Lhasa means “Land of the Gods”
Over 1,300 years old, Lhasa 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 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.
Lhasa has many sites of historic interest, including the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery and Norbulingka. The Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and the Norbulingka are UNESCO world heritage sites. However, many important sites were damaged or destroyed mostly, but not solely, during China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Many have been restored since the 1980s.
Lhasa literally means “place of the gods”. Ancient Tibetan documents and inscriptions demonstrate that the place was called sa, a “place surrounded by a wall,” or ‘enclosure’, suggesting that the site was originally a hunting preserve within the royal residence on Marpori Hill. Lhasa is first recorded as the name, referring to the area’s temple of Jowo, in a treaty drawn up between China and Tibet in 822 C.E.
Lozang Gyatso, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, started the construction of the Potala Palace in 1645 after one of his spiritual advisers, Konchog Chophel (d. 1646), pointed out that the site was ideal as a seat of government, situated as it is between Drepung and Sera monasteries and the old city of Lhasa. The palace underwent restoration works between 1989 to 1994, costing RMB55 million (US$6.875 million) and was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.
One of the four holy mountains of central Tibet
Chokpori, meaning ‘Iron Mountain’, is a sacred hill, located south of the Potala. It is considered to be one of the four holy mountains of central Tibet and along with two other hills in Lhasa represent the “Three Protectors of Tibet.”, Chokpori (Vajrapani), Pongwari (Manjushri), and Marpori (Chenresig or Avalokiteshvara). It was the site of the most famous medical school Tibet, known as the Mentsikhang, which was founded in 1413. It was conceived of by Lobsang Gyatso, the “Great” 5th Dalai Lama, and completed by the Regent Sangye Gyatso (Sangs-rgyas rgya-mtsho) shortly before 1697.
In 2001, the Norbulingka council, the Central Committee of the Chinese Government in its 4th Tibet Session resolved to restore the complex to its original glory. The Sho Dun Festival (popularly known as the “yogurt festival”) is an annual festival held at Norbulingka during the seventh Tibetan month in the first seven days of the Full Moon period, which corresponds to dates in July/August according to the Gregorian calendar.
The Barkhor is an area of narrow streets and a public square in the old part of the city located around sangkangs) in the four cardinal directions, with incense burning constantly, to please the gods protecting the Jokhang. Most of the old streets and buildings have been demolished in recent times and replaced with wider streets and new buildings. Some buildings in the Barkhor were damaged in the 2008 unrest.
The Jokhang is located on Barkhor Square in the old town section of Lhasa. For most design, and was later extended resulting in a blend of Nepalese and Tang dynasty styles. It possesses the statues of Chenresig, Padmasambhava and King Songtsan Gambo and his two foreign brides, Princess Wen Cheng (niece of Emperor Taizong of Tang China) and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal and other important items.
Ramoche Temple is considered the most important temple in Lhasa after the Jokhang Temple. Situated in the northwest of the city, it is east of the Potala and north of the Jokhang, covering a total area of 4,000 square meters (almost one acre). The temple was gutted and partially destroyed in the 1960s and its famous bronze statue disappeared. In 1983 the lower part of it was said to have been found in a Lhasa rubbish tip, and the upper half in Beijing. They have now been joined and the statue is housed in the Ramoche Temple, which was partially restored in 1986, and still showed severe damage in 1993. Following the major restoration of 1986, the main building in the temple now has three stories.
The Tibet Museum in Lhasa is the official museum of the Tibet Autonomous Region
It was inaugurated on October 5, 1999, is the first large, modern museum in the Tibet Autonomous Region and has a permanent collection of around 1000 to architectural design throughout history such as Tibetan doors and construction beams. It is located in an L-shaped building west of the Potala Palace on the corner of Norbulingkha Road. The museum is organized into three main sections: a main exhibition hall, a folk cultural garden and administrative offices.
The Monument to the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet was unveiled in the Potala Square modernisation,’” constituting “an unpardonable and incalculable crime against the ancient city of Lhasa’s landscape, human culture, and environment.”
Monasteries & Temples of Tibet • Locations & Activities