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Weather: In January, temperatures drop well below freezing at night in almost all of Tibet. During the day, it may feel nicely cool in Lhasa and even at such high places as Yamdrok Lake. It is dry, cold, and sunny generally.
Tibet’s severe winter weather is at its peak in January. It is quite windy, so there is added wind chill. Snow sometimes blocks the roads to attractions outside Lhasa in the north and west.
Lhasa is where most tourists arrive, and it is also one of the lowest Tibetan valleys that most tourists see. The average nightly low is -9 °C (15 °F), and the average daily high is 8 °C (46 °F). The 3,600 meter (12,000 feet) elevation and the 8 hours of sunshine a day might make it feel pleasant outside. Only 1 mm of snowfall generally falls on 1 day of the month usually. Check the Lhasa weather forecast>>
Clothing: For the temperature extremes due to changing altitudes and the nightly temperature drop, dress in layers with a coat, trousers, and long underwear. The UV radiation is intense, so a sun hat and sunglasses help. Many hotels and restaurants don't have central heating, so you might need to wear your coat even inside. Wear a heavy coat and gloves in the higher areas.
Altitude Sickness: Oxygen levels are much lower in Tibet. Many health issues are exacerbated, and most people experience altitude sickness. Seek health advice before going for the best experience, and acclimate before exertion or going higher than Lhasa. Tibet health suggestions>>
Tibet travel: The Nagchu prefecture north of Lhasa and the Ngari prefecture (Kailash area) in far west Tibet are extremely cold in the winter and are probably best visited at other times. Vehicular travel along the Friendship Highway to the southern border is generally possible.
Shigatse (3,900 meters): Shigatse is the second largest city west of Lhasa about six hours west of Lhasa. The highlights in Shigatse include Tashilhunpo. In January, the average high temperature is 6 °C (42 °F), and the average nightly low is -13 °C (9 °F).
Tashilhunpo Monastery: This big ancient monastery in Shigatse was founded in 1447. It sits against a rugged grey high mountain that makes for beautiful photographs against a blue and white sky. It was once a town of 5,000 monks.
Losar: Across Tibet, depending on the year, you might see Tibetans celebrating their new year holidays according to their calendar at the temples and in the towns. Tibetans have their own traditional new year holiday festivities and worship. Their new year day is often within three days of the Chinese New Year, but on some years, it is weeks off.
The Losar holidays are a colorful week of activities beginning the Monlan Festival and ending on the night of the full moon with the Butterlamp Festival. Tibetans enjoy ancient dramas, feasts, and traditional sports such as racing horses and wrestling. It is their most important religious holiday season.
Chinese New Year is the biggest national holiday. It falls in January about a third of the years. Chinese traditionally close shop and take a several day vacation starting from the evening of Chinese New Year's eve. You can enjoy the holiday food.
There are good reasons to visit Tibet in January. The cold and the desire to return home to visit during the Chinese New Year keeps most Chinese travelers away in January. Even during the Chinese New Year, there is only a small increase of Chinese tourism.
You'll have a more authentic Tibetan experience. Tibetan drokpas (nomads) come down to shelter in the winter, and Tibetans head for their temples to worship. Moreover, the prices for Lhasa hotel rooms, Shigatse hotel rooms and flight tickets are relatively low. Train tickets are easier to get. Let us help you arrange these by our experience.
If you are planning a Tibet tour, please see our popular Tibet tours below for inspiration: