The spiritual home of Tibetan Buddhism
Lhasa, which means "Land of the Gods", is the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and lies on the banks of the Lhasa River, in a valley created by the Himalaya mountain range. Rising high above the city atop the Red Mountain, sits the Potala Palace, which once served as the winter home of the Dalai Lama. Tibetan influence is still strong and it is not unusual to see traditionally dressed Tibetans engaged on a kora (a clockwise walk around the Jokhang Temple), and spinning prayer wheels. The western part of Lhasa is more ethnically Han Chinese in character, is busy and modern and looks similar to many other Chinese cities.
Here we have selected a few of the sights and experiences that you really should see on a visit to Lhasa.
In 1645, the Fifth Dalai Lama (1645-1693), feeling confined at Drepung Monastery, ordered the construction of a new structure that would accommodate his new role as both a religious and political leader. The Palace contains over 1,000 rooms divided into two main sections – Red (for religious functions) and White (for political functions). It was the main residence of the last Dalai Lama until 1959, the Palace has since been converted into a museum. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, we advise getting there early as there is a daily visitor quota which is sometimes met by mid-morning.
About 2km east of Potala Palace lies one of Tibet’s most revered and holiest site, the Jokhang Temple – the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists. Bustling with worshippers and filled with mystery a visit to the temple is an unrivalled experience it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
The quadrangle of streets surrounding the Jokhang is the Barkhor -one of Lhasa’s most interesting pilgrimage circuits. This area of the old town with 1,000 years of history is Lhasa’s spiritual heart and centre of the commercial district. Here you will find over 100 different shops, stalls and market stands selling things like rugs, jewellery, herbs, arts, crafts and foods
Norbulingka, or the “Treasure Park” in Tibetan, was formerly the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace. Construction began in the 1740’s in an area the Seventh Dalai Lama liked and often visited so the Qing magistrate had a palace built there, after a series of expansions and renovations including gardens, woods and pavilions the site has been opened to the public. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001 as an extension of Potala Palace, covering 360,000 square metres it contains one of the largest man-made gardens in Tibet.
About 8km west of Lhasa is Drepung, it was once the worlds largest monastery housing 10,000 monks, today the figure is closer to 800 but the monastery remains one of Tibets most important cultural legacies. Walking up the hill you will see them dotted with white monastic buildings piled up high. Inside the halls and chapels you will experience a solemn ambience, from the outside enjoy lovely views of Lhasa and the distant mountains.
In the northern suburb of Lhasa, at the foot of Tatipu Hill lies one of Lhasa’s most famous monasteries. Built during the Ming Dynasty in 1719 by one of the followers of the Yellow Hat Sect, it was named “Sera” which means wild rose in Tibetan language, because Tatipu Hill was blooming with wild roses at the time of construction. This magnificent monastery includes the main prayer hall, a college and a dormitory.
A selection of our tours to Lhasa
China Tailor Made Rail
Train to Tibet
15 day tour from £4,048
This exciting journey takes you to Tibet's astonishing landscapes via a thrilling journey aboard the highest train in the world.
China Group Tour Culture
Tibet and Cruise
16 day tour from £3,547
This 16 day tour combines Beijing, Xian and Tibet, with a Yangtze River cruise, Shanghai and Suzhou.
China Tailor Made Culture
7 day tour from £1,195
Discover the cultures and scenery of Tibet