Lhasa is the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region and also one of the most populous. The city’s location upon the Tibetan Plateau also makes it one of the World’s highest with a general altitude of around 3,490m. The Plateau is beautifully surrounded by the monstrous Himalayan Mountains making it a breathtaking place to visit, though a challenging one.
Being in a remote area has made the Tibetan area almost untouched by tourism until quite recently. Its inaccessibility has not turned people away, but rather embedded a sense of curiosity in travellers. This along with the notable heritage, cultural and spiritual side of Tibet is what is attracting more and more foreigners to choose the off-the-beaten-track adventure when coming to China. Fortunately there has been an increase in the development of transportation to and from Tibet which enables people to access the area with more ease than ever before.
Although Lhasa and surrounding areas have become more accessible to the rest of the world, it still remains one of the most challenging places to travel to in China. Its tourism industry is still very young so a fair bit of planning should take place before visiting or at least be well prepared and ready yourself both mentally and physically for the journey ahead.
Getting to Lhasa is best done either by air or railway. There is the new Qingzang Railway that travels in and out of Lhasa which is also the world’s highest plateau railway. Traveling by train is often a tourist favourite as you get to enjoy the beautiful scenery on your way. However if you are wanting a more efficient mode of transport there is always the Lhasa Gonggar Airport which is approximately an hours car ride outside Lhasa’s central city. The airport connects Lhasa with several of China’s main cities.
The locals here in Lhasa are the Tibetan, Han and Hui people, while it is also home to several significant Tibetan Buddhist sites and a wealth of scenic sights. Although the Cultural Revolution left a fair few heritage sites damaged or destroyed, many have since been restored. To start off however, there is the wonderful sight of The Kyi River, known as the “Merry Blue Waves” to the locals. It is a river that flows through the southern part of the city through the snow-peaked mountains before emptying at Quxu. Its landscape is one of sheer natural beauty and should not be missed during your journey.
Other more cultural and historical sites include the Potala and Norbulingka Palaces as well as Jokhang Temple. The Potala Palace is probably the most well known site as it was the home of the consecutive Dalai Lamas right up until the 14th fled to India to escape the Tibetan uprising. The palace has since been converted and restored into a museum which visitors can enjoy. It has also been named a UNESCO heritage site and one of the more popular tourist destinations in Lhasa.
Another UNESCO heritage site is the Jokhang Temple which can be seen at Barkhor Square. It was constructed around the year 642 as a celebratory monument symbolising the marriage of the King of the time, Songsten Gampo, to a Chinese princess named Wencheng. The temple comprises of four stories beneath a bronze tiled roof. Within the complex are statues of the bride, the King and his two foreign brides who originated from China and Nepal. Again, it is a popular tourist destination and rightfully so.
The other palace is the Norbulingka Palace in western Lhasa which is surrounded by large garden grounds. While it is only a little distance away from the famous Potala Palace, it is definitely worth wondering down to check out, especially to glance at the grand gardens thought to be Tibet’s largest man-made garden. It used to be the Dalai Lama’s summer residence but since has been restored from damage and holds the annual Full Moon festival which usually lands around July or August.
Two other sites you can add to your itinerary include the Sera Monastery and the Tibet Museum. The Tibet Museum was only inaugurated recently and holds an excellent collection of artifacts conveying the Tibetan history. You will find the museum also close by the Potala Palace.
The best time to visit is generally between the months of March and October however travellers should pack for all seasons as although it can be quite warm during the day, it can cool down considerably in the evenings. Temperatures stay moderate and are not commonly extreme, however winter temperatures can dip into the negative degrees while summer usually stays below the 20°C mark.