The Holy city of Lhasa is the heart and soul of Tibet, the abode of the Dalai Lamas, and an object of devout pilgrimage. This is not only because of it remoteness, its high altitude of 3700 meters means limited accessibility, but also because of its impressive heritage of over a thousand years of cultural and spiritual history that helped to create romance and mystery.
Lhasa is situated in the south-central part of the region and the North bank of the Kyi-chu River in a mountain-fringed valley. The ancient sprawling city settled 1300 years ago, cover 30,000 Sq.km, with a population of 40,000 of which 85 percent are Tibetans. The urban population is 200.000.
While the Potala Palace serves as a symbolic focus for Tibetan hopes for self-government, it is the Jokhang Temple, some 2km to the west of the Potala Palace, that is the spiritual heart of the city. There are some major tourist sights in Lhasa which are given as follows:
The Potala, one of the most famous architectural works of China, is erected on top of the Red Hill in Lhasa. The word “Potala” comes from Sanskrit. It is a huge treasure house for materials and articles on Tibetan history, religion, culture, and arts. The Potala Palace was declared the United Nations World Cultural Heritage site.
One of the architectural wonders of the world, this huge construction is 13 stories tall and contains literally thousands of rooms. The layout of the Potala Palace includes the white Palace( the eastern part of the building), for living quarters of the Dalai Lama, and the Red Palace (the central building rising above) for religious functions, the most stunning chapels of the Red Palace house the jewel-bedecked Chorten tombs of previous Dalai Lamas.
The entrance gate of the Palace is from the northern side, accessible by road and exit via the southern gate. Pilgrims visit in the other direction and are most numerous on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when they are admitted free of charge. Photography is not allowed inside the palace.
The palace open from 09:30 am- 13:00 pm ; 15:00pm-18pm and entrance fee is RMB 100 per person.
Situated in the center of the old section of Lhasa, Jokhang Temple built in the mid-7th century A.D. and later extended by successive rulers has now become a gigantic architectural complex. Located in the east, facing to the west, it is a four-storeyed temple with splendid golden roofs. It has the architectural features of the Tang Dynasty and also assimilated very many features from both Nepalese and Buddhist temples. The murals in the temple mainly depict the life stories of historic characters. The temple houses many historical relics since the Tang Dynasty and statues of King Songsten Gampo, Princess Wenchen, Princess Bhrikuti Devi.
This temple opens all day and at 1400 hrs novice monks meet on the balcony of the second floor to debate doctrine.
Entrance fee: RMB 70 per person.
About 3 kilometers west of the Potala Palace is the Norbulingka, the former summer residence of the Dalai Lama. This beautiful garden was first built in the middle 18th century. The pleasant park contains several palaces and chapels, the highlight of which is the New Summer Palace.
The best time to visit this place is during festivals and public holidays. This place opens from Monday to Saturday and the entrance fee is RMB 70 per person.
Bakhor is essentially a pilgrim circuit that proceeds clockwise around the periphery of Jokhang Temple. Bakhor is the oldest street in Lhasa. It is an old place with colorful Tibetan features. It is a place where Tibetan culture, economy, religion, and arts assemble and a place to which a visit must be paid. This is a famous shopping place nowadays. All the houses along the streets are stores and all kinds of fantastic goods show us all aspects of Tibetan life. Thankas, Copper Buddha, Prayer Wheels, Butter lamps, Prayer flags with sutras, beads, Tibetan joss sticks, daily household good,s and many products for tourists can be found on the street.
This monastery is situated five-kilometer distance from the western suburb of Lhasa at the foot of Mt. Ganpoi Uze. Drepung Monastery was founded in 1416 by Jamyang Choje, a disciple of Tsongkapa, the founder of the Gelugpa Sect. The Monastery occupying an area of 250,000 Sq.meters with a fixed number of 7700 is the largest monastery in Tibet. The Monastery keeps plentiful historical relics, Buddhists scriptures, arts and crafts.
Drepung Monastery is easily reached by bike, although most people take a minibus from the west side of Barkhor Square. Drepung, Sera, and Ganden Monasteries functioned as the ‘three pillars of the Tibetan State.’
About five-kilometer north of Lhasa, this monastery was founded in 1419 by a disciple of Tsongkapa. This monastery is erected grandly at a mountain slope with colorful architecture. Now about 600 monks are residing, well down from an original population of around 5000 monks. This monastery is also easily reached by bike or minibus from central Lhasa.
Located in Taktse Country, founded in 1409 by Tsongkapa, the founder of Gelugpa Sect, it is the earliest of the three great monasteries in Tibet. This Monastery is about 40 kilometers east of Lhasa. Approx. 400 monks have now returned and extensive reconstruction is underway. The monastery remains an active pilgrimage site and has a stunning location with an elevation of 4500m.
Pilgrim buses leave for Gandan Monastery often at 7 am from the west side of Barkhor Square.
Located about 30 km west of Tsetang, on the opposite bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo(Brahmaputra) River, this monastery was founded in AD 775 by King Trisong Detsong and belongs to the Nyingmapa and Sakyapa Sect. It is the first monastery ever built in Tibet. It is said that the monastery was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt three hundred years as the residence of the 6th Dalai Lama.
To reach Samye monastery, minibusses are easily available from Barkhor Square. Morning bus leaves at 7 am and drop at the Samye ferry crossing point. After crossing the ferry, the tractor or truck will carry about 9 kilometers to get Samye. When river levels are low, we can find buses running directly to the monastery via the bridge east of Tsetang.
It is the biggest Gelugpa monastery in the Tsang region in Tibet. It is located in the town of Shigatse and was founded by Gedun Drup, a disciple of Tsongkapa. It was formerly built in 1447 and continuously expanded by successive Panchen Lamas.
Tashilunpo Monastery represents the Tibetan super architecture art in the Last Tibetan spirit. The monastery attracts thousands of Buddhists and tourists from domestic and abroad to travel and worship every year.
This monastery is situated at the west part of Shigatse city and this is within walking distance from the main city. This monastery opens from 08:00 to 16:00. There is free entrance at Tibetan festival time.
Located in Sakye country, the monastery stands two parts on either side of Dongchu River. This monastery is the center of the Sakaypa Sect. (White Earth Order). The northern part of the monastery was built in the year 1079 and the southern was founded in 1268 by a famous abbot of Sakya named Pagpa who once had ruled the whole of Tibet under the Yuan Dynasty’s supervision. The monastery has great influence over Tibetan history and cultural development.
This monastery is a “must” for visitors to Tibet. It can be reached by taking the bus from the Shigatse to Sakya. The bus leaves on 7/8 morning and takes five hours to reach.
Located in the Shalu village, about 20 kilometers south of Shigatse. Shalu Monastery was built in the year 1040 by Jetsun Sherab Jungey. The monastery was named “Shalu” meaning “new bud” in Tibetan. The architecture of the monastery with a feature of completely Chinese Yuan Dynasty’s temple, is a rare and unique work of art, a mixed feature of Tibetan and Han.
The monastery enshrines various relics such as religious objects, Buddhists scriptures written on “pattra” leaves, and an important decree of Pagpa, the Sakya abbot.
Located in Gyantse and founded by jointly by Kedup Je of Gelugpa Sect and Rabten Kunsang of the Sakyapa Sect in 1418. Palkhor Monastery also named Palcho Monastery, is very different from other monasteries. This monastery has a special influence over Tibet’s Buddhism owing to its being a unity of three Sects, in one single monastery. The famous Kumbum pagoda stands nine story’s with its 108 doors and 77 chapels containing clay sculptures and various murals. The pagoda is said to have 100,000 images, either sculpture or painted, this also earns its name to 100,000- Image Pagoda.
It lies about 230 kilometers south of Lhasa and about 100 kilometers east of Shigatse at the foot of Dzong Hill. The Monastery opens from 09:00 to 16:00.
Situated in Nedong country of Lhoka Prefecture, Yumbu Lagang is said to be the first palace in Tibetan history and was built in the second century B.C. The palace, facing west stands lofty on top of a hill. Statues of the Three Periods of Buddha, Tibetan Kings Nyatri Tsenpo, Lha Tho-Ri Nyantsen, Tri Ralpachen, Songsten Gompo, and Trisong Detsen are enshrined in the palace.
This palace is located on the east bank of the Yarlung River, about five kilometers in the south from the Tradung country.
Yamdrok Tso Lake:
On the old road between Gyantse and Lhasa, the beautiful Yamdrok Tso Lake (4450m) can be seen from the summit of the Kamb-la Pass (4800m). Yamdrok Tso Lake, one of the three largest lakes of Tibet. The surface of the Lake, with its fathomless depth, covers some six hundred Square kilometers. To the interior of the lake, ten or so hilly islands stand independently one from the other which give homes to flocks of wild ducks. Fish in the lake is plentiful and tasty for diet. It enjoys equal popularity with Lake Namtso in the north of Tibet and Lake Manasarover in Ali, which are called “Holy Lakes” in the Tibetan Plateau. It’s a continental lake supplied with rain, thawing snow, and an iceberg.
In Tibetan, Namtso means ‘Heavenly Lake.’ It is considered one of the three holy lakes in Tibet. Namtso is famous for its high altitude (4900m) and is covered with vast areas of 950 square kilometers.
Namtso Lake is the biggest lake in Tibet. Meanwhile, it is the highest altitude saltwater lake in the world. The water here is a storybook crystal-clear blue. Clear skies join the surface of the lake in the distance, creating an integrated, scenic vista. The soul of every visitor who has ever been here seemed to be cleansed by the pure lake water.
Summer is the best time for Namtso Lake. Wild yaks, hares, and other wild animals leisurely look for food along the expansive lakeshores; countless migratory birds fly here to lay eggs and feed their young; sometimes lovely fishes in the lake jump out of the lake water, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine; sheep and cows herds are like flowing white blanks on the green grassland which can stretch as far as your eyes can see; the dulcet songs of Gauchos resound through the valleys. This time of the year Namtso Lake is full of life and activity. Therefore it is no wonder Tibetans take Namtso Lake as the symbol of goodliness and happiness. Really Namtso Lake is a blessing from nature. To get there is the best way to hire a jeep or bus from Lhasa.
Mt Kailash & Manasarovar Lake:
Mt.Kailash claimed to be the apex of the Hindu religious axis is also one of the highest mountains in Tibet at 22,022 feet, and Lake Manasarovar at 14,950 feet is said to be the highest freshwater lake in the world. Certainly, a difficult region to reach due to the variable and extreme weather conditions. The distance from Lhasa for example is approximately 2000 km.
Only during the last few years, many pilgrimages (Hindu, Buddhists, and Jain)and westerners have been able to experience this region. Road conditions are difficult much of the time and we have to make many preparations to ensure that we have a reasonable chance of reaching Kailash. We need to bring our own food and camping equipment. Basic lodges and tea-houses can be found but the plateau is so remote that it is possible to travel for several days without finding food available. To travel for days on this remote plateau with the chance encounters of nomads herding their sheep or yaks is to be transformed into another way of life, to see and become part of such a devout pilgrimage as shown by pilgrims around Mt. Kailas and Lake Manasarovar is to put some aspects of our western way of life into proper perspective.
Ruins of Guge Kingdom and Toling Monastery:
The Guge Kingdom is a wonder of Ngari. In the mid-nine century, the Tubo imperial court came to an end. The offspring of King Namdam established their own kingdom and Gyede Nyimagong became the King of Ngari. The second son of his three sons occupied Zarang and established the Guge Kingdom.
In the main ruins of the Guge Kingdom in Zarang, the destroyed city walls and the natural earthern forest exist harmoniously. More than 400 houses and 800 caves are scattered on the 300 meters high mountain slope. As the capital of the Guge Kingdom, the Zarang Ruins cover an area of 720,000 square meters, the second-largest building next to the Potala Palace.
Toling Monastery was a famous Buddhist temple in Tibet built in the 11th Century by the prince of the Guge Kingdom. In 1042, an Indian dignitary once gave sutra lectures here, greatly promoting the development of Buddhism in Ngari. The monastery is also a witness to the renaissance of Ngari’s Buddhism. Over one thousand deer antlers, pictographs, and hieroglyphics collected in the temple are of great archeological value.
One can visit this place from different route via Nepal (Simikot, travel to Yari, cross a high pass at Nara La and descend to Humla Karnali River to reach the border village of Hilsa and Khojarnath) and Tibet( Lhasa-Shigatse-Saga-Parayang-Manasarover-Darchen or Nepal-Tibet friendship border).