Be Prepared for the Public Toilets
I had not expected, to see the sad state of public toilets at the tourist spots (monasteries), in particular at the Potala Palace. However they are more or less the same everywhere, basically a hole in the ground or possibly a trough. I would advise that you bring your own toilet paper and prepare to hold your breath!
One pleasant surprise, at the viewing spot at Yamdrok Lake, they are in the process of installing new (modern sit-down) toilets (actually I don't believe there are any toileting facilities, there, at present).
not take a regular bus unless...
not take a regular bus unless there is no other choice. Always try to take a ride.(Actually I mean when travelling in Tibet) I sang with the highest pitch in my life. I did not know how. it just came out of me. I was appaled by myself.
Nowadays, in order to travel...
Nowadays, in order to travel to Tibet you have to join a group with a guide. The Chinese government prefers tourists to join a tour group, although it doesn’t admit that Tibet is closed to individuals. Moreover, rules are changing constantly. If you are at least five people travelling together, you can ask a Chinese travel agency to arrange a specific itinerary. Otherwise, if you travel alone, you have to chose between four and eight days trips, and your itinerary will be pre-planned and restricted. Once in Lhasa, you can split from the group and spend some more days by your own. In this case you need a visa extension. Travelling solo could be quite complicated, requiring extra time, extra visas, extra money and patience to arrange any excursion outside the main towns. Get information about public bus could be almost impossible and you may need to obtain a permit before buying a bus ticket. If you have enough money, you can pay a local tour company to obtain the permits to take you almost everywhere, but it may be very expensive and you have to be accompanied by guide and driver all the time. And the guide could be Chinese! Bear in mind that you are in a Chinese ruled country, with heavy Chinese bureaucracy. Many of their rules are a clear attempt by Chinese authorities to control the movement of foreign tourist, in order to limit their contacts with locals. Don’t forget that you could place yourself and Tibetans at great risk if you ask sensitive questions or stay with them. Also, if you are found by the police making political statements, you will place any Tibetans, that you have talked to, in a very real danger. Our Tibetan guide beg us not to ask any question about political and religious matter, when we were in a public place.
Politics and Responsible Travel
Don't try and talk politics to local people if they don't want to.
Tibetans can get 20 years in prison for this. It is a counter revolutionary crime. For example Yulu Dawa Tenzin was jailed for 20 years specifically for talking of independence with a foreign tourist. Even if people do want to talk, this may be due to a misplaced idea that you are a journalist or similar. Be sensitive to this.
There was a story a few years ago: Someone in India encouraged people to go to Tibet and "collect evidence" Acting on this, a tourist tried to record an interview with a nun in a muslim-owned tea-house opposite the Snowlands Hotel. The ever present police-spy called his masters and a police raid was staged. The poor nun was dragged away to [I assume] imprisonment and torture. The tape recorder was snatched for evidence and the feckless tourist was left to ponder on it all, free to go home...but doubtless unable to sleep at night.
Inspite of stories such as the one above, some people are alarmingly eager to tell you of their plight. In doing so they are taking a great risk, but are also putting a certain burden onto the listener: It might be flattering to have someone risk torture just to talk to you, and it might make a good adventure story for the folks back home, but the person is telling you all this in the hope that you will actually do something. The subleties of the political situation can be hard to grasp. Ask yourself what is really going on. On the surface, things look almost normal. Life goes on. It is not easy if you don't speak so much Tibetan. Before you go, read up on Tibet, its history and politics. This is far better than reading it when you get back, wondering what it was all about.
As a tourist you are very very unlikely to be endangered if there should be a demonstration.
Drepung - the climb up
Drepung is scattered over a large area on a hillside, some 8 miles west of Lhasa. To reach the main palace and assembly hall, you need to climb the kora (pilgrim circuit) up through the winding path. Along the way, you will come across various rock carvings, depicting the founder of the Yellow Hat Sect (or just representations of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum); see pilgrims turning the many prayer wheels positioned along the route; notice peaches hanging from the trees (not ripe while we were there); and you can even play with the rabbits bred by the nuns who reside in the hillsides (see separate tip). The climb is not arduous, but can easily take your breath way because of the altitude.