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About Tibet

About Tibet

The Tibet Autonomous Region is located in south-western China and borders the Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region and Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. In the south and west, it borders Myanmar, India, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal and the Kashmir regions. It has an area of 1.22 million square kilometres and a population of 2.62 million. Of its more than 30 ethnic groups, such as Han, Monba, Lhoba, Hui, Mongol, Naxi and Nu, Tibetans account for more than 92.2 percent of the total population.

Making up the main part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the region has an average elevation of more than 4,000 meters and is famous as the “Roof of the World” and the “Third Pole of the Earth.” Mt. Qomolangma, the straddling border area of China and Nepal, is 8,848 meters (8,84.13 meters new height) tall, the highest peak in the world.

Tibet has a plateau climate, featuring remarkable changes vertically and a big difference in temperature between day and night. The North Tibet Plateau is dry and cold. It has a low average temperature, a long period of exposure to strong sunshine, a little rainfall and low air density.

Agriculture and livestock are the pillars of Tibet’s economy (mainly sheep, goats and yaks, and mainly barley, wheat, potato and rape). The region is also famous for medicinal substances, such as musk, pilose antlers and snow lotuses, which enjoy popularity both at home and abroad. Tibet leads the country in its untapped hydropower and thermal power, and ranks second in usable solar energy in the world.

It was inhabited by humans as early as in the late Palaeolithic Age. In the seventh century King Songtsen Gompo united Tibet and established the Tubo kingdom. During the seventh and eighth centuries, the kingdom twice established marriage relations with the Tang imperial court. In the 13th century, Tibet became an administrative area under the Yuan dynasty. In the 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama established the Kadam Potrang government. The Qing government recognized this regional government and sent an envoy. The Republic of China was declared in 1949, and the Tibet Autonomous Region was created on September 1, 1965.

Tibet has a long history and beautiful land features. Its spectacular ancient monasteries and unique local customs attract many tourists. Lhasa, Xigatse, Shannan, Nyingchi Nagchu, Ngari and Amdo each have its own geography and colorful customs. You are welcome to visit Tibet and have a look for yourself at these rare wonders of the world.

The Best Season for Touring Tibet: From April to October is the best season for touring and trekking in Tibet. From June to September the rainfall increases and the scenery is beautiful.

Attraction in Central Tibet

Lhasa, a city of sunshine

Lhasa means Land of Gods in Tibetan. The northern bank of the Lhasa River, (a tributary of Yarlung Tsangpo River) is 3,650 meters above sea level. The City is famous for its long history. Lhasa is also famous as a city of sunshine (more than 3,000 hours a year). It is the capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region and is the political, economic and cultural centre of the region. It boasts many historical sites and scenic spots both in its urban areas and on the outskirts. The Potala Palace and Jokhang, Sera and Ganden monasteries, and Drepung Temple are well known both at home and abroad.

Potala Palace

Standing on the Red Hill along Beijing C. Road, the Potala Palace is the highest building of its kind in the world. The palace was first built in the seventh century, only to be damaged in the eighth century. In the 17th century, it was rebuilt by the Fifth Dalai Lama over a period of three years. Its 13-story main building is 117 meters high and is composed of the Red and White Palaces, with the red one situated in the middle. The main building consists of the Hall of Stupas of Dalai Lamas (from various historical epochs) and halls of Buddhas. The White Palace was the residence of the Dalai Lama, and the place for attending to political affairs.

The Potala Palace houses a large number of rare cultural relics including the palm-leaf scriptures from India, the Kagyur and the imperial edicts, golden seals and titles of nobility sent from the Qing emperors to the Dalai Lamas.

Jokhang Monastery

Located in the centre of the ancient city of Lhasa, Jokhang Monastery was built in the seventh century by Songtsen Gompo, the Tang princess Wen Cheng and Nepalese princess Bhrikuti. The four-story main building displays a combination of Han, Tibetan, Indian and Nepalese architectural styles, as well as the mandalaic world view of Buddhism. With the Hall of Amitayus Sutra as its centre, the monastery symbolizes the concentric design of the universe. The Hall of Sakyamuni is the most sacred part of the monastery.

Barkhor Street

Barkhor Street is the shopping street around Jokhang Monastery. Its 500 meters is thus the way along which pilgrims walk around the monastery.

Ganden Monastery

Ganden is located 60 kilometres to the east of Lhasa. It is one of the three great monasteries of the Gelugpa sect. Ganden means ‘happiness’ or ‘contentedness’ in Tibetan. Ganden Monastery was built in the early 15th century under the supervision of Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Gelugpa sect. The main buildings include the Coqen Hall, the Chamber of Tsong Khapa and the College of Yangbajian.

Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery is situated on the slope of Wuze Hill, five kilometres northwest of Lhasa. It was built in 1416 and is the largest of the monasteries of the Gelugpa sect. It covers an area of 250,000 square meters. In its heyday, it had more than 10,000 monks. The monastery has trained a large number of talented exponents of Tibetan Buddhism. The Fifth Dalai Lama lived there before he moved to the Potala Palace. It houses many historical and cultural relics including the Buddhist classics. The exciting Shoton Festival (Sunning the Buddha) held in the monastery is one of the most magnificent displays religious fervour in Tibet.

Yangbachen

Yangbachen is situated 87 Kilometres from Lhasa in Damsung County. It is rich in geothermal resources and is famous for its geothermal museum. The widely known Yangbachen Geothermal Power Station is located here. There are countless hotsprings, whose water spurts dozens of meters high. When the valves are opened one can enjoy a magnificent scene.

Yaowang Hill

On the hill opposite the Potala Palace originally stood the Yaowang (Medicinal King) Temple of the College of Tibetan Medicine. The senior monks in the temple were doctors who served the Dalai Lamas. In the 1960s, the college was merged with the Hospital of Tibetan Medicine to the west of Jokhang Monastery. The temple is now in ruins.

Dragon King Pond

To the rear of the Potala Palace there is a pond. This pond got created itself into the crater left while digging out earth for the construction of the Potala palace in the mid-17th century. The Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, built a three-story octagon pavilion in the middle of the pond and took rests in it. The pavilion is named after the statue of the Dragon King in it.

The Lower Tantric College

This college was established in 1433 by Jizun, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, for the study of Tantrism. It is located in the northern part of Lhasa. The main hall has four stories. On the first floor is the Great Hall of Buddhist Sutras. On the other floors contains some 70 rooms.

Tsurpu Monastery

Built in 1187, Tsurpu Monastery is located 70 Kilometres away from Lhasa. It is the main monastery of the Black Cap group of the Karma sect. The system of granting succession to reincarnation was originated here and spread to other sects of the Tibetan Buddhism.

The Tibet Museum

This museum is located at the southeast corner of Nurbu Lingka Monastery in Lhasa. It is the first modern museum in Tibet. It covers an area of 53,959 square meters and has a floor space of 23,508 square meters including an exhibition area of 10,451 square meters. The museum displays a magnificent style of traditional Tibetan architecture combined with salient features of modern architectural art.

The museum houses a rich collection of cultural relics including handwritten Tibetan classics, colorful thangkas, music and ritual instruments, unique handicrafts and pottery. Visitors can gain a feel for Tibet’s history and profound culture and art.

Outside the exhibition hall are green lawns and shade trees. There is also performance area for modern cultural and outdoor activities, a garden setting for local customs and folk culture, and a manor house. The museum itself has a cultural gallery, handicraft shop and other service facilities. The museum thus offers people many opportunities to relax while visiting its exhibitions.

The Lhasa River

A tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo, the Lhasa River draws many people to the banks, particularly in the seventh month of the Tibetan Calendar. During the so-called Bathing Festival participants enjoy their bathing and washing clothes from Garmagun in the east to Sahu in the south and at Rainbow Spring at the foot of Sera Monastery. A legend says that during this period the Lhasa River changes into holy water. One can join the local people in bathing in this holy water. From the southern bank of the river one can see a clear reflection of the Potala Palace in the river. Photographers and other wait with great anticipation for this wonderful scene to appear.

Night Markets in Lhasa

One can visit the Youth Road night market. It is an illuminated night market with lines of stalls selling snacks, chafing-dishes, fruits and handicrafts.

Tianhai Night Market

The night market in Tianhai is bigger than the one in Youth Road. It provides more kinds of snacks and food and is a perfect place for late-night rendezvous. This market remains open until sunrise.

Shigatse Area

Shigatse – A Granary of Tibet

Shigatse is a famous cultural city with a history of more than 500 years. Some 3,800 meters above sea level, it was the place Bainqen Erdini Lamas at various times in history were authenticated. It gradually became a political and religious centre in southern Tibet. To its south stands the world renowned Qomolangma (Everest). Outside the city are the Sakya Palkor and Salu Monasteries.

Trashilhunpo Monastery

Trashilhunpo Monastery was built in 1447 at the foot of Nyima Mountain on the outskirts of Shigatse, under the supervision of the First Dalai Lama, Gedun Zhuiba, one of the disciples of Tsong Khapa. It was expanded by the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Panchen Lamas, and has become the seat of the reincarnation lineage of the Panchen Lamas. The monastery houses the 22.4-meter-high gilded statue of Avalokiteshuara Buddha, the tallest of its kind in the world. This image of the Buddha shows him as being vividly kind and generous.

Palkor Monastery

Located at the western end of the Changge Range in Gyantse County, Palkor Monastery was built in 1414. Its 17 dratsang (colleges) are affiliated to one of sects (Sagyapa, Kadampa and Gelugpa) but gather them all together a salient feature of the monastery. Its main building is the Hall of Coqen. Next to the monastery stands the resplendent Palkor Pagoda. This nine-story pagoda is 32.5 meters high and has 108 doors. Its 77 Buddhist halls house some 100,000 statues of Buddhas. Thus the pagoda has become famous as the “100,000-Buddha Pagoda.”

Sakya Monastery

Located in Sakya County southwest of Shigatse, Sakya Monastery is the principal monastery of the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Originally, Sakya Monastery comprised both the Northern and Southern Monasteries. In 1073, Khon Konchog Gyalpo, the founder of Sakyapa sect, built a white palace on a grey clay hill near the northern bank of the Chun Qu River. The locals named the palace Sakya, which means ‘grey soil’. This was the Northern Monastery, but today only it ruins remain.

The Southern Monastery was built as a fortress and was surrounded by a moat. Construction of the monastery began in 1268 and was led by Benqen Sagya Sangpo under the charge of Choygal Phakpa, the fifth in the line of descent of the Sakyapa sect. The walls of this monastery were painted in red, white and grey, the colors respectively, of Manjusri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajradhara. Sakya Monastery is famed as the ‘second Dunhuang’ due to its huge collection of Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, murals and thangkas. According to statistics, about 40,000 volumes of scripture are housed there. A wooden bookcase which is about 57 meters (187 feet) long, 11 meters (36 feet) high and one meter wide (three feet) has 464 compartments. More than ten thousand texts are kept in the case. Among them, the most precious is Burde Gyaimalung, a record of Tibetan religion, history, philosophy, literature, agriculture and animal husbandry. It is 1.8 meters long, 1.3 meters wide and 0.67 meter thick, and boasts of being the largest scripture in the world. Additionally, the monastery houses 21 volumes of Buddhist scriptures written on palm leaves in Sanskrit. Each contains one hundred to two hundred pages and illustrations in four-color. These are the most precious sutras in the world. Sakya Monastery has many murals and thangkas. Most of the murals are from the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Among them, the most outstanding are the murals which depict the former Sakya ancestors, Phakpa’s meeting with Kublai Khan (the founder of the Yuan dynasty) and mandalas. There are over 3,000 thangkas. The 360 from the Song (960-1279), Yuan and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties are the most precious. The Main Chanting Hall (called lakhang Chenpo in Tibetan) is a must see for all visitors. Covering an area of about 5,800 square meters, the lakhang Chenpo can hold about ten thousand monks when they gather to chant sutras together. In the hall are enshrined three Buddhas – Dipamkara, Sakyamuni and Maitreya and five Sakyapa ancestors. There are forty huge vermilion pillars supporting the ceiling, four of which are about one meter (three feet) in diameter. Each of the four pillars has its own story. Gyina Seqen Garwa was bestowed by Kublai Khan. Chongbo Garwa, Dabo Garwa and Nabo Chaza Garwa were carried to the monastery by a wild yak (dhong), a tiger and the God of the Sea. On the second floor of the hall there are 63 murals of mandalas, the best preserved in the monastery. The monastery also houses some historical relics, such as seals, Buddhist figures, porcelain ware and embroidery from the Song and Yuan dynasties. A black wooden casket which contains a white whelk clarion is the most precious. It was presented by Kublai Khan.

Rongphu Monastery

Sitting atop Rongphu Qinzhogma Hill at the foot of Mt. Qomolangma, the monastery is 90 kilometres away from the Tingri County seat and is 5,800 meters above sea level, the highest of its kind in the world. It holds three-day sorcerer gathering starting on the 15th day of the fourth month and the Ghost-Beating Festival starting on the 29th day of the 11th month of the Tibetan calendar.

Shanam/Tsetang Area

Shannan Prefecture, the Birthplace of Tibetan Culture

Shannan is situated on the southern bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River, at an elevation of 3,600 meters above sea level. It enjoys a temperate climate.

Sannan Prefecture is famous for its picturesque pasture lands, river valleys, the snow-capped mountains and glaciers, ancient religious sites and unique customs. It has a rich variety of flora, distributed vertically according to the elevation. The historical and cultural sites include the first palace in Tibet (Yambo Lhakhang), its first monastery (Samye), the first Buddhist hall (in Changzhug Monastery) and the tombs of the ancient Tibetan kings. In total there are some 40 scenic spots in the area.

Yambo Lhakhang Palace

The first palace in Tibetan history is situated eight Kilometres to the south of Tsetang town. It is said that the palace was built in the second century B.C by the first king Nyatri Tsanpo. It houses the statues of Buddha’s of the three world and kings from various historical periods including Nyatri Tsanpo, Lhatu Turi Niantsan, Rabajin, Songtsen Gampo and Trisong Detsen.

Samye Monastery

Located on the northern bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Chanang County, Shannan Prefecture, Samye Monastery was built in 779 under the supervision of Guru Rimpoche (Master Padmasambhava) and the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen. It is the first monastery constructed in Tibet. The magnificent and unique Central Hall is three stories high. The first floor is in the Tibetan architectural style, the second in the Han style, and the third in the Indian style. The halls in the monastery contain many statues and murals. The monastery has bronze bells, carved marble lions and tablets that record the development of Buddhism in Tibet. All are valuable cultural relics.

(For 30 Yuan tourists can take the bus from Lhasa to Tsetang and get off at Samye Ferry. A motor boat charge five yuan to the other bank of the river, and a bus goes on to the monastery. There is also a minibus from Tsetang to the monastery (running on the newly built highway). Staying in the monastery overnight costs 40 yuan. Just outside the east gate of the monastery is the Friendship Snowland Hotel and others accommodations.)

Minzholing Monastery

The monastery was built in the late 10th century and had its current name when it was rebuilt in 1677. It is one of the three great monasteries of the Nyingmapa Sect. the monastery has paid attention to the research of Buddhist classics, astronomical calendar, calligraphy rhetoric and Tibetan medicines and is famous for its achievements in these fields. Over the years the recommendation of the “Chronology of the Tibetan Calendar” has been formulated by the monastery, and it is famous as the first academy of Lamaism in Tibet.

The Hot Springs in Oiga

In a small pastureland in the Oiga Town there are seven hot springs. Those springs water is considered medicinal for treatment of the stomach and eye diseases. Of these hot springs, the Choluka Hot Spring is exclusive for the Dalai Lamas of various historical stages. The hot spring in Oiga boasts beautiful sceneries and a unique local folklore. In the spring and summer, flocks of people come here for bathing.

Kanggardo Mountain

The Kanggardo Mountain in Cona County is 7,060 meters above sea level.
Covered by snow year round, the topography is lower in southern section and higher in northern section. Its main peak is surrounded by dozens of peaks with an elevation of more than 6,000 meters. Its’ valley are filled with beautiful glaciers. The average rainfall (June to September) here is above 400mm. The mountain slopes and valleys are densely forested teeming with dozens kinds of wildlife such as the wild donkeys and Mongolian gazelles.

Changzung Monastery

Standing by the highway on the east bank of the Yalong River in Nedong County, Shannan Prefecture, this monastery was built in the seventh century and has been repaired in various historical periods. A legend says that after the establishment of its capital in Lhasa the Songtasan Gompo and Princess Wen Cheng came to stay here. It is believed that the willow trees around the monastery was who planted by the princess. The monastery contains a precious Thangkas painting of a Buddha inlaid with pearls and gems.

(Tourists can take the mini-bus in Zetang Town to the monastery for two yuan each or a motor tricycle for 15 yuan or less. The admission for the monastery is 15 yuan.)

Tombs of the Tibetan Kings

This burial ground of the 29th-40th Tsanpos of the Tubo Kingdom is the only group of the tombs of the Tibetan kings in Tibet and has a history of more than 1,300 years. Today nine are visible, but only those of Songtsan Gambo and Trisong Detsen can be verified.

(Tourists can take a coach from Zetang to Qonggyai County seat and then change for a taxi.)

Lake Yamtso Yumtso

In Nagarze County in Shannan Prefecture, the lake is 4,400 meters above sea level. It covers an area of 800 square kilometres and is 30-40 meters deep. Yamtso means upper pasture and Yum means green jade in Tibetan. In a bird’s-eye view, the lake is like a big piece of sapphire inlaid in the mountains and is very beautiful.

Its surface is more than 800 meters higher than the Yarlung Tsangbo River at the foot of the mountain. Also here stands the Yamtso Yumtso Power Station well know for its high elevation in the world. To its south stands the magnificent Samding Monastery where Doje Pangmo, the only woman Living Buddha in Tibet, stayed and presided.
(Tourists can take the regular bus from Lhasa to Xigaze or take a taxi. The Cereal Guesthouse in Nagarze County seat provides lodging service for 20-30 yuan each.)

Follow Me to Nagchhu

Nagqu – Great Pasture in North Tibet

Having an elevation of more than 4,500 meters, Nagchhu is located on the famous North Tibet Plateau. It is 338 kilometres from Lhasa and at the juncture of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway. Nagchhu is famous for a unique landscape. The ancient Yamtung (or Zhangxhung) cultural site, the Bon monasteries, the Holy Lake Namtso and the life of the highland herdsmen are unique tourist attraction.

Lake Namtso

Namtso situates 60 kilometres to the northwest of Damxung County 4,718 meters above sea level. It is 72 kilometres long from east to west and 30 kilometres wide from south to north. It has an area of 1,940 square kilometres. It is one of the three holy lakes in Tibet and receives high respects among the local people. On the Tibetan year of sheep, pilgrims from faraway come here to walk around the lake. It takes more than 10 days to circle the lake once.

(Five or seven tourists can hire a mini-bus from Lhasa to go and back in three days for 1,700-2,000 yuan. The journey takes eight hours. Th Zhaxi Monastery by the lake provides lodging for 15 yuan each bed.)

Main Festivals and Celebration Activities in Tibet

Tibet has 20 or 30 big and small traditional festivals a year. During the festivals, friends get together. Both men and women sing songs and perform dances and vie to demonstrate their artistic abilities. These festivals have a long history and most are connected with religion. As the time goes, these festivals have a tendency towards folk customs and pleasure.

Tibetan Year

The first Day of the Tibetan year always falls in February of March and is the most important festival or the Tibetan people. In early 12th month of the Tibetan year, the Tibetan people begin to buy goods and materials for the celebration of the New Year Day. Of them the rectangular Droso-chema with colorful patterns and offerings are the most important. The Droso-chema is stuffed with buttered highland barley, fried wheat grains and sapodilla. On its cover are highland barley ears, cockscomb flowers and buttered flowers. In early morning of the first day of the Tibetan year the people in their rich dresses, with Droso-chema in their hands, visit their relatives and friends and exchange greetings. The following few days, they sing and dance, drink wines together with their relatives and friends or go to the nearby monastery to pay their respects to the Buddha. Festival atmosphere is everywhere.

Shoton Festival in Lhasa

The first day of the seventh month of the Tibetan year is the Shoton Festival, or the Yogurt Banquet Festival, which falls in August. When the lamas came back from their cultivation in mountains, they were welcomed by local people and their relatives with yogurt and had an outdoor banquet. Since the 17th century, opera performances have been given during the festival. Tibetan artists from different schools from various parts gather in Norbu Linka, Lhasa for opera performances and competitions for several days. At the same time, a ceremony for sunning Buddha will be held at the Drepung Monastery.

Saga Dawa Festival

Also known as the Festival for Releasing Living Things, during this festival, Tibetan people do not eat meat and kill any living things in the fourth month of the Tibetan year in order to concentrate their efforts on worshipping. A legend says on the 15th day of the forth month of the Tibetan year Sakyamuni was born, became a Buddha and died. On this day each year, the people will dress in their splendid attire and sing and dance and have a picnic or gathering in Linka.

Wangkor Festival

Held before they gather in their crops, for this festival the people express their wish for a good harvest. The festival lasts for one to three days. In splendid attire and having colorful flags in their hands, the people tie highland barley and wheatears into a bumper-harvest pagoda with khatag scarves. Then they walk around their fields while beating drums and gongs and singing songs before a horse racing. After the festival they begin to harvest their crops.

Worshipping Festival

On the fourth day of the sixth month of the Tibetan year, it is the festival of the people in the U areas. During this festival, the people in their festival attire and with their food go to famous monasteries nearby to pay their respects to Buddha and chant scriptures. After that they have a happy outing and do not go home before the sunset.

Sorcerer’s Dance Festival

On the 29th day of the 12th months of the Tibetan year, the monasteries in various places will hold a grand ceremony to drive off devils for the coming New Year. All the families will clean their houses and put on new decorations. People believe before the coming of the next year, all devils and dirt things should be cleared away in order to have a good weather for the crops, a happy life and good harvest in the next year.

Fairy Maiden Festival

Also known as the Mother of Heaven Festival, this festival falls on the 15th day of the 10th month of the Tibetan year. Women believe this festival is their own festival and are active in all kinds of activities.

Dama Festival in Gyangze

On the 18th day of the fourth month of the Tibetan year or in May or June, the farmers and herdsmen in Gyangze (or those from Yadong, Xigaze and businessmen even from Lhasa) gather in Gyangze for horse racing, archery competitions, singing and dancing, amusements and exchanging goods and materials. (This festival was originated in 1408.)

Buttered Sculpture Festival

This festival is held on the 15th day of the first month of the Tibet year. During the festival, lamas form various monasteries and folk artists make colorful buttered sculptures in the shapes of flowers, immortals, figures, birds and animals. They hang these sculptures onto the flower frames in the Jokhang Monastery. In the evening, they ignite these butter oil lamps. During the festival, there are puppet performances.

Kyangqen Horse Racing Festival in Qangtang

On August 10, this festival is the most magnificent in north Tibet. In the golden season of grassland, tens of thousands of herdsmen form various parts of Tibet come to Nagchu on their horses with various kinds of goods and materials. They put up tents in the southern part of Nagchu Town. During the festival, there are exciting horse racing and archery contests and horsemanship performances.

Goinbo Festival in Nyingchi

This festival falls on the first day of the 10th month of the Tibetan year or in November or December. A legend says in the old times the king of Goinbo led his forces to resist invaders. In memory of heroic soldiers, the people in Goinbo offered sacrifices and kept watch at night. Later the memorial activities developed into the Goinbo Festival. During the festival, there are dances, horse racing and archery competitions, exchanges of goods and materials, drinking wine and singing.

Gahden-Namgye (Illumination) Festival

This festival falls on the 25th day of the 10 month of the Tibetan year or in November or December. A legend says it was the day on which the great reformer and the founder of the Yellow Sect Tsongkhapa achieved his attainment in cultivation. During this festival, the people ignite their numerous lamps on the roofs of their houses and chant scriptures to pay their respects to Tsongkhapa.

Bathing Festival

This one-week festival falls in the seventh month of the Tibetan year or in September when the Venus appears. During this week, the water is believed more pure and cleared for washing off dirt on their body and curing any diseases they have in order to have a good health. The Tibetan people in various parts have bath, wash their clothes and play in the rivers and lakes.