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Visiting Lhasa Tibet. What’s Lhasa like? Things to do in Lhasa, places to see, points of interest and a travel blog on Lhasa Tibet today.
Our Lhasa tour was part of a longer 8-day tour of Tibet. We travelled overland from Kathmandu and returned to Nepal by air from Lhasa airport. Lhasa itself was an incredible highlight not just of this Tibet tour, but of a lifetime of travel. I knew a lot, feared disappointment in visiting Lhasa today, and was ready for the worst but Lhasa did not disappoint in any way. Our two days in Lhasa blew us away and we would return in a heartbeat. We hope you enjoy learning more about Lhasa, Tibet below, watch our short video, save to Pinterest and make it to Tibet yourselves one day.
From here on in, this post on visiting Lhasa is written by D, my elder son. We have several other posts on our time in Tibet, just check the related content section at the end. Don’t forget to share to Pinterest. Thanks.
Lhasa, Things to Do
We were in Lhasa for two days so our “things to do in Lhasa” list is a bit short. As well as the Lhasa destinations below, we really enjoyed wandering around old Lhasa, visiting shops, restaurants, and parks. It would be easy to spend much longer in Lhasa. The places of interest we visited in Lhasa included:
- The Potala Palace
- The Summer Palace
- Jokhang Temple
- Sera Monastery
- The Barkhor
We had the time to set out on foot and explore Lhasa in the evenings and even attended a major festival which I thought was incredibly interesting. Lhasa, in general, was almost like a hybridisation between the old and new eras of this great city, the beliefs still ran deep through the streets but there was that modernness coating the city like new paint on an old house. You can feel that Lhasa is ancient and see it here and there, but elsewhere it is cloaked.
The Palaces, Temples, and Monasteries steeped in history were breathtaking and emotional sights to see. I can’t say too much of course, eyes are on you in Tibet, sometimes obviously so, but I can give you a taste of what to expect in modern Lhasa.
Lhasa Tibet Video
D made you this little video to give you a taste of Lhasa and Tibet.
The Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet
The Potala Palace was built in 1645 and is only 5 years younger than the Great Wall of China. At 3,700 meters above sea level it comes in as the highest palace on the planet and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Palace itself is split into two segments, the White Palace which housed the Tibetan government and the chambers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the winter.
The Red Palace holds the chapels and the mausoleums of the previous Dalai Lamas. When I went there I saw that it was seen as more than just a building but rather a monument to a people’s beliefs embedded within every shrine and painting.
The Summer Palace in Lhasa – Norbulingka
Norbulingka or The Summer Palace was the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the governments of Tibet during the summer. The Palace consists of a large park (360,00 square meters) and the Palace itself.
The Summer Palace is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is the place that His Holiness Departed from in 1959. Inside the palace, there is a painting of the 14th Dalai Lama as a young man on the plaster of a bedroom wall and it’s the only depiction of him you’re likely to see in Tibet.
The young Dalai Lama’s rooms were painted with Tibetan history, which he learned from his tutors, and the murals on these walls. They are still intact but no photography is allowed inside the Potala Palace, Summer Palace, and most monasteries we visited.
Everywhere we went Tibetan people were interested and pleased to see us, and we ended up in a lot of photos. Pilgrims had come from every corner of Tibet to see Lhasa and there was fascinating diversity in their costumes, hairstyles, and jewellery. The two photos above were taken in the gardens of the Summer Palace.
Jokhang Temple, Lhasa Tibet
Jokhang Temple is a temple located in the center of Lhasa and is encircled by Bakhor Street and square. It is the holiest place in Tibet for Buddhists and its construction started in the 7th century with enlargements over the next millennium. The monastery was built to house important Buddhist statues and scripts that were bought from Nepal and China as parts of the kings’ dowries. The monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
When I visited it I thought it was one of the most beautiful places on the planet. you could feel the history oozing from the bones of the age-old house of belief.
We moved through The Jokhang as one with the stream of pilgrims, taking our turn to lay eyes on The Protector and receive blessings from the monks.
The Barkhor in Lhasa
The Barkhor is a street that has surrounded Jokhang temple since its founding. Since its inception, Buddhist pilgrims would walk clockwise or prostrate themselves in a kora around the Barkhor, holding their prayer wheels and chanting.
Once again it’s the sheer belief of the people that brings this place to life.
Now, the street houses many shops and stalls where you can buy religious items, trinkets, jewellery, Tibetan clothing, some for souvenirs for international tourists, some for local visitors. The street marks the edge of a whirlpool of spiritual life that is sucked into the Jokhang.
Sera Monastery Lhasa
We already posted a full blog post on Sera Monastery and the monk’s debate. There’s no need to repeat myself so I’ll send you to that post, with video, of the debating and a second ceremony we were lucky enough to catch at Sera.
This was a huge highlight of our time in Tibet.
Sera is just outside the centre of Lhasa Tibet, a short bus ride away.
Where Did We Stay in Lhasa Tibet?
The hotel we stayed at in Lhasa was characterful, to say the least.
The hotel was situated near the Great Mosque of Lhasa in a street packed with Muslim traders. This was the only bad hotel we stayed in during our time in Tibet, most hotels were really good, either modern or beautifully decorated in Tibetan style.
We were a short walk from the Barkhor, there were a couple of police checkpoints around the city but they were aimed at locals, not so much at western tourists.
The hotel rooms were not nice at this hotel, they were filthy and I don’t want to know what the source of the mold was. Many of our group complained about this hotel.
There are a lot of modern high-rise hotels on the outskirts of Lhasa.
What Was Our Tibet Tour Vehicle Like
Unlike the hotel in Lhasa the bus was incredibly modern and even the roads themselves were nice and smooth. Driving conditions are good in modern Chinese Tibet
Lhasa Tibet, a Destination of a Lifetime
I found Lhasa and Tibet as a whole to be an amazing and beautiful trip. It wasn’t my favourite, but without a doubt in my mind it will be the one I will remember forever.
It’s not the kind of place you go to on a dainty little holiday but it will be my most emotional travel experience, the place has a depth to it, unlike any other country I have ever visited.
I don’t think that anything is going to trump the feeling of being submerged so deeply in culture, I wouldn’t give up that memory for anything. That’s my opinion and everyone should be able to formulate their own opinions through experience.
A final word from me, Mum, my son wrote all of the above about Lhasa Tibet, and all opinions are his own. I’m actually amazed how deeply he was touched by Tibet and this work of his just confirms what a great idea it was to travel the world with our kids. I’d like to say that Tibet was gut-wrenching, beautiful, harsh, and raw. It was a dream come true for me but hard on my younger son, he was just 11 when we visited. Do I recommend a tour of Lhasa Tibet? Yes, but be ready for what you will find, expect some hardships and know how to deal with altitude and acclimatisation in Tibet. We hope you found our post on Lhasa Tibet and the many things to do in Lhasa interesting. If we had to pick between Lhasa, Tibet as a whole, and Bhutan. Tibet wins, but Nepal is undoubtedly the easiest most travel-friendly destination nearby. We also have a full Tibet trip round up post, plus a post about food in Tibet. Now for some FAQs to add to this Lhasa travel blog.
Can Foreigners Visit Lhasa Tibet?
Yes, foreign tourists can visit Lhasa Tibet, but in order to do this they must obtain a Tibet Travel Permit from the Chinese government. It is easier to use an agent to get this permit and the process takes about 10 days. We were able to obtain a Tibet Travel Permit via our agent in Kathmandu.
We were Australian and British tourists, travelling with German nationals and American citizens. We were all able to enter Tibet without difficulty.
Independent travel in Tibet is not allowed, you can only visit Tibet as part of a tour group, with an approved guide. Guides may be Tibetan or Chinese, we’d suggest you try to find a Tibetan Guide. Guides speak good English.
What guides are allowed to say is heavily controlled by the Chinese authorities. There are police and undercover security guards everywhere and sometimes we were obviously followed when visiting large tourist attractions, particularly the more controversial monasteries.
You must be very careful in what you pack for Tibet. No books, photographs, or any literature relating to The Dalai Lama are allowed into Tibet. Tibetan flags and material relating to the Chinese occupation is also not a good idea. Your bags will be searched and the offending material will be confiscated.
Border security was very thorough. Only take a carry-on bag if possible, and leave your main luggage at your hotel in Kathmandu if travelling this route. Many items are prohibited in Tibet.
You will hear a different official version of history and events from the Chinese than you will have heard in the West. Be ready to just go along with everything said. On the other hand, we saw Chinese police doing a very good job managing crowds at the festival in Lhasa.
How to Get to Lhasa Tibet?
You will need to fly to Kathmandu or a major city in China before catching a connecting flight to Lhasa Gonggar Airport, (LXA) Tibet, one of the highest airports on Earth. Lhasa Airport is at an altitude of 3,570 m, 11712.6 feet. For comparison, Lukla Airport in Nepal is at only 2,846m, 9,334 feet. You can also travel overland to Lhasa from Nepal.
Is Lhasa Tibet a “Forbidden City”
No, Lhasa is not The Forbidden City today and never has been. The Forbidden City is a palace complex in Beijing China, it still exists today and is a popular tourist attraction. We’ve been there, it is not forbidden to tourists today.
Is it Worth Visiting Lhasa Tibet?
Yes, Lhasa Tibet is an incredible place to visit. It is a deeply spiritual, historic, and sacred place blighted by controversy and pain. I found visiting Lhasa to be far more “real” than visiting Bhutan, another heavily controlled destination. I consider myself deeply privileged to have seen Lhasa for myself in order to gain an understanding of the situation today. You can never trust media reports fully, so going somewhere to see the reality with my own eyes is important to me. Lhasa was incredibly moving and emotional, it is part modern part ancient and it was not destroyed as I have read elsewhere. It was astounding to actually be inside the Potala Palace and I’d love to spend more time in Lhasa. If you’d like to learn more about what living in Lhasa as an expat is like, read this book, as I did, some 20 years ago.