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Tibet Customs and Traditions

The customs and traditions on the roof of the world are unique due to the great influence of Tibetan Buddhism. Before you travel to Tibet, you may know that Tibetan people have a distinctive culture in terms of greeting, etiquette, marriage, gathering, and more.

Tibetan Form of Greetings

Tashi Delek is a common greeting word in Tibet. Tashi means auspicious and Delek means good. It contains the best wishes such as good health and fortune. This simple Tibetan greeting word can not only shorten the distance between two people but also eliminate the feeling of strangeness. In Tibet, if someone says Tashi Delek to you, you should reply "Tashi Delek Shu (falling tone on Shu). Besides, some older Tibetan people even stuck out their tongues during the greeting, which is also a way to show welcome and sincerity.

Another interesting practice amongst Tibetans is presenting Khatag to their guests. A Khatag is a white woven scarf and offering it to guests, family members, seniors, and even deities is a popular tradition in Tibet. It is considered a practice of hospitality and respect.

All of the new arrival guests will be presented Khata.

Etiquettes to Visit Religious Sites

Since Tibet is known for the spread of Buddhism and is a significantly religious region, your tour will be incomplete without visiting Buddhist monasteries and other religious sites.

If you are visiting a monastery, ensure to take off your hat while entering the temple. Taking off the shoes is not expected from foreigners, but doing so would be a good gesture.

Since the monks inside are chanting their religious mantras, the tourists are expected to stand quietly while they look around the room. Even the way you look around is important as you are required to walk around in a clockwise manner. If it is a Bon monastery, you should move in an anti-clockwise manner.

Take extra care while looking at that you do not touch anything or enter any rooms that seem to be out of bounds. Most of the time, monks are in a process of ‘retreat’ and opening the doors may distract their prayers. Photography inside the temples is not allowed, so avoid taking pictures inside the temple.

You will visit Buddhist monasteries and other religious sites in Tibet.
You will visit Buddhist monasteries and other religious sites in Tibet.

Eating Manners

Etiquettes of eating in Tibet are given a lot of importance. If you are having a meal with the Tibetan locals, make sure that you are not eating a lot in one bit. When having a meal in a Tibetan home, make sure you are sitting crosslegged without gazing around the household. Also, ensure that you are quiet when eating.

Drinking Manners

When a Tibetan host offers you a cup of wine, you should first dip your ring finger in it and then flick the wine towards the sky and the ground. This is a sort of expression of respect to heaven, earth, and ancestors. Then take a sip gently, and the host will fill it up in time. You should take another sip and the host will fill it up again, until the fourth time, you should drink it up. This is a conventional rule, otherwise, the guest is not considered polite and looks down upon the host.

Dressing in Tibet

The Tibetans' way of dressing is quite decent which indicates wearing short skirts, short frocks, and extra small length shorts in Tibet is a big no. Wearing such attire will automatically make the natives feel that you are a tourist who has no respect for their culture. As a sign of respect, you should also avoid taking pictures of the natives without their permission.

Cultural Dance in Tibet

If you get the opportunity to participate in a cultural Tibet dance, don’t back out. Tibetan cultural dances are simple and vary according to region.

Guoxie or circle dance is mainly famous in rural Tibet where men and women stand in a circle and hold hands. At festivals, people dance from sunset to sunrise.

Guoxie Dance
Guoxie Dance

Duixie or tap dance is another famous dance in Tibet, accompanied by stringed instruments and a leader in between the gatherers.

Zhuoxie or drum dance is popular in Lhasa, Xiagaze, and Lhoka. Tibet also observes Mask Dance, Ghost Dance, and Guozhuang Dance, representing the local customs of Tibet.

Tibetan Tea Culture

The butter tea and sweet milk tea are the most famous traditional Tibetan teas. When having butter tea with the natives, you should avoid taking the cup on your own. Once the host offers you a cup of tea, accept it with both hands and bow down to show respect. The guests should also be aware of how they accept or offer any items like tea, cigarettes, etc. When handing out something, you should offer the item with both hands while bowing down.

Tibetan butter tea
Tibetan butter tea

Tibetan Sky Burial

Celestial Burial or Sky Burial is the most common burial in Tibetan Buddhism. It has been the most widespread burial for commoners for centuries.

In Sky Burial, the corpse is handed over to vultures or “Sky Dancers,” who are believed to take the soul of a corpse to the heavens. This spiritual tradition may arise curiosity among you if you are not Tibetan.

However, you need to remember that the funeral party is only allowed relatives and friends to present at the burial and they strongly oppose the visits by curious people.

sky burial
Celestial burial scene

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