Lhasa Travel Guide

Lhasa Overview

At 3700m above sea level, on the banks of the KyichuRiver and snuggled amidst the valley of colossal mountain ranges, Lhasa commands the majestic setting to match that of its religious significance. Formerly the distant retreat of the Dalai Lamas, although being under the authority of China since the 1950s, it remains the spiritual heart and beating drum of Tibet, a city blending modern Chinese developments with the historical and timeless traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Regardless of the influences from China, today Lhasa prevails as a splendid destination and one to which all Tibetan Buddhists aspire to visit at least once in their lifetime.

 
Arriving in Lhasa is usually met with one of two opinions, depending on how much prior research may have been conducted. For many, seeing a Chinese boomtown is somewhat disheartening, however, catch sight of the mighty fortress of PotalaPalace and divine JokhangTemple and the warmth of the true city begins to unfold. Looking beyond the new hotels and supermarkets and visitors find that there is plenty to see and do here - from walking with the pilgrims to exploring the numerous temples to visiting working monasteries to enjoying the vibrant Tibetan Quarter - to merit at least a weeks stay.
 
With the arrival of a train line up to the Lhasa plateau tourism is on the rise and daily services now arrive from Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai and Xi’an, amongst others. Those moving on to Nepal can either fly to Kathmandu or seek out non-stop minibuses departing for the border crossing at Zhangmu, from where onward travel can be found. Lhasas façade is constantly changing, yet, what succeeds in surviving the modernization is the infectious hospitality of the Tibetans themselves. How long this will last is anyones guess so get in whilst the opportunity presents itself.

Things to do in Lhasa

Jokhang Temple - The outright spiritual heart of Tibet is the holiest temple in the Tibetan Buddhist world, built in the 7thC by King Songsten Gampo. Arrive in the morning and marvel as the hoards of pilgrims shuffle around the rooms paying homage to the sacred images. In late afternoon climb to the rooftop for spectacular views of the Barkhor. In addition to the 1.5m golden Sakyamuni Buddha statue, the temple is home to numerous chapels and a host of striking images so make sure to come back as many times your stay in Lhasa allows. Open daily from 8am to 6.30pm. Entrance fee Y70.

 
Barkhor - Another other fascinating highlight of Lhasa is the kora (pilgrims circuit) and its intoxicating atmosphere, a maze of picturesque streets encircling the JokhangTemple. Join the hundreds of pilgrims gliding clockwise around the circuit and passing street hawkers offering prayer flags, jewelery, trinkets and other paraphernalia. The most captivating time is early morning as the sun begins to rise when the circuits mysticism and charm draws people in like a spiritual magnet and religious devotion is raw. Away from the kora itself, the rest of Barkhor is equally as impressive with the Tromsikhang Market and Ani Tsangkung Nursery definitely not to be missed. When its time to rest, take a seat in Barkhor Square, the site of previous protests between the Chinese and Tibetan.
 
Potala Palace - An iconic building the world over, first sightings of PotalaPalace, commissioned by the 5th Dalai Lama, are always met with complete awe and astonishment. Perched atop MarpoRi (The Red Mountain) some 130m above Lhasa, the palace is another of the citys great pilgrimage sites. Climbing the staircases, exploring the c1,000 rooms and looking out over the city are yet more spiritual highlights. Open daily 9am to 3pm. Entrance fee Y100. 
 
Other Temples in Lhasa - Those with an interest in Buddhist temples are sure to have a field day in Lhasa as the city is peppered with wonderful examples of Tibetan and Chinese architecture. RamocheTemple is the Chinese-styled sister temple of Jakhong that became the Upper Tantric College of Lhasa in the 15thC. South from the PotalaPalace visitors will find the PalhalupukTemple, a small, lesser-visited, white temple built around a medieval cave and home to friendly monks.
 
Monasteries in Lhasa - The working monasteries of Lhasa are great places to visit in order to get a glimpse of the life of Tibetan Buddhist monks. A good place to start is Deprung Monastery, founded in 1416 and once both the most important in Tibet and seat of the Dalai Lama. Samye Monastery was Tibets first Buddhist monastery (8thC) and can be visited on 4-hour trips from Lhasa. North of Jakhong Temple, Sera Monastery is also worth checking out for the lively courtyard debates.
 
Museums in Lhasa
TibetMuseum - Ignore the all to obvious propaganda and this museum houses an interesting collection of Tibetan and Buddhist artefacts. A handy audio guide comes with the entrance fee (CNY30). Open daily, 9.30am - 6.30pm (May-Oct) & 10.30am - 5pm (Nov-Apr).
Gedun Choephel Artists Guild - Excellent gallery showcasing the non-religious works of modern Tibetan artists. Open daily from 10am to 7pm.
 
Trekking in Lhasa - Experienced trekkers will no doubt have a keen eye on the numerous Tibetan trekking circuits originating from Lhasa. Optimum times are April to June and September to November, although caution must be taken at all times with regards to the erratic weather conditions. Popular routes are the 4-day Ganden-Samye Trek and the route to Everest Base Camp leaving from Tingri. Trekking Tibet Adventure and Visit Tibet are both good websites for finding out information on tours and prices.
 
Shopping in Lhasa - Lhasa is a great place for picking up Tibetan souvenirs and handicrafts, especially from the stalls lining the streets of the Barkhor circuit, although be aware of genuine antiques that are brought in from Nepal. Dropenling, where craftsmen can be seeing working, sells quality handicrafts and although expensive pumps profits into the Tibet Artisans Fund. Tromsikhang Market is good for dried fruit and nuts and local yak butter. For artwork and high-graded trinkets check out the KyichuArtGallery at the Kyichu Hotel.
 
Lhasa Nightlife - Bars a gradually becoming more and more common in Lhasa and the Tibetan Quarter is the place to be, housing a number of teahouses, cafés and bars.
 
Bars & Restaurants in Lhasa
Dunya - Dutch-run bar and restaurant. Take it easy downstairs, enjoying tasty Nepali and Indian dishes, or head upstairs to Lhasas liveliest bar.
Ganglamedo - Atmospheric café-bar in the Barkhor area and home to a wide range of foreign beers and booze.
Music Kitchen - One of Lhasas originals that still pulls in a lively crowd and hosts regular live music events.
New Mandala - Tasty Nepali, Indian and Western dishes served on a wonderful rooftop overlooking Barkhor Square.
Tashi II - A favourite backpacker haunt at the Kirey Hotel serving bargain meals.
Tibet Summit Cafe - American owned art-café that promotes local artists whilst serving delicious cakes, coffee and smoothies.

Hotels in Lhasa

Budget Hotels Lhasa

Dong Cuo Youth Hostel - Ever popular HI hostel sat behind the JokhangTemple. Tel (86) 891 627 3388.
Kirey Hotel - Small, comfortable hotel and good restaurant just off the Barkhor. Tel (86) 891 632 34662.
Lhasa Sonam Youth Hostel - Another HI hostel offering comfortable dorms, doubles and singles in the city centre. Tel (86) 891 692 7969.
 
Midrange Hotels Lhasa
Hubei Hotel - Well-managed hotel aimed at business travelers. Good low-season discounts. Tel (86) 891 682 0999.
Kyichu Hotel - Great value and superb location make this one of the best hotels in its bracket. Tel (86) 891 633 1347.
Yak Hotel - Likeable guesthouse with rooms decked out in charming Tibetan furnishings. Popular with tour groups. Tel (86) 891 632 3496.
 
Luxury Hotels Lhasa
Four Point by Sheraton - Sparkling contemporary rooms and superb courtyard restaurant make this a contender for Lhasas best hotel. Tel (86) 891 634 8888.
House of Shambhala - Classic Tibetan courtyard home cum boutique hotel with smart rooms and fine rooftop restaurant. Tel (86) 891 632 6533.

Lhasa Weather

Lhasa Travel Resources

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