Lhasa is rightly one of the most featured and dreamt-about cities in the world. This is not only because of its remoteness, its high altitude at 3,650 meters (11,975 feet) means limited accessibility, but also because of its impressive heritage of over a thousand years of cultural and spiritual history that has helped to create the romantic and mysterious Tibetan religion.
Differing from the inland cities and other places in Tibet, Lhasa is unique with an allure all of its own. In the Tibetan language, Lhasa means the Holy Land or the Buddha Land. It is the center of Tibet's politics, economy and culture. The city has also been appointed as one of the 24 historical and cultural cities of China. The splendor and grandeur of the Potala Palace in Lhasa remains a world-famous symbol of the enigmatic power of politics and religion in this region.
As the beautiful capital city of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Lhasa is situated in the South Central part of the region, on the North bank of the Kyichu River (Lhasa River) in a mountain-fringed valley. This ancient sprawling city, settled 1,300 years ago, covers 30,000 square kilometers (11,583 square miles), with a population of 400,000, of which 87 percent are Tibetans. The urban population is 180,000.
Generally the period from March to October is the best time to visit Tibet. Since Lhasa is located at such a high altitude it is wise to be prepared before starting your journey. Generally speaking, due to the large temperature differences during any given day in Tibet, warm clothes should be taken to keep away the cold. However, because it also receives a great deal of sunshine, sunglasses, suntan oil, and a sun hat are indispensable items if you're traveling anywhere in Tibet.
Currently there are three options for travel to Tibet, by plane, by road and by train.
1. Taking the plane is a comfortable and timesaving option, but offers little time for you to acclimatise to the altitude; this may cause sickness.
2. Taking the bus along one of five highways that have been opened-up for tourists' use. This will take longer but will enable you to see the amazing scenery en route. Furthermore, taking extra time allows for a more gradual acclimatization to the altitude.
3. Taking the train, is a fabulous new option, giving the opportunity to see hitherto unseen mountain scenery. With the operation of Tibet Railway from July 1st, 2006, more and more tourist have swarmed into Tibet via the great Tibet train.'
One word of warning: although there is a gradually increasing tourism industry in Lhasa, it is a city with many difficulties yet to be overcome due to its unique location and geography. Please bear in mind that traveling in Lhasa, as well as in Tibet on the whole, is more challenging than in any other part of China.
Despite this more and more people from every corner of the world are being attracted towards this vibrant city with its mysterious culture. Its unique scenery, long history, exotic culture, mystical religion and spectacular monuments will ensure your stay is unforgettable. (Source: travelchinaguide.com)
Lhasa's attractions include:
Potala Palace: Without question, Lhasa's most recognized attraction is the Potala Palace. Actually two palaces - the White Palace and the Red Palace - the existing structure dates from the 17th century, although an earlier palace dates to 631 AD. As the former residence of 14 Dalai Lamas (the last of whom fled to India in 1959), the palace is now a museum. A 1980's total renovation - completed using traditional construction materials and methods - has fully restored this landmark palace to original glory. The views of and from the palace are equally spectacular. Within the Potala Palace are bejeweled "throne" rooms, ornate murals and priceless monuments, or stupas, one of which is gilded with over 6,000 pounds of gold! The palace is still used for important religious ceremonies and high-profile political events.
Jokhang Temple: The 1,300-year-old Jokhang Temple is Tibet's holiest shrine. For centuries it was the spiritual retreat for the Dalai Lamas and it's here, outside the walls of this temple, where pilgrims spin prayer wheels as they perform one of three Tibetan koras, or sacred circuits.
The Barkhor: "Capitalizing" on visitors and dutiful monks who travel to the Jokhang Temple, the Barkhor is essentially a crowded, colorful and highly photogenic neighborhood of shops, hawkers, teahouses and market stalls.
Sera Monastery: The open-air "debating courtyard" at the Sera Monastery is required viewing for any Lhasa visitor. Here, Tibetan monks debate Buddhist teachings punctuated with highly-ritualized, often loud gestures, such as hand clapping and foot stomping. The monastery caters to three colleges - all visited by Tibetan monks during their sacred circuits.
Drepung Monastery: In Tibetan, literally, "Rice heap," the Drepung Monastery is on the sacred circuit (kora) of Buddhist devotees. At its peak over 10,000 monks studied here, making it the world's largest; today that number has shrunk to fewer than 1,000. From a distance away the off-white monastery looks like a heap of rice, hence it's name. (Source: letstravelchina.com)
(China.org.cn October 21, 2007)