Sixteen taboos in travelling to Tibet

1. In Tibetan-inhabited areas you will occasionally see red, yellow, and green cloth tied to cows and sheep. Remember, do not chase them.

They are sacrificial offerings of Tibetan people.

Do not aim a shotgun at an eagle, for eagles are Tibetan people’s sacred bird. 

2. Do not enter a monastery without permission. If permitted for entry, do not touch the Buddha images and scriptures and do not take photographs without permission.

Do keep quiet in a monastery, especially during a religious ceremony.

Please watch out that in some areas you are not supposed to walk in a counter-clockwise direction, and women are prohibited from entering some monasteries.  

3. No smoking in monasteries for lamas are prohibited from smoking.

However, in rural areas there are some women and even young girls who smoke. When you are asking help or drinking tea, cigarettes can be offered as a matter of courtesy.   

4. Do not step on the threshold when entering a Tibetan’s tent or house.

Do not spit in front of other people.  

5. Attention! Tibetans stick out their tongues to show respect, not to ridicule; hands clasped together is a gesture of etiquette. 

6. Do not touch a Tibetan’s head. In traditional Tibetan culture, only high lamas and elders are allowed to do this.   

7. You’d better postpone your visit to Tibet if you are sick with a cold because it is harder to recover on plateau. What’s more, the high altitude might cause serious pulmonary edema and other complications. Prepare some cold and gastrointestinal medicine in advance. 

8. You’d better take some external nasal ointment and throat lubrication tablets when entering Tibet.

The climate on the Plateau is dry, with lower level of oxygen and air pressure. The medicine can help relieve nose and throat discomfort caused by dryness.  

9. A sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreens are essential due to strong ultraviolet rays on the Plateau.  

10. Please conduct yourself in a respectful manner if you come across a sky burial practice.

The Tibetan people do not want outsiders to watch this ceremony for their relatives, and the local governments as well as travel agencies do not encourage travelers to watch this purposively. 

11. Do not buy the fur of wild animals, horns of wild Tibetan antelopes, or skulls of wild yaks, etc. If you do this, you are a supporter of wildlife poaching.   

12. Do not pay locals to take their photograph, and do not force them if they do not wish to be photographed.   

13. When addressing Tibetan friends, you can use the term “la” at the end of their names.

“La” is an honorific signifying respect in Tibetan, especially if you are meeting someone for the first time. Do not address someone without using an honorific, as this is very impolite.  

14. When visiting a Tibetan in his home, please sit cross-legged with your back upright, do not orient the soles of your feet towards another person, and do not glance around, either.

And remember, men sit to the left while women sit to the right. 

15. If you see a pile of fire burning in front of a doorway or twigs inserted into the doorway with a red cloth tied above, do not drop in for there must be a sick person in the family.  

16. Do not use paper imprinted with Tibetan script to wipe things.