Lhasa Tibet Travel Guide

The magnificent Potala Palace, was the seat of the Tibetan government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas, it is Lhasa's major landmark.

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Lhasa, which means “Land of the Gods” and is over 1,300 years old, sits in a valley right next to the Lhasa River. In the eastern part of the city, near the Jokhang Temple and Barkhor neighborhood, Tibetan influence is still strong and evident and it is common to see traditionally dressed Tibetans engaged on a kora (a clockwise circumambulation or walk around the Jokhang Temple), often spinning prayer wheels. The western part of Lhasa is more ethnically Han Chinese in character. It is busy and modern and looks similar to many other Chinese cities. Much of the infrastructure, such as banks and government offices is to be found there.

In Lhasa, the daily life is made of cameras, inspection, check points and militaries. Since 2008, The city is surrounded by thousand of militaries and police crew controlling the freedom of every single Tibetan. The city used to host thousands of monks, there isn’t any today anymore. Just a few left to add animation in the museum-temple made-up for the Chinese tourists, which in 2013 should be at least 15 millions of people.

The magnificent Potala Palace, was the seat of the Tibetan government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas, it is Lhasa’s major landmark. Today Lhasa is more invaded by Chinese people from Beijing and it is still impossible to travel on your own. Lhasa is al the starting point of the Friendship Highway connecting the Tibetan capital to Kathmandu.

The ancient Tibetan king, Songten Gamp, transferred the capital from the Yarlung valley to Lhasa, which was known as Ra-sa or ‘Place of the Goat’, in the 7th century. This name was quickly left behind after the adoption of the present name of Lha-sa, meaning ‘Place of the Deity’, as Buddhism took hold thoughout the Tibetan lands.

In the 17th century, The Dalai Lama’s government completed the unification of Tibet and built the massive Potala Palace to symbolize their authority in matters of religious and political life within the country. The city flourished as it was a vital link in the trade between India and China.

Since the Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959, Lhasa has slowly been losing its identity as the ruling government has been proceeding with a model of development aimed at turning the city and the surrounding region into another typical Chinese-style regional center.

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Lhasa is the first stop for many travelers entering Tibet, so the get in info is covered on the Tibet page.

  • Train to Tibet: With the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway that is known as the highest railway on earth and the first railway to Tibet, Tibet’s history without a railway was finally ended. At present, there are several trains to and out of Tibet each day. The train has become the major way to get to Tibet for travelers. Since the railway was built in an area with an altitude over 4,000 meters, low oxygen content and harsh climate, the trains to Tibet were tailor-made. In order to make passengers travel comfortably onboard, the train is equipped with air-condition, oxygen supply system and anti-radiation sightseeing windows.
  • Travel Tibet by air
  • Travel Tibet by road
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The public transportation here is some of the best in Tibet, most destinations have daily buses.

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  • Potala Palace- former residence of Dalai Lama
  • Jokhang Temple – the most brilliant tubo period construction existing in Tibet, Tibet’s earliest civil structure construction, and created the Tibetan temple city bureau would type gauge type
  • Barkhor Street – the most bustling commercial street around Jokhang Temple in Lhasa
  • Norbulingka- commonly known as the Summer Palace in Lhasa, the Tibetan language meaning is baby park, the Summer Palace of the dalai lama
  • Ramoche Temple- the sister temple of Jokhang Temple,it was first built by Han Chinese architects in the middle of the 7th century (during the Tang Dynasty).
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  • Pentoc Giftshop The gift shop itself is nothing remarkable but located directly above it is cozy, comfortable restaurant. Be sure to try the Yak Burger with fries.
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The dialect spoken here is the one that’s normally considered standard Tibetan, and as such is what most phrasebooks are written in. In the city everyone you will likely encounter will speak Mandarin.

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If you have come to Lhasa for its night life then you have been misled, go to Shanghai.

  • Yak Butter tea is the Tibets most famous drink and though everyone should try it,some think it is revolting.
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  • Pentoc Guesthouse one of the finest places to stay located above the restaurant listed below, just round the corner from the Jokang Temple, on East Zang Yi Yuan Road, directly opposite Snowland.
  • Hotel May have the only CD burning service in the city (for foreigners).
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By and large if you are staying within the city centre you are safe of most things except pickpockets and con men. Most of the city is early to rise early to bed, and as such there is little cause to try robbing people at night, and in the day a foreigner is enough of a sight to avoid violent crime.

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  • Lhasa – The only real city, is a major tourist destination, and never stops being fascinating.
  • Damzhung – A busy transport oriented town, with lots of restaurants and shops, it’s the closest town with public transport to Nam Tso (lake). You can usually arrange a jeep to the lake here, or trek to the lake from here in two or three days.
  • Hepu – A small village on the Ganden-Samye trek.
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Other destinations

  • Mt.Everest and Base Camp- Mt. Everest (8850m) the highest mountain in the world is also called as “རི་བོ་ཇོ་མོ་གླང་མ།”-Jomolhangma in Tibetan, which literally means Female Incarnated Giant Mountain. That surrounds by beautiful snow-caped mountains along the young Himalayan ranges, it is located at the border of Nepal and Tibetan plateau and it receives hundreds and thousands of mountaineers from worldwide. There had been 13 attempts to climb Mt.Everest before Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay who finally reached the summit as part of John Hunt’s major British expedition of 1953, afterward more and more mountain expeditions successfully made their attempt to reach the summit. Now a days it is becoming one of the top destination for travelers and different types of Mt.Everest Base Camp Adventure Tours are available for normal tourist, such tours only reach up to the base camp.
  • Nam Tso Lake – An enormous salt water lake with a small monastic retreat center called Tashidor Gompa on its shore. It’s a popular destination for an overnight excursion from Lhasa, often done on a jeep tour, but reasonably easy to arrange independently. If trekking, bring a tent, as thunder showers are common here, and there’s not shelter between Damshung and Tashidor Gompa. Once at the lake you can either stay in the guesthouse at Tashidor Gompa, or in one of the many small caves at the base of the two steep stony hills where the guesthouse is.
  • The Potala Place, situated in the west part of Lhasa, is actually an architecture group situated on an extremely high mountain in the northwest of Lhasa, consisting of temples, palaces, dormitories and office areas. Except the name Potala Palace, some Tibetans also call this mysterious architecture the 2nd Putuo Moutain, because they believe that this place is also for divinities who would always bless them. The reasons of why people built the Potala Palace vary. Some say the Songain Gambo built it to enhance his political power, by preventing enemies from outside. Others say Songzain Gambo, the King of Tubo, in order to marry the princess of Tang Dynasty, declared the start of this miracle. After the restoration 10 17th century, the Potala Palace became the White House in Tibet of every Dalai Lama and the the political center as well. It is of Tibetan characteristics, leaning against the huge mountain. The Potala Palace has earned the name “heaven of arts”, for numerous invaluable treasures are collected within. The State Council of the people’s Republic of China announced that the Potala Palace had been chosen to be one of the national cultural relic protection units in 1961. In 1994, it was listed as one of the World’s Culture Heritages by UNESCO.
  • Yampachen – (also spelled Yangbajing or Yangbajain) is a small town lying in Yampachen Valley in Lhasa Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region in western China. The Yampachen Valley is a long and narrow graben basin which covers an area of about 450 square kilometers. It is about 90 kilometers long and less than 10 kilometers wide. The mountains standing around the valley are 5500-6000 meters above the sea level. There are modern glaciers on the top of these mountains and relics of the ancient glaciers in the valley.
  • Tsurphu Monastery – Tsurphu Monastery in Lhasa is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery which served as the traditional seat of the Karmapa. The monastery was founded by the first Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193) in 1159, after he visited the site and laid the foundation for an establishment of a seat there by making offerings to the local protectors, dharmapala and genius loci. In 1189 he revisited the site and founded his main seat there. It has a complex of 300 square meters, with walls up to 4 meters thick, and is capable of holding over 1,000 monks. The monks’ residences were on the eastern side. Many travelers start the interesting Tsurphu Monastery to Yampachen trek from here.
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To the east lies Nyingchi Prefecture, to the south lies Shannan Prefecture, west lies Xigatse Prefecture and to the north lies Nakchu Prefecture.

Tibet by train from Shanghai to Lhasa in 48 hours

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The magnificent Potala Palace, was the seat of the Tibetan government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas, it is Lhasa’s major landmark. Today Lhasa is more invaded by Chinese people from Beijing and it is still impossible to travel on your own. Lhasa is al the starting point of the Friendship Highway connecting the Tibetan capital to Kathmandu.

Travel and tourism in Lhasa. How to get in, maps, activities to do, where to eat and sleep. Download the Free Lhasa Travel Guide.

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Michel Piccaya


As a freelance travel photographer, Michel Piccaya has been on the road worldwide for more than 20 years, exploring the most incredible itineraries. He’s currently based in Brussels however never stays at home for a long time !

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