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Lhasa China: An Ancient Tibetan City You Must See

Come visit “Goat Earth!” Not nearly as enticing as “Land of the Gods,” but that was the original name of Lhasa China.

King Songtsen built the Jokhang Temple on what was originally a marshland in ancient Lhasa China. He used goats to haul mounds of dirt in to build up the foundation, hence Rasa or “Goat Earth” was born.

After his death, a more fitting name of Lhasa, or “Land of the Gods” was wisely chosen.

Once know as “the forbidden city” due to its remote and inaccessible location, Lhasa China is more accessible than ever for travel and unique photography opportunities.

Tibet is located in the southwest area of China bordering Nepal and India. Being isolated from the world for centuries, a unique culture developed unlike its Chinese neighbors to the east, nor it’s Indian neighbors to the west.

Home to the famed Dalai Lama, there has often been tension and direct clashes with the Chinese government over the last century.

The Dalai Lama is not only the Tibetan spiritual leader but is sometimes considered a god-like figure. At the very least, their political representative.

This, of course, caused (and continues to cause), tension with the Chinese government as they are uneasy having a “king” within their borders.

The Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959 when a forceful Chinese takeover of Tibet seemed imminent.

Up until the 1980s, Lhasa was still nearly impossible to get to, both geographically and due to Chinese travel bans. However, tourists are more than welcome to enjoy this unforgettable and sacred land unlike any other on earth.

Best Time to Visit Lhasa China

Any time between March and October is an ideal time to visit. The snow has melted and there are fewer rains.

However, it does sometimes rain during the night, but the days tend to be sunny and bright all summer long.

Because of this wide difference of cold and hot, you’ll need to be prepared for both: cold and rainy gear for the night; sunglasses and sunblock for the day.

How to Get to Lhasa

There are three ways to get into Lhasa:

  1. Plane: Lhasa Gonggar Airport is about 40 miles outside of Lhasa.Local regulations require you to meet with a licensed tour guide upon arrival. So, you can’t just “pop in” on your own and roam around (you’ll also need to obtain a travel VISA from the Chinese embassy).

    While flying is the easiest and fasted way to get to Lhasa, you might experience some altitude sickness when you land because you had no time to acclimate.

    You’ll get over it in a day or two, but those could be some very uncomfortable days.

  2. Train: Although it’s a long trip from Bejing to Tibet, arriving by train is an excellent choice to admire the beautiful scenery and to slowly acclimate to the high altitude.Again, you’ll need to buy a ticket through a travel agency per regulations.
  3. Bus: The bus will take even longer, but if you really want to soak up the scenery with several stops along the way for quick photo ops, arriving by bus can be an interesting and rewarding alternative.

One word of caution, Tibet is still adjusting to tourism, so travel to and from isn’t as smooth and hassle-free as it is in other parts of the world. Expect delays and frustrating adjustments to your schedule.

Where to Stay In Lhasa

There are a handful of hotels for any budget. Be sure to book ahead since accommodations may be limited during the peak season.

  • Budget: The Bai Yun Guesthouse is a safe and pleasant place for budget accommodations. Rooms range from dormitory-style to fully private rooms.
  • Mid-range: The Four Points Sheraton is clean and comfortable with a good restaurant serving local and international cuisine. English speaking staff with the standard accommodations you’re used to.
  • Luxury: The St. Regis Lhasa is considered an unprecedented hotel experience for Lhasa. Beautifully designed with superb service. If you’re in Tibet, why not splurge a little?

What to See and Do in Lhasa

For shutterbugs, Lhasa is a goldmine. Around every corner are the most unique architecture and cultural artifacts you may ever see.

Some must-see places are:

  • Jokhang Temple: Aside from being the historical and cultural hub of Lhasa, it also houses Tibet’s most cherished statue, the Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha.Brought to Lhasa in the 7th century C.E., it is said to have been blessed by the Buddha himself.
  • Potala Palace: The enchanted palace on the mountain with its red and whitewashed walls. When you think of the Dalai Lama and Tibet, you’re probably thinking of this place.
  • Barkhor Street: This is where you’ll find all the locals, shops, street food, and the famous Tibetan rugs. Eat, drink, buy, and wander around lost alleyways for incredible photo ops.

How to Get Around in Lhasa

  • On Foot: The easiest way to get around in Lhasa is on foot. Most of the major attractions are well within walking distance.
  • By Bus: Buses are available for longer trips, but typically only used for locals. You better know a few local words to be sure you’re going in the right direction.
  • By Taxi: Taxis are common, but don’t be surprised if the driver stops to pick up a few more people along the way to minimize his costs.You’ll split the cost with however many people end up in the taxi, so it works out in the end for everyone.
  • Rickshaws: Bicycle rickshaws are a good alternative when your feet need a rest. Be prepared to negotiate a price, but fares are reasonable.

What to Eat and Drink in Lhasa

While there are enough western cuisine options to keep any traveler comfortable, why would you want to when you can eat local?

Try the tea houses for some of the best, least expensive, and more authentic local Tibetan food.

When you’re ready to branch out, there are many Chinese, Indian, and Nepali restaurants recently opened. This can be a great chance to sample several regional dishes in one Tibetan visit.

Tea with yak butter and salt is a common drink for locals. Be sure to try it at least once.

Try the Ganglamedo bar for the ultimate tourist experience. Eat, drink and be merry at this local watering hole filled with music, beer, and dance.

Local Tips for Lhasa China

As always, it’s a good idea to know a few things about local customs to avoid offense or risk of your safety.

Do not show any pictures of the Dalai Lama to any monks. They really don’t like this and it can get you in real trouble.

In fact, it’s best to admire the monks from afar at all times.

As with anywhere in the world, be cautious of petty theft like pickpockets. It’s rare in Lhasa, but it does happen.

Other than that, enjoy your trip to Lhasa China! Easily one of the most unique travel experiences you and your camera will ever have.

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