Khampas warriors: Tagong or Shamalong.