Lhasa

 
4 Days Lhasa Tour: Five Star: Four Points by Sheraton Lhasa | Deluxe: Jardin Secret Hotel

Because of Lhasa’s altitude, 3,500 metres (12,000 feet) above sea level, most visitors need to take it easy the first few days in order to become acclimatized to the thin air. The best way to do this is to start your itinerary with a few short outings, taking rests in between. Strolls around the city and out along the banks of the Lhasa River are an excellent and not too taxing introduction to life in Tibet.

Chinese influence is apparent in the sharp contrast between the old Tibetan part of Lhasa and the newer section of the city constructed since the 1960s. Clustering round the Jokhang Temple, the old district contains a web of narrow lanes and houses of rough-hewn stone, brightened with whitewashed walls and painted woodwork. The new section of the city is drabber, and is dominated by wide boulevards with housing and office blocks set well back from the road behind high compound walls.

Many Tibetans still dress in their traditional costumes—mainly because the clothes are so well adapted to the rigours of the climate. A garment common to both men and women is the chuba, a thick belted coat made from sheepskin. In winter the men wear felt or fur hats. The women wear their hair in braids or tucked under coloured scarves, and—on special occasions—elaborate headdresses. Their long dresses are usually black, brown or blue in colour, but the working pinafores of woven stripes (only worn by the married women of Central Tibet) are brightly coloured.


Jokhang Temple

 

The two great sights of Lhasa are the Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace. The Jokhang Temple is the home of the most precious Buddha image the country possesses—the Sakyamuni Buddha, brought from China by the Tang dynasty princess Wen Cheng, who was married to the great King Songsten Gampo. In the main hall of the temple is a set of murals showing the arrival of Princess Wen Cheng in Tibet. The Jokhang is the most important site of pilgrimage in Tibet, and worshippers throng its halls and shrines. It is customary for them to circumambulate, in a clockwise direction, round the Holy of Holies, which contains the gilded and bejewelled statue of Sakyamuni. The roof of the Jokhang can also be visited.

 

The Potala Palace
 
Built on a hill overlooking the city, the Potala Palace is Tibet’s best-known landmark. Once the spiritual and temporal palace of the Dalai Lama, it is now a museum with shrines and chapels maintained by monks. The Potala has two sections, known as the White and Red Palaces. The White Palace, built in 1653, rises in terraces to the central Red Palace, built in 1693, which is crowned with an ornate gilded copper roof. Inside the Potala, most of which is off-limits to visitors, there are open chapels and galleries which have fascinating wall paintings. The apartments of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas are open to visitors. The innermost room of the 14th Dalai Lama’s apartment is left exactly as it was on the day of his flight to India in 1959. Visitors may also see the tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama, which consists of a huge stupa.  





Gumolingka Island

 

Travellers exploring the city should make time for an outing to Gumolingka Island in the Lhasa River—a favourite summer picnic place for Tibetans. Tibetans are generally friendly and welcoming and, in their love of open-air picnics, can show zealous hospitality. Foreign travellers have been known to reel back to their hotels in a stupor after generous (and unrefusable) refills of local liquor.

 


The Norbulingka (Jewel Park)
 
You can also visit the old summer palace of the Dalai Lama, the Norbulingka (Jewel Park). The palace lies just southwest of the the Lhasa Hotel (formerly the Holiday Inn) in the west of the city. It was built by the Seventh Dalai Lama as a summer retreat and has fine palaces, gardens, ponds and pavilions. Within a fiveminute walk of the Lhasa Hotel is the Tibet Museum which houses a remarkably rich collection of Tibetan artefacts. Despite its emphasis on the historic relationship between China and Tibet, the museum’s well laid-out series of galleries introduce different aspects of Tibetan culture. These include some rarely seen before texts on Tibetan medicine, Chinese and Tibetan documents from the Yuan, Ming and Qing periods and a number of exquisite Buddha images.  



Sera Monastery

 

On the northern outskirts of Lhasa lies Sera Monastery, a Yellow Hat Sect monastery which was once rival to the Drepung. Set against Tatipu Hill, Sera had three Tantric Colleges which were famous for their Bon tradition of occult teaching. Monks have returned to Sera and can be seen at prayer in their deep red robes and distinctive yellow hats which sweep upwards like a curved shell over their forehead. Worth looking for is the image of the horse-headed god in the Sera Je College chanting hall. The treasure of the monastery is the gilded Chenrezi image, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, of whom all Dalai Lamas are said to be incarnations. The Chenrezi image is in the Tsokchen College chanting hall. Be sure to visit Sera Monastery in the afternoons to catch the daily ritual of “debating monks”. Sera is considered to be the most intellectually rigorous of the great monasteries and part of a monk’s training is debating. Each afternoon the debating courtyard is a sea of maroon robes as monks pair off and engage in heated discussions relating to esoteric teachings.

 


 
   




The Droma Lhakang Temple

 

The Droma Lhakang Temple lies 27 kilometres (17 miles) south of Lhasa. It is dedicated to the Indian Tantric master, Atisha, who came to Tibet in the 11th century. Atisha settled in Tibet to teach, and he was instrumental in the revival of Buddhism after two centuries of fighting and destruction which followed the overthrow of the royal family in the ninth century. The temple has many images of the Tibetan goddess, Tara, who was the guardian deity of Atisha. Tara is said to have been a princess who, when challenged by monks saying that a woman could never achieve enlightenment, set out to prove them wrong. When Tara did achieve enlightenment, she was deified. It is easy to identify her image, since it is usually depicted in white or green.

To the east of Lhasa, 70 kilometres (45 miles) distant, is the Yellow Hat Sect monastery, Ganden. Once Tibet’s third largest religious community after Drepung and Sera, it was destroyed by the Chinese army in 1959 but was later rebuilt and is now in active use.