Hidden behind the majestic Himalayas and rising nearly 5 km. above sea level, Tibet is a land unlike any other country with a magical realm of vast open spaces, clear light and pure color, dominated by intense blue sky. While other remote corners of the world fell to inevitable modernization, this vast mountain-locked land was left for centuries to develop a unique civilization of its own on the “Roof of the World”. Isolated by formidable barriers and guarded by its government, the Tibetan capital of Lhasa was truly a “Forbidden City”. Few westerners met the challenge, but the tales they returned with tantalized the imagination of the world.
Tibet was the epitome of all that was magical, mysterious and unknown. A century ago, a visit to Tibet required strength, courage and a good deal of luck, but today this remote destination is accessible from a modern airport or an overland highway from Nepal. This journey begins below the Himalayas and ends on the highest plateau of the world. Since the 8th Century Tibet has been devoutly Buddhists, merging with the influence of Indian Buddhism, Tantra and the indigenous religion called Bonpo thus creating a complex synthesis of beliefs.
Tibetan Buddhism has generated centuries of impressive arts and architecture. Visits to monasteries are an integral part of a visit to Tibet. Deeply religious, Tibetan are an open, spontaneous people with a good sense of humour. Lhasa, the capital city, is also the cultural and economic center of Tibet where you find the magnificent Potala Palace (Winter Palace of his Holiness the Dala Lama), the holiest Jokhang Temple, Drepung and Sera Monasteries, which once had 18,000 monks and Norbulinkha (Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama).
By some measures, Hinduism is practiced by a larger majority of people in Nepal than in any other nation. Buddhism, though a minority faith in the country, is linked historically with Nepal as the birthplace of the Buddha. About half of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
A monarchy throughout most of its history, Nepal was ruled by the Shah dynasty of kings from 1768, when Prithvi Narayan Shah unified its many small kingdoms. In 2006, however, a decade-long People’s Revolution by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) along with several weeks of mass protests by all major political parties of Nepal culminated in a peace accord, and the ensuing elections for the constituent assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of the abdication of the last Nepali monarch Gyanendra Shah and the establishment of a federal democratic republic in May 28, 2008. The first President of Nepal, Ram Baran Yadav, was sworn in on 23 July 2008.