Tibet developed a distinct culture due to its geographic and climatic conditions. Tibet culture is influenced by neighboring cultures from China, India, and Nepal, the Himalayan region’s remoteness and inaccessibility have preserved distinct local influences, and stimulated the development of its distinct culture. Tibetan people are the main ethnic group living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Under the profound influence of ancient Bon Religion and Tibetan Buddhism, unique folk customs and aesthetic taste took shape. Tourists can see the panorama of Tibetan culture through Tibetan history, arts, medicine, festivals, handicrafts, architecture, foods and drinks, etc.

History of Tibet

Tibetan civilization began near the Yarlung Zanbo River in present-day Tibet. A Tibetan kingdom was created in the sixth century AD. In the seventh century, the ruler Songtsen Gampo made Lhasa the capital of Tibet. While he ruled, the Tibetan laws, calendar, alphabet, and system of weights and measures were created. Princess Wenchen, his Chinese bride, came to Tibet in 641. She had a great effect on Tibetan culture.

Religion Culture

Over the centuries, Tibetan culture was influenced by both internal and external factors. Among them, the influence of the neighboring countries also played an important role in the development of Tibetan culture, including Nepal, India and Bhutan, China and Mongol. The introduction of the Buddhism from its origin country India had exerted a deep influence over the whole plateau. Since then Buddhism became indispensable part of the Tibetan culture. Gradually cultural variations came to exist due to the regional geographical and environmental distinction in different parts of the Tibet, generally the culture variation in Tibet can be described by Utsang(central and western Tibet), Kham (far-eastern part) and Amdo (northern part). Its geographical remoteness and inaccessibility once had isolated the region from the rest of the world and preserved its rich and indigenous culture without any influence from the outside world in the names of modernization. 

The religion of Tibet is mainly composed of the Bonismo, Tibetan Buddhism and folk religion, as well as Islam and Catholicism. There are more than 1700 Tibetan Buddhist temples in the Tibet Autonomous region, with about 46,000 monks and nuns living in the monasteries; about 88 Bon religion temples, more than 3000 monks, 93 living Buddhas and over 130,000 religious believers; And 4 mosques with more than 3000 followers of Islam; A Catholic church, more than 700 believers.

Monasteries and Temples in Tibet

Monasteries and temples are the main manifestation of Tibetan Buddhist culture, there are a lot of monasteries in Tibet. Buddhism is the essence of Tibet culture, and monasteries are the best place to experience Tibetan Buddhism culture. 

Main Monasteries and Temples in Tibet

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Tibetan Architecture

Tibetan architecture with its unique content and formation has met material and spiritual needs of local people, which can be classified into three groups, namely, temples, palaces, and housing.

Tibetan Monastery

There used to be thousands of monasteries in Tibet. Every family was expected to send at least one boy to a monastery. Tibetan monastery architectures are the places where local people hold religious activities and play an important role in their daily life. Tibetan monasteries are works of architectural, pictorial, decorative and landscape art. The most famous Tibetan monasteries include but not limited to: Jokhang Monastery, Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery in Lhasa, Tashihunpo Monastery in Shigatse and Palcho Choke Monastery in Gyantse, etc. Most of the monasteries were built against the mountains, therefore all buildings rise and lower with the terrain of the hills but in good order, forming a magnificent building complex. 

Tibetan Palace

Tibetan Palace buildings are the places where Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama handle affairs and divided into winter palace and summer palace. Those palaces and Buddha hall in temples belong to the highest level and have high similarity in eaves’ decoration. However, the walls of palaces are painted in yellow and white rather than red. Built in the times of King Songzan Gambo, Potala Palace in Lhasa has long been regarded as a symbol of Tibetan architectural art and cultural prosperity.

Tibetan Houses

  • Tent: Tents are indispensable to Tibetan herdsmen’s families. Tent material is usually cow hair, woven and stitched after spinning.
  • Flat-topped Blockhouse(平顶稠房): In rural areas, cities and towns, Flat-topped Blockhouse is commonly seen. The most authentic blockhouses are built with stones and some with civil engineering structures, characterized by warm in winter and cool in summer. Flat-topped Blockhouses are usually multi-storey buildings, the ground floor is generally used for livestock enclosure, the second floor for the bedroom and storage room, etc., the third floor can be used as a hall, of course, there are also one-storey houses.

Dietary Culture

Tibetans have their own unique food structure and eating habits, including Yak butter, tea, Tsampa, beef and mutton known as “four treasures” of Tibetan diet, besides, there are highland barley wine and various kinds of dairy products.

Tibetan Meal

Tibetan food is one of the schools of Chinese food series, with a long history and rich variety. Tibetan food is divided into three categories: staple food, dishes and soup. Tibetan food taste is light, mild, many dishes, in addition to salt and garlic, generally do not put spicy spices. In terms of eating meat, Tibetan taboo is more. Generally only eat beef and mutton, do not eat horses, donkeys, mules, especially do not eat dog. Fish, shrimp, snake, eel and other aquatic seafood food, in addition to some urban residents, people in agricultural and pastoral areas are generally not used to eat. With the improvement of social economy and cultural life, Tibetan food has been continuously improved and enriched in cooking techniques and eating forms.

Wine Culture

Tibet’s highland barley wine is directly brewed with highland barley, due to low degree, Tibetan people regardless of men and women, young and old like to drink, is a festival necessary. Tibetan drinking etiquette and customs are relatively rich, every time when Tibetans brew new wine, they must worship God first, and then toast to the elder in the family, finally the family can drink to heart’s content.

Tea Culture

Yak butter tea is an indispensable drink for Tibetans in Tibet. And making Yak butter tea is inseparable from butter, salt and tea. Yak butter is the cream extracted from cow’s milk and goat’s milk, and the best is the golden yellow yak butter extracted from summer yak’s milk. When Tibetans drink tea, they pay attention to the order of the elder and the young, the host and guest. Guests can not drink tea too quickly, generally, drinking three bowls of tea is most auspicious.

Ethnic Groups in Tibet

The permanent population of Tibet autonomous region includes the Han population, the Tibetan population and other ethnic minorities. The population of the Tibetan and other ethnic minorities takes for about 92%, among which, the Tibetan population accounts for about 90%, the population of other ethnic minorities is less than 2%. And the Han population accounts for about 8%.

Intangible Cultural Heritages and Its Inheritors in Tibet

With a large number of Tibetan people, Tibet has many intangible cultural heritages with strong Tibetan characteristics, including Tibetan Medicine, Tibetan Opera, Qiangmu Dance, Reba Dance, Guozhuang Dance, Xianzi Dance, Tibetan Ore and Pant Pigment Making Techniques, Tibetan New Year, etc. Every intangible cultural heritage has its inheritors, who play a vital role in the promotion and inheritance of culture.

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Ethnic Festivals

Tibet’s culture is unique in the world. Tibetan traditions have things to do with Tibetan Buddhism and its unique topography. There are over twenty festivals throughout the year in Tibet. The festivals are the time for people to get together, dancing and singing. Tibetan folk songs and dances are an indispensable part of every Tibetans’ life, especially during festivals or important events. Nowadays, the festivals also celebrated for folk-custom and entertainment.

Main Festivals in Tibet

Tibet Festival Tours

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