To See & Do
Much of Lhasa has been replaced by post-1950 Chinese developments with only a small quarter dating from pre-invasion times. This part is now under renovation to attract tourists. It is still worth to take a stroll through the old part of Lhasa and buy goods from Tibetan vendors, who sometimes come from centre of Lhasa.
There are some small cafes and bars run by young Chinese or Tibetan people which are very good hangouts and a fantastic meeting place for the few expats who live in Lhasa. They provide great information about Tibet.
A must are the small Tibetan restaurants who serve authentic Tibetan food. If you have never tried gyantok, a definite must together with a cup of salted Tibetan butter tea.
Tibetan people in general are wonderful and friendly people who always have a warm smile. Some speak a bit of English and are happy to have a chat with you.
For an authentic, fulfilling visit to Tibet, you must have a native Tibetan guide. Many of the Chinese are relocated from other areas of China and don’t have a real understanding of the people or culture of Tibet that make the country so amazing.
Since visiting Tibet requires being accompanied by a licensed tour company, the following is a list of some Tibetan owned and operated tour guides:
Explore Tibet is a group of local Tibetan guides and informative Tibet Highland Tours, well connected, custom trips. Tibet Shaman Tours, former Buddhist monk turned tour guide. Tibet Kyunglung Travel, CITS Tibet TravelSpinn Cafe, a very informative FAQ about travel regulation in Tibet. Great
Tibet Tour – Professional and reliable tour agency with excellent tour guides. If you come from Nepal, there are too and mostly it is easier to arrange the trip there.
- The Potala Palace, the home of successive Dalai Lamas is in Lhasa. A stronghold probably existed on Red Hill as early as the 7th century AD when King Songtsen Gyalpo built a fortress on it for his two foreign wives. The palace was rebuilt by the Fifth Dalai Lama in three years, while the Thirteenth Dalai Lama extended and repaired it into what it is now. It became relics including the gold hand-written Buddhist scriptures, valuable gifts from the Chinese emperors and a lot of priceless antiques. Admission ¥100. Guided palace tours generally include one hour inside the palace; allow at least that much time to walk up and down the many steps leading up to and from the palace. The palace is 14 stories tall and any visit involves climbing a lot of stairs up/down. Make sure you are fully acclimated before visiting. The Potala was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994, the Jokhang Temple Monastery in 2000 and the Norbulingka Summer Palace in 2001.
- The Jokhang Temple in Lhasa was built in 647 AD by Songtsen Gampo and is one of the holiest sites in Tibet. Constructed in the 7th century AD to house the statues of Buddha that princesses Bhrikuti from Nepal and Wen Cheng from Tang Dynasty China brought as gifts for their future husband, King Songtsan Gampo. The temple has been enlarged many times over the centuries and now also houses statues of King Songtsan Gambo and his two famous foreign brides. However, the original statue of Jowo Sakyamuni Buddha that Princess Wen Cheng brought from Chang’an over 1300 years ago is definitely its most sacred and famous possession, and is perhaps the most venerated religious artifact in all of Tibet. The temple, a splendid four-floor building facing west under a guilded rooftop, is on Barkhor Square in the center of the old section of Lhasa.
- The Barkhor Street in Lhasa is a street of traditional Tibetan buildings that encompasses the Jokhang Temple.
- The ‘Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama is located in Lhasa, about 1km south of the Potala.
- Samye Monastery – constructed in 779AD, Samye was the first Buddhist Monastery established in Tibet, and is located near Dranang, Shannan Prefecture, 150 km south-east of Lhasa.
- Namtso lake -it is highest salt water lake in the world with altitude of 4,700m, it is about 250km north-west of Lhasa and offers great plateau beauty of the lake and amazing snow capped Thangula range in the north, summer time, nomads family camps can be seen along the route.
- Tashilhunpo Monastery, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas. It was constructed in 1447 and is located in Xigatse
- The Rongbuk Monastery, one of the highest monasteries in the world, from which the view of the Mt. Everest is just amazing.
- Norbulingka Summer Palace – located about 1km west of the Potala Palace – The Seventh Dalai Lama constructed the first summer palace in 1755 and each successive ruler added his own buildings. Norbulingka is now undergoing complete restoration. Presently, the complex contains a small zoo, botanical gardens, and a mansion. Enterance fee is Y60 RMB (2015).
- Barkhor Street Market – a circular street around the Jokhang Temple in the center of the old section of Lhasa, it is the oldest street in a very traditional style in Tibet, where you can enjoy bargaining with the local Tibetan vendors for the handicrafts which are rare to be seen elsewhere in the world. Barkhor Street is one of the most important religious paths along which pilgrims walk around Jokhang Temple while turning prayer wheels in their hands through centuries. Buddhist pilgrims walk or progress by body-lengths along the street clockwise every day into deep night. For your first visit to the Barkhor, enter from Barkhor Sq, a large plaza that was cleared in 1985. The square has become a focus for political protest and pitched battles between Chinese and Tibetans on several occasions, notably in 1998 (when a Dutch tourist was shot in the shoulder) and most recently in 2008.
- Drepung Monastery – founded in 1416 by a disciple of Tsong Khapa, was the biggest and richest monastery in Tibet and its lamas helped to train each new young Dalai Lama. Drepung was also home to the Nechung, the state oracle. At its height, Drepung had over 10 000 monks, and governed 700 subsidiary monasteries and owned vast estates. Drepung belongs to the Gelupa sect.
Monastery is about 10 km to west from old city of Lhasa, there is public bus #17, #24 and others for Y1 RMB. bus #24 goes from Drepung to Sera and back. Enterance fee to monastery is Y50 RMB (2015). It takes about half day to explore monastery. Take water and snack with you. In front of monastery (ticket office) are some small restaurants.
- Sera Monastery – founded in 1419 by one of Tsong Khapa’s (the founder of the Gelupa sect) eight disciples. It became famous for its tantric teachings, while Drepung drew fame from its governing role. Sera was smaller than Drepung, with 7,000 monks, but was very rich and comparable in power. The monks of Sera were considered clever and dangerous.
Monastery is about 5 km to north from downtown, there is public bus #6, #16, #24 and others for Y1 RMB. bus #24 goes from Drepung to Sera and back. Enterance fee is Y50 RMB (2015). It takes about 3 hours to walk around monastery. About 10 meters before ticket office is small road to right side, from here you can get into monastery without buing a ticket.
- Tibet Museum Minzulu Road, Lhasa. Admission ¥25. Elaborate museum with artifacts reflecting the entire history of Tibet. Ask for a free audio tour in your language at the entrance. Predictably, the museum presents a very Chinese view of the “Peaceful Liberation” of Tibet, but the museum is worth a visit.
- Kora – a meditative circumambulation around a sacred site, such as a temple, practiced by many Tibetans.
- Langma Opera – literally “royal music”, a traditional Tibetan singing and dancing show.
- Blind Massage – at Medical Massage Clinic Lhasa, #59 Beijing Middle Road, 3rd floor (directly across from the Kichu Hotel). Phone 6320870. Cost: ¥80/hour. English spoken. A vocational project of Braille Without Borders. Great way to adjust to the altitude or just relax.
- Lhasa Amusement Park – No.30-32 Sela Road
Music and dance – There are some night spots that feature cabaret acts in which performers sing in Chinese, Tibetan, English, and Nepali, and dancers wear traditional Tibetan costume with long flowing cloth extending from their arms. There are a number of small bars that feature live music, although they typically have limited drink menus and cater mostly to foreign tourists.
Shop – Note that many ATMs do not accept foreign cards; however, foreign cards are generally accepted at Bank of China ATMs. Bank of China also offers currency conversion.
The stalls on Barkhor Street offer fascinating browsing. However, most of the items are junk from Nepal and other parts of China. Examples include bronzes and paintings that are all fake and laughing Buddhas with no connection with Tibetan tantric belief. Despite this, there are still many authentic items. Look for household items and carved wood pieces, such as bowls, pilgrims’ stamps, silver items such as gau (amulet cases), silver and brass personal seals, old Tibetan banknotes, knitted satchels, and woven bags. Though it is quite fascinating, buying Tibetan antiques destroys the culture.
If you want a local Buddhist Thangka painting, find a workshop on the back streets where you can watch them being painted. Searching in the back streets around the Barkhor is very rewarding in this respect, and you can find artisans making paintings, furniture, clay sculpture, masks and ceremonial banners and applique. Not all artwork is easily transported home, but it is fascinating to watch.
Tibet was the home of traditional carpet making, though many “Tibetan” carpets displayed in stores in the Barkhor and in front of the Potala are now made in Nepal in factories run by Tibetan exiles and many of the designs on display are Turkomen and Afghan and have no connection with Tibetan tradition. In some workshops you will find a few carpets on looms for display purposes, but the carpets in the showroom will mostly have been shipped in from elsewhere. To find authentic Tibetan carpets, visit the factories and their showrooms. Look closely at what is being woven, and make sure the piece you are buying matches what you are shown on the looms. Check the smell of the carpet: authentic Tibetan wool has a high lanolin content and a distinctive odor. Cheaper wools from Qinghai and Mongolia are dry by comparison. A few older carpets can still occasionally be found on the Barkhor and the shops around, though good, old carpets are much sought after by collectors, so prices tend to be surprisingly high, even in Lhasa.
Tianhai Night Market, in the western suburbs, is known for its great variety of goods and for being cheaper than the market on Barkhor Street.
- Tibetan Rugs – Snow Leopard Industries, #2 East Zang Yi Yuan Road, Lhasa (next to the Snowland Hotel and near Barkhor Square). Phone 0891-6321481. Small shop with a wide variety of traditional and contemporary Tibetan designs made at their own factory. Rug prices are fixed and very reasonable. Owner Phurbu Tsamchu speaks English and can explain about the different Tibetan designs and the process of making rugs. This store also has a fixed-price souvenir shop with very low, set prices. Can arrange shipping of rugs overseas. Credit cards accepted.
- Tibetan Rugs – The Tanva Carpet Workshop, at Nam village on the road between Lhasa and Gongkar airport, is a new Tibetan carpet workshop using only handspun Tibetan highland wool to make both traditional and contemporary carpets. You can see the whole carpet making process from start to finish and also buy carpets (including ‘seconds’ at reduced prices) in the showroom on site. To get directions and arrange a visit call factory manager Norbu on his mobile 1398 990 8681. Tanva makes the carpets that are sold in Torana stores in Beijing and Shanghai. There are photos and details on the Torana website.
- Oil Paintings – Kharma Gallery, on the 2nd floor across from the Snowland Hotel, phone 86-891-6338013. Art gallery offering quality oil paintings by Tibetan artists on Tibetan themes (landscape, people, religious, animals, etc.)
- Gedun Choephel – This gallery, on the corner of the Barkhor, roughly at the furthest point from the Jokhang temple, is the meeting place of Lhasa’s most avant-garde group of artists, several of whom have recently exhibited in Beijing and London. The gallery runs rotating exhibitions and is well worth a look.
- Handicrafts – Dropenling Handicraft Development Center, 11 Chak Tsal Gang Road, phone 0891-6360558. Call for directions, or from Barkhor Square, head to the Lhasa Mosque, then turn left. This shop is not the cheapest but has very high quality items made in Tibet. Profits go to artisan development programs. Credit cards accepted.
Monasteries & Temples of Tibet • Locations & Activities