A glimpse of the holy city
the tourist distributing center of Tibet
Lhasa, literally means the Place of the Gods, is hidden deep in the spectacular Himalayan Mountains (altitude: 3,700 meters). It is a treasure trove of brilliant palaces, monasteries and temples. The symbol of Tibet, the dominating red and white Potala Palace is the first sight you will see when you enter the holy city Lhasa. For Tibetan people, Lhasa is the holiest city in the world. Every day, travelers and locals rub shoulders on the exotic Barkhor Street to walk the scared “kora”. Jokhang Temple, the spiritual center of Tibet, keeps the most important treasure of Tibet – Jowo Rinpoche, the life-sized (5 foot/1.5m) image of the Shakyamuni at the age of 12 which was said to be created according to the description of the wet nurse of Shakyamuni. Lhasa also has several the most infuluential monasteries in Tibet – Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Ganden Monastery, Tsurphu Monastery, etc.
Top Lhasa Attractions and Activities
The holy city Lhasa is famous for its beautiful landscapes, thousand-years-old history, unique Tibeatan culture, sunshine & blue sky and friendly local people. The most outstanding highlight is its magnificent palace and temples, such as the famous Polata Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street, Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, and Norbulingka. The miraculous and beautiful Namtso Lake is about half-day driving from the city. Besides the diverse cultural and scenic sights, you will also have chance to explore authentic Tibetan culture, such as Tibet food cooking, Princess Wenchen Show, etc. Basically you can spend about 2~3 days to visiti all thse famous attractions in Lhasa. Check all Lhasa attractions and all Lhasa activities.
Potala Palace, regarded as landmark and the symbol of Tibet, is a great giant palace consisting of many houses, towers, chapels, etc. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Potala Palace is the highest (in altitude) palace in the world. Because of its spectacular architecture style, it is honored as one of the most beautiful architectural buildings in the world. As the historic ensemble of Lhasa, Potala Palace, together with the exceptional Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka is the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Namtso Lake, located in the northwest of Lhasa is the highest saltwater lake in the world with an altitude of 4718 meters. As the second largest saltwater lake in China (next to Qinghai Lake), it covers an area of 1,920 square kilometers, with 70 kilometers in length from east to west and 30 kilometers in width from south to north. In Tibetan, Namtso means Heavenly Lake, so it is also considered as one of the three holy lakes in Tibet, together with Yamdrok Lake and Lake Manasarovar.
Jokhang Temple (or Jokhang Monastery) is the spiritual center of Tibet and the holiest destination for all Tibetan pilgrims. It is listed in the World Cultural Heritages with Potala Palace and Norbulingka. Situated at the heart of the old town of Lhasa and surrounded by Barkhor Street, this 4 storied building, built in the 7th century by Songtsan Gambo with roofs covered with gilded bronze tiles, demonstrates a combination of the architectural style of Han, Tibet, India and Nepal, as well as a Mandala world outlook of Buddhism.
Barkhor Street located in Lhasa downtown is a popular circumambulation for pilgrims and commercial center. As a public square around Jokhang Temple, it is a polygon, connected by different streets and laneways, with a total length of over 1000 meters. Being “a saint road” in the eyes of Tibetan, you can feel the local spiritual belief by seeing different pilgrims from all over Tibet with different dresses and dialects to pray devoutly along Barkhor Street. Like a miniature of Lhasa, it shows you another aspect of the Tibetan material life.
Ganden Monastery is one of the earliest and largest Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. With over 600 years of history for building in 1409 by Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug Sect, it stands atop of the six famous temples of Gelugpa, and also known as one of the Three Great Temples, together with the Sera Monastery and the Drepung Monastery. In the meaning of happiness and contentedness in Tibetan, Ganden Monastery is the main dwelling of successive Gelug abbots and their tombs were built into pagodas for over 90 numbers.
Norbulingka Palace, on the west edge of Lhasa city is the biggest manmade garden in Tibet Autonomous Region. Nearby Potala Palace, Norbulingka, in Tibetan, refers to “Park of Treasure” and used to be the summer palace of Dalai Lamas to deal with government issues and hold religious activities. As one part of the historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, it was added to World Heritage Sites in 2001.
Drepung Monastery is one of the three great Gelukpa monasteries, along with Sera Monastery and Ganden Monastery. As the largest monastery of Tibet constructed in 1416, there were totally 10,000 monks once lived here in the peak times, Drepung Monastery plays an important role in Tibet Buddhism. Located on the Gambo Utse Mountain, it has a magnificent complex of white buildings dotted around the hillside. The Ganden Potrang, once the residence for Dalai Lamas (1-5th) before the 5th Dalai Lama built Potala Palace, is the most featured historical building here, which makes Drepung Monastery enjoys the highest status among Tibet monasteries.
Nyemo Tunba (尼木吞巴) Scenic Area, a small village in Nyemo County is the birthplace of Tibetan Incense and famous for the hometown of Thonmi Sambhota, the creator of Tibetan Characters. Enjoying a superior geographic location by the side of 318 National Highway between Lhasa to Shigatse, Nyemo Tunba still keeps a natural way to make incense and this intact craftsmanship can trace back to 1300 years ago, which is listed into state-level intangible cultural heritage. Besides, in Tunba village you can also experience a profound humanity atmosphere by visiting the first Tibetan Characters Museum to suck up the local culture and trace back to Sontzen Gampo period to enjoy the literal glamour.
Reting Monastery with over 900 years of history is the first Kadampa monastery built by Atisha’s chief disciple Dromtonpa in 1056. Reformed by Tsongkhapa, it changed into Gelugpa temple in the later year. Since the 18th century, its abbot was called Reting Rinpoche, some of them were played an important role in Tibetan history and China’s unification, making this monastery a significant political status in Tibet China. Comparing with other monasteries, here you can hear more historical events, even related to Dalai Lamas. About 2 hours driving, Reting Monastery is situated in a placid valley of a small village with green-clad plants around.
Useful Lhasa Travel Notes
1. How to Plan Lhasa Travel
Lhasa, literally means the Place of the Gods, is hidden deep in the spectacular Himalayan Mountains (altitude: 3,700 meters). It is a treasure trove of brilliant palaces, monasteries and temples. The symbol of Tibet, the dominating red and white Potala Palace is the first sight you will see when you enter the holy city Lhasa. For Tibetan people, Lhasa is the holiest city in the world. Every day, travelers and locals rub shoulders on the exotic Barkhor Street to walk the scared “kora”. Jokhang Temple, the spiritual center of Tibet, keeps the most important treasure of Tibet – Jowo Rinpoche, the life-sized (5 foot/1.5m) image of the Shakyamuni at the age of 12 which was said to be created according to the description of the wet nurse of Shakyamuni. Lhasa also has several the most influential monasteries in Tibet – Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Ganden Monastery, Tsurphu Monastery, etc.
2. Necessary Permits for Visiting Shigatse Prefecture
When you travel in Shigatse Prefecture, you will need several specific permits. There are two situations: 1) If you just explore Shigatse City, Gyantse Town, Sakya Town, you only need two permits – Tibet Travel Permit and Alien Travel Permit; 2) If you travel beyond Lhatse to Mount Everest or Kathmandu, you will need three permits – Tibet Travel Permit and Alien Travel Permit. Besides these permits, you must have valid passport and Chinese visa.
3. High Altitudes in Shigatse Prefecture
The attitudes differ by regions in Shigatse Prefecture – Gyantse (4050m), Shigatse City (3950m), Tingri (4300m), Sakya Monastery (4300m), Rongbuk Monastery (4980m), EBC (5200m), and Mount Everest (8848m). Generally speaking, the attractions in Shigatse will be higher than Lhasa. We suggest you spend some days in Lhasa first for acclimatization, then travel to Shigatse city, even Mount Everest. According to our years’ experience, most travelers had acclimatized themselves very well to the altitudes in Shigatse after the orientation in Lhasa. The biggest challenge occurs in Mount Everest where travelers usually spend a night. You may suffer slightly from high altitude sickness in the arrival night but most travelers can make it through. Your tour operator will also prepare oxygen supply for emergency use.
4. Packing and Wearing Ideas for Shigatse Travel
Remember to pack and wear for high plateau travel. Keep warm and protect yourself from the harsh natural power is the biggest thing to concern. You are suggested to dress in layers (both thin and thick jackets). If you want to go to Mount Everest, a down jacket is also recommended. A pair of gloves is also helpful for possible snow at Mount Everest. You should also bring rain gear if you travel in July and August. The ultraviolet light is quite strong, so you have to bring sunglasses, snow glasses, hats, lip balm, sunblock to protect yourself from sunburn. If you want to have a trek on Mount Everest, you have to wear trekking shoes and clothing and pack trekking and camping gear.