Lhasa, translated to “Land of the Gods” is the capital of Tibet. Nestled on the northern slopes of the Himalaya Mountains, it is the true heart of Tibet. It is an extraordinary city which should be high on your list of travel destinations. More than 1,300 years old, Lhasa is situated right next to the river with the same name, affording it stunning views. Visiting this city is nothing less but a spiritual experience, not just because of the natural beauty of the region, but also because of the Tibetan influence.
For a more orthodox Tibetan feel, the eastern end of Lhasa is ideal. Visit the Jokhang and the Barkhor to see traditional dress, locals engaged on a kora, and spinning prayer wheels. The western end of the city has more Chinese influence and is quite modern. The diversity between the eastern and western sections of the city can be surprising to foreign visitors. The Jokhang Temple is a must-see for any visit. Built in the 7th century AD, it was constructed to house statues of Buddha. Over the centuries, the temple has been enlarged and houses many historical statues of past kings and their brides.
Spanning four floors and facing west with a gilded rooftop, the temple is located on Barkhor Square. This is right in the center of the old section of Lhasa. Sometimes monks congregate on the lower level and on the roof to pray and debate. The famous Potala Palace is also worth a visit. It is thought to have originally been a fortress but has been rebuilt many times by several Dalai Lamas over the years. Towering no less than 14 stories with more than 1,000 rooms, past Dala Lamas once lived in the palace. Their remains are housed in golden tombs.
There are guided tours inside the palace and plenty of time to enjoy the grounds. But beware, it will take around an exhausting 45 minutes to climb the hundreds of stairs! That said, getting around Lhasa is quite easy on foot. However, if you don’t want to walk everywhere, there is the cycle rickshaw. Remember to barter for your fare. You can also take a taxi, minibuses, and buses. For buses, you can buy tickets in advance or simply when you board the bus.
All visitors must have a current visa and Tibet Travel Permit in order to visit Lhasa. The application can be quite treacherous. It is easier if you work with a Chinese travel agent to facilitate the application process. In remote areas of Tibet, you won’t find any money exchange services. This means that if you plan any treks out of Lhasa you better prepare yourself before you leave the city.