Visiting Lhasa was a fulfilling of a dream. Since my first visit in 1996 I have visited the capital of Tibet several times. These pages are about my adventures in and around Lhasa, what I cycled, what I visited, where I went.
There are many places that speak to peoples imagination, think about Machu Pichu, Notre Dame, Big Ben, Timbuktu, Easter Island, Kathmandu but no name had such an attraction to me as Lhasa, Tibet.
It's the capital of the former Forbidden Kingdom of Tibet although since the Chinese invaded Tibet, the official name Xizang or "Tibet Autonomous Region".
My first visit to Lhasa was in 1996, in an organized short tour. Later I would come back, hitchhiking from from Yunnan, leaving to Nepal and come back through Kashgar and West China by truck.
It was winter when I first visited, rainy season season when I traveled from Yunnan and November when I came through West China. I will tell you all about these journeys.
The Magic of Lhasa Adventures
Everyone who has been to Lhasa will admit, there is magic in the heart of Tibet and in the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. You can feel it, smell it, breath it, even eat it! There are two main magic places everyone has to visit in Lhasa but around town there are many more. Within a tour you will only see what the Chinese government allows you, so it's better to come independent.
Getting there and away
Getting to the city to start your Lhasa adventure is a little more difficult than getting a flight ticket. Not only requires Tibet a travel permit but this is also quite difficult to obtain. If you are already in China, your best bet is to check with the PSB in Chengdu. They have the experience with permits for Tibet.
You may be able to get a permit in Beijing or Kunming but usually they require you to join a tour to Lhasa. You can try to cycle into Tibet without a permit but it might cost you, if caught, quite a lot of money and cancelation of your Chinese visa.
I've done it twice without a permit and didn't have problems (except a small one) but I have met 2 cyclists who passed the same village 2 days later and were send by bus to Lhasa, had to pay a fine of Y2000 each and had their visa cancelled and given 3 days to leave the country. It's tricky.
Where to stay
Lhasa and Shigatse have international standard hotels:
A visit to the Potala is the former palace of the Dalai Lama's and an essential ingredient of any Lhasa adventures. After the present Dalai Lama fled to Nepal, the Potala became a museum. The palace in itself is a real adventure full with dark rooms, spectacular treasures and even more spectacular people. Needless to say a must visit.
Inside the Potala you can still feel an atmosphere of the days when the Dalai Lama's ruled Tibet. Several private rooms of different Dalai Lamas, temples, prayer halls, private belongings and other curiosa are to be seen. It is officially not allowed to make photos inside but during my two visits I saw plenty of people, locals and foreigners making photos.
The Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Square is the heart of every Tibetan because it is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism, regardless what the Chinese government has tried in the years to break that.
The temple stands in the heart of old Lhasa. It's the main place for worship in the city. At the entrance hall you will see Tibetans prostrating themselves. Inside it is a dim lighted but extraordinary beautiful temple. You can walk up to the top of the temple and have a view over the city. This includes a view towards the Potala.
Around the temple and at Barkhor Square there is an endless row of market stalls selling anything from prayer flags to colored shawls (used to offer in the temple or before leaving on a journey), yak meat (Tibetans although Buddhists, do eat meat due to the lack of other resources), buttertea, prayer wheels, clothes, jackets and many other things.
In some ways, Barkhor Square, more then any other place I have visited is like a time machine, a place where time has stand still. It's an amazing place.
During the winter months many of the nomadic Tibetan people come to Lhasa for their annual pilgrimage. This is also the time to buy new tools, visit relatives in the city, make new friends and for the younger, maybe find a marriage partner. Thus, everyone is at Barkhor Square and therefore it will be the center of your Lhasa adventures.
Although the Potala was the Dalai Lama's palace, the Norbulinka was his residences. Norbulinka literally: "The Jeweled Park". It was the traditional summer residence of the Dalai Lamas from the 1780s up until the present Dalai Lama fled to Nepal. Each Dalai Lama had his own residence in the park. Some of the residences are open, some are not.
Today the park houses the pitiful Lhasa zoo.
All other related Tibet pages:
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While traveling in China you usually get nice tickets when visiting a museum or site. I've saved them and scanned them. Here's a selection:
Traveling deep into Tibet
Mount Kailash, Namtso lake and Drikung monastery are not on everybody's "to do" list in Tibet. However, it is a magnificent 3 days trip, you organize yourself in Lhasa.