Lhasa in Tibetan: ལྷ་ས
Founded: in 633 A.D. by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo
Population: 279,074 (according to 2010 census)
Altitude: 3,656 meters/ 11,995 feet
In Tibetan, Lhasa means “The land of the Gods“, or “Holy Place” and it still lives up to its name. At the heart of Lhasa are 7th century Jokhang and Ramoche Temples, Dalai Lama’s Potala Palace and Norbulingka Summer Park, large Buddhist monasteries, such as Sera and Drepung as well as many nunneries, monasteries, and temples scattered around the city.
Lhasa will impress even the most experienced travelers. The capital stands in the Kuychi River valley with impressive mountain ranges all around the city serving as a backdrop.
Although many travelers spend at least 2-3 days in the capital before exploring other areas in Tibet, you can easily spend a week in Lhasa discovering many of its hidden gems.
To experience Lhasa, head to the center of the city towards the 7th century Jokhang Temple and walk around Barkhor Street. As it was centuries ago, the bustling area still attracts pilgrims from all over Tibet. Walk in the historic Old Town following narrow alleys lined with whitewashed buildings with hundreds of small seller stalls offering Tibetan clothes, jewelry, religious and ritual objects. Walk these busy streets to soak in the atmosphere of authentic Tibetan life or shop for some Tibetan souvenirs (but remember to bargain!).
After that walk to the jewel of Lhasa – the majestic Potala Palace overlooking the city. After making inevitable stops for the photos, join the crowds of Tibetans and walk around the Palace. It is a great way to experience Tibetan culture. There is a peaceful park behind the Palace where you can take a break or have a snack in the shade of the trees.
Reward yourself by having a nice meal in a small Tibetan tea house or in one of the restaurants. Luckily for travelers, Lhasa combines impressive historic sites with modern amenities. Treat yourself in one of the local restaurants, enjoying delicious Tibetan, Indian, or even Western dishes. Choose a restaurant with an outdoor terrace to enjoy a view of Lhasa while sampling local delicacies.
Continue exploring Lhasa by visiting large monasteries, such as Sera or Drepung that hosted over 10,000 monks in its heyday. Alternatively, you can visit some of the smaller nunneries or temples in Lhasa that showcase the authentic Tibetan culture and are rarely see any tourists.
TABLE OF CONTENT
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- Main attractions:
- How to travel to Lhasa
- Modern-day Lhasa:
- Recommended tours
- Contact us
Lhasa is the capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and it serves as the center of Tibetan politics, economy, culture, and religion. It is located on the North Bank of the Lhasa River (Kyichu River), which is a tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra River).
The capital dates back more than 1,300 years. It was founded in 633 A.D. under the leadership of King Songtsen Gampo. The area of the city covers 32 square km and the population is about 300,000 people.
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Lhasa stands at 3,656 meters/ 11,995 feet above sea-level. It is the highest capital city in the world! Lhasa is 16 meters higher than La Paz, the government seat of Bolivia. The next highest capital is Quito in Ecuador at an elevation of 2,850 meters.
Such high elevation means that the oxygen level in the air is lower compared to the sea level. That’s why is usually takes a few days to fully adjust to the lower oxygen level at that elevation.
The good news is that it is relatively easy for most visitors to acclimatize to Lhasa altitude.
Because of that, Lhasa is a great starting point for a tour in Tibet. After a couple of days in Lhasa, you are ready to visit higher areas of Tibet.
In the first couple of days in Lhasa, many travelers experience mild symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headache and shortness of breath especially when walking fast or climbing stairs. It is normal and usually goes away naturally. If you experience more severe symptoms, contact your guide who always has oxygen.
MAIN ATTRACTIONS IN LHASA
The Potala Palace is probably the most well-known attraction in all Tibet. The images are featured in guidebooks and even 50 Yuan bills. It is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The distinct architecture and unique atmosphere combined with ancient artifacts displayed inside impress its visitors.
To enjoy the spectacular view of the Potala, we recommend going up the hill in front of it. After taking photos of the palace, come down and walk towards the main gate of the city. After that, you can join Tibetans walking around Potala Palace in a clockwise direction, spinning prayer wheels to send thousands of prayers.
The Jokhang temple is one of the most important religious sites in Tibet since its housing the statue from the time when Shakyamuni Buddha lived.
The main building of the temple is four floors high. All the buildings in the center of Lhasa cannot be higher than four floors. That allows everyone to see the golden roof of Jokhang from the roofs of all other buildings in Old Town. Jokhang is recognized as the World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
The most important statue in the temple is more than 2,500 years old and it was consecrated by the Buddha himself.
Sera monastery is one of the largest and oldest monasteries in Lhasa. It is one of the three great Gelug monasteries in Lhasa, along with Drepung and Ganden.
Before the cultural revolution, more than 5,000 monks lived in Sera monastery. Even though only a few hundred monks live there now, it remains one of the most important monastic centers.
Drepung monastery was the residence of the Dalai Lamas before the construction of Potala Palace was completed. It is the largest monastery in Tibet.
During the time when Buddhism was thriving in Tibet, up to ten thousand monks were living in the monastery. Although there are a lot fewer monks living there now (around 600), modern-day Drepung still shows the signs of its previous glory.
NECHUNG ORACLE TEMPLE
Nechung Oracle is a State oracle in Tibet. The Oracle assists the Dalai Lama in making important decisions. Nechung Oracle was guiding the search of the Dalai Lama’s and Panchen Lama’s reincarnations. He is also the head of the Nechung Temple in Tibet.
Nechung Temple is located about 1 km away from Drepung. It is best to visit it during a one-day tour to both Drepung and Nechung.
Norbulingka is the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas. UNESCO included Norbulingka in its World Heritage list.
The name Norbulingka means “Jewel Park” or “Treasure Park” in Tibetan. The complex is different from most of the monasteries that you see in Tibet. It is located in a large park with many trees and flowers, and a lake. There are several palaces in the park, with the 14th Dalai Lama Palace being the most interesting.
Norbulingka is very popular during the Shoton festival when Tibetans have picnics in the park and artists’ troops perform operas.
ANI TSAMKHONG NUNNERY
Ani Tsamkhong Nunnery is the largest nunnery in Lhasa, the only one nunnery in the Old Town, and the most active one.
There are over 100 nuns living there today. Their main duty is to conduct rituals, primarily dedicated to Avalokiteshvara and Tara. In addition to the nunnery, nuns are running a tea house and a traditional Tibetan hospital.
There are many variations of spelling the name of the nunnery, including Ani Tsankhung and Ani Sangkung.
Pabonka Hermitage is one of the oldest monasteries in Lhasa, dating back to the 7 century. Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo meditated there before the construction of the Jokhang temple. However, it is lesser-known and tourists rarely visit it. It makes it a great off-the-beaten-path destination in Lhasa. Pabongka Hermitage will be interesting for meditators and people curious about Tibetan history and Buddhism.
Visiting the monastery can make a great day trip outside of Lhasa. You can combine it with visiting a nearby nunnery. It will be a good trekking practice if you are going on a longer trek afterward.
Ramoche Temple is one of the oldest religious Temples in Lhasa. Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built it in the 7th century at the same time as Jokhang Temple. The temple houses the statue of the Jowo Mikyo Dorje, representing the Present Buddha at the age of 8.
Originally, the Ramoche temple was built to house the Jowo Shakyamuni statue that you can now see in Jokhang. After Songtsen Gampo’s death, Tibetans moved the statue of Jowo Mikyo Dorje to the Ramoche. Since that time Jokhang houses the Jowo Shakyamuni statue depicting Buddha at the age of 12. Ramoche is very popular with local visitors and pilgrims from all over Tibet.
THOUSAND BUDDHAS ROCK CARVINGS
Buddha Rock Carving is called Sangye Dhongku in Tibetan. It is one of the city’s hidden gems, a lovely collection of painted rock carvings centered around a huge image of Tsepakme (Buddha of Longevity). To the right from the carvings, there is a beautiful stupa built entirely of carved mani stones. Mani stones are rocks painted with various Buddhist mantras.
To find the carvings, join Tibetans walking the long kora or lingkor around Potala Palace.
WEATHER IN LHASA
Don’t let the high altitude of Lhasa (3,650 meters) scare you. Because of 3000 hours of sunshine annually, visitors enjoy nice weather in Lhasa almost in any season.
As everywhere in Tibet, there is a big difference between day and night temperatures. Even in summer, mornings and evenings can be chilly, and during the daytime, it can get hot.
Winters are also not as cold as you might expect. Daytime temperatures are quite comfortable, around +10°C (50°F) and rarely go below freezing.
The rainy season in Tibet is from the end of June until the end of August – the beginning of September. It usually rains at night and can be cloudy during the daytime. Because winter is a dry season, snow is very rare in Lhasa and most Tibetans meet it with excitement.
The most popular time to visit Lhasa is between April and the middle of October, with most tourists coming in summer and during large holidays.
If you plan to visit in winter, you will see more of traditional life in Lhasa with fewer tourists and more time to explore places without crowds. In winter many pilgrims visit Lhasa to prepare for the Tibetan New Year and buy all necessary supplies.
HOW TO GET TO LHASA
As a capital city in Tibet and a center of the economic, religious, and cultural life of the region, Lhasa also serves as the main transportation hub. Travelers can arrive in Lhasa via a modern airport, train station, or by driving there. All of these means of transportation have their advantages and drawbacks.
TRAVEL TO LHASA BY AIR
The Lhasa Gonggar Airport is 62 km/ 39 miles outside of the city, and it takes about 1 hour to travel from the airport and Lhasa Old Town. It is one of the highest airports in the world surrounded by mountains reaching over 6,000 m/ 20,000 ft. There are many domestic flights connecting Tibet with all major Chinese cities. International flights connect Lhasa with Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. These domestic and international flights offer safe, fast, and efficient services.
TRAVEL TO LHASA BY TRAIN
There is a train station in Lhasa, connecting it to many of the cities in China and Tibetan cities, such as Shigatse. In addition, the newly opened line connects Lhasa and Nyingchi in Eastern Tibet. Taking a train to Lhasa is a great way to see stunning landscape views along the way and experience culture. Please note, that due to a high demand train tickets are often very difficult to get, especially the most comfortable soft sleeper, and you have to book them in advance, as soon as they become available.
|Beijing||40 hours||3757||Every Day|
|Shanghai||47 hours||4373||Every Day|
|Xian||31 hours||2864||Every Day|
|Chengdu||36 hours||3070||Every Other Day|
|Chongqing||36 hours||3030||Every Other Day|
|Guangzhou||53 hours||4980||Every Day|
|Xining||21 hours||1972||Several Times Every Day|
|Lanzhou||24 hours||2188||Several Times Every Day|
TRAVEL TO LHASA OVERLAND
There are many recently built roads and highways connecting Lhasa with Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, Xinjiang, and Nepal.
The most popular routes are:
All these tours require traveling for several days with some long days in a car. Also, because of the travel regulations in Tibet and strict requirements to travel vehicles, overland tours are a lot more expensive than traveling by train or even plane. That’s why very few travelers travel to Lhasa overland.
However, there is one great exception. A popular 7 days Lhasa to Nepal border group tour will take you from the capital of Tibet to the Himalayan range and Mount Everest Base Camp before reaching the border of Nepal. From the border, you can continue your adventure towards Kathmandu.
MODERN DAY LHASA
The oldest historical part of Lhasa – Old Town is well preserved with many buildings dating back to the 18th/ 19th centuries and some temples dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries. Even newly built buildings are designed to fit well in the overall look of the city. Their architecture resembles traditional Tibetan style and they are no more than 4-5 floors high not to block the view on the golden roofs of the most important temples: Jokhang and Ramoche.
Lhasa is becoming a thriving and prosperous city, with a growing amount of successful new businesses. These businesses include a hydroelectric power station, leather fanning plants, thermal power station, cement works, agriculture machinery plant, machine repair plant, a film dubbing studio, vehicle repair shops, grain and oil processing factories, etc.
At the same time, cultural, educational, and modern sanitation services and facilities are also being developed. There are recently established Tibet University, Polytechnic schools, Hospitals, and Cultural Organisations.
Certainly, Lhasa is a beautiful city with a rich history and friendly people. No wonder it attracts numerous tourists from all over Tibet and around the world.
HOTELS IN LHASA
There are many hotels scattered around Lhasa catering to travelers with all kinds of interests, needs, and budgets. For most travelers, we recommend staying in the Old Town, the central part of Lhasa, or within a walking distance from it. In that way, you will be close to many stores and restaurants and can enjoy evening strolls in the city without having to travel far.
The hotels in the Old Town include all modern-day amenities. You can stay in the 18th-century old building and still enjoy your hot shower in the morning.
There are different levels of comfort, including 3, and 5-star hotel options. Some hotels offer familiar Western design, while several hotels showcase eye-catching Tibetan style.
We highly recommend staying in Tibetan-owned hotels to support local businesses. In Lhasa, there are many great options to choose from!
RESTAURANTS IN LHASA
There are many dining options in Lhasa. Tibetans usually go to various tea houses. These simple eateries serve traditional Tibetan tea: sweet milk tea and Tibetan butter tea and traditional dishes, such as momos (Tibetan dumplings), meat or vegetable noodles, rice dishes, and vegetables.
In addition to tea houses, you will find many restaurants. The restaurants offer a variety of different cuisines, ranging from traditional Tibetan to Indian, Nepalese and Western. There are many Tibetan-owned restaurants serving great quality food. The most famous restaurants are Family Kitchen, Lhasa Kitchen, Om Pizza, Summit cafe for coffees and breakfast, Dunya restaurant, and many others. Please, check the article below for an in-depth review of the best restaurants in Lhasa.
SHOPPING IN LHASA
You can find stores selling both traditional Tibetan handicrafts, as well as all the necessary clothing and equipment for your trip. Food is available in small stores everywhere throughout Lhasa and in large supermarkets.
If you are staying in the Old Town, walk to the Times Square shopping center, where you can find a large supermarket on the lower level with all necessities, and more stores and small cafes on all other levels.
Although Barkhor street seems to be the first choice for souvenir shopping, we actually advise you to avoid it. Instead, ask your guide to show you a Barkhor Supermarket, where many Tibetan sellers offer various traditional clothes, souvenirs, and religious items for a fair price. Remember to bargain.
For Tibetan-made handicrafts, head to the Dropenling store near the Muslim quarter of the Old Town. They have a unique collection of beautiful and high-quality toys, leather goods, jewelry, rugs, and many other items.
SUGGESTED LHASA TOURS
RECOMMENDED GROUP TOURS
A beautiful and exciting journey, starting in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and going to the Everest Base Camp. The tour visits Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera, Drepung and Tashilhunpo monasteries, Kumbum Stupa, Yamdrok Lake and Karola glaciers.
Both group and private tours are available
One of our most popular group tours, starting in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and going to Mount Kailash for a three day trekking around this sacred mountain. During this tour we visit Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Yamdrok Lake, Gyantse monastery and Kumbum stupa, Mount Everest, lake Manasarovar, Mount Kailash, and much more.
This tour starts in Lhasa. We will stay there for 2 days to explore the capital and acclimatize. After that we will head to the center of attraction in Himalayas – Mount Everest. We will spend a night by the highest mountain on a planet and continue driving through majestic mountain ranges, alongside rivers and waterfalls to the border between Tibet and Nepal.