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Dangers & Annoyances in Tibet

The photos in tourist brochures and the enthusiasm of many writers about the “romance” of a visit to the roof of the world neglect to point out the hazards of travel there.  It’s not just the obvious cold, though that is a major danger for the unprepared.  At altitude, the oxygen level is so low it could prove fatal to the elderly, unfit or travellers with respiratory illness (even a cold).  We don’t want to discourage you; there is romance and unique beauty in Tibet, but we do want you to return with only good experiences to share. More than any other travel destination in China, constant awareness of your personal safety is essential in Tibet.  The unique social situation, with occasional religious and political unrest, the extremes of weather and climatic conditions and the exceptional geography are all good reason to go prepared.
  • Dogs
There are many dogs in almost every temple or monastery in Tibet. They depend on the food scraps from the temples for their living. These dogs are generally tame and have rarely been known to attack people, so don’t be frightened when you see them as they are a part of the place.

However, you should exercise caution with all dogs; they are unlikely to respond well to attempts to be friendly, and under no circumstances should you feed or try to pat them.  If they become aggressive or a nuisance, hurling a few rocks in their direction will let them know you are not in the mood for company, while flourishing a hefty stick should deter any particularly determined individuals. The potentially most dangerous dogs belong to remote homesteads or nomad encampments.
  • Thefts
When you go shopping along the city streets in Tibet, you should pay attention to your purses and belongings. Thieves commonly hang around the prosperous regions such as Potala Square, Barkhor Street and shopping malls.  Wear shoulder bags with the carry-strap diagonally across your chest, not hanging from one shoulder; this prevents thieves on motor-bikes from snatching handbags.  Always keep one hand on a camera or other portable valuables.
In order to avoid the displeasure and inconvenience caused by property loss, it is a good idea to deposit your valuables at the reception desk of your hotel.
  • Beggars
Tibet has a long tradition of begging for alms. If you give money to the beggars (and the choice is entirely yours), it is much safer to keep some small change in a pocket rather than open your wallet or purse in public.
  • Water in the Lake
Do not drink the water in the lake, even if it is clear enough to see the bottom. The local people say that after drinking the water from some lakes, people may experience serious long term health problems, not just a minor upset stomach. So please be cautious at all times and pay attention to the advice from your guides.
By contrast, please note that thawed snow is usually quite safe to drink.  
  • Wild Animals
When hiking away from settled areas, you should keep well away from wild animals. Although they may not appear threatening and might present a cute and cuddly appearance, it does not mean it is not dangerous to get close to them; they are wild, so are unpredictable.  Even a nip from a small animal could result in a medical problem sufficient to ruin your holiday.