Lhasa Travel Guide

Written by Sally Guo Updated Jun. 8, 2021

Lhasa is the capital city of Tibet Autonomous Region and has long been the center of politics, economy, culture, and religion in Tibet. Lhasa is located in the center part of Tibet and is the most suitable place for travelers to Tibet. Lhasa means "holy land" in the Tibetan language, and its status as the "holy land" is evidenced by the various monasteries in the city, Barkhor pilgrim circuit.

Lhasa is one of the most charming cities in the country, the grand Potala, the blue sky, the clear water, and the fresh air all add charm to the city. The total population of the city is around 373,000 and the total population in the urban area only is close to 130,000. People of 31 nationalities live in the city and Tibetans take up 87% of the total population. Lhasa is located in the valley of Lhasa River, a branch of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. It is 3,658 high in altitude. The city has jurisdiction over 7 counties and one district with an area of 300,000 square kilometers. The total area of the urban section is 523 square kilometers.

The history of Lhasa dated back to the 7th century AD, when the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo conquered many tribes, united Tibet, thus transferring the capital from Yarlung to Lhasa, and established The Tubo Regime. The 11th century had seen the spreading of Buddhism widely and Lhasa became the center for many eminent and learned monks to preach this religion. In the time of the 7th Dalai Lama, a very famous palace, Norbulingka, 2 kilometers away from the Potala Palace, was built. From then on, the ancient section of Lhasa city was formed, with Potala Palace as its center, Barkhor Street, and Norbulingka Palace on both sides.

Lhasa has become a prime tourism center and an important and practical stop in preparations to further tours into the region. Lhasa is the first stop of most travelers. From Lhasa, tourists can travel to Shigatse to visit and appreciate Tashihunpo Monastery, the seat of the Panchen Lama, and further to Dingri to explore Mountain Everest-from where you can pass the Zhangmu Port to Nepal; or venture into the hinterland of Tibet to see more wild and rarely-visited sights in western Tibet such as Ngari and Nagqu.

Lhasa has many tourism attractions with obvious appeal. The Potala Palace, the symbol of Tibet; Jokhang Monastery, the prime seat of the Gelugpa (Yellow) of the Tibetan Buddhism; Barkhor, the oldest circumambulation circuit, Norbulingka, the former Summer Residence of the Dalai Lama are very popular among both foreign and Chinese tourists for either their architectural wonders of religious atmosphere.

Around Lhasa, you will find Lake Namtso, the second largest lake in Tibet, well-known for its colorful hues as the ray of sunshine casting across the water surface, and Yangbujin, famous for its hot springs.

Lhasa Festivals

Tibetan people celebrate many festivals during the course of a year. If possible, try to time your visit to Lasha to coincide with one of the city's festivals. All Tibetan festivals are held according to the Tibetan calendar. Major festivals celebrated in and around Lhasa are listed below.

Tibetan New Year

Tibetan New year, known as Losar, is the most important festival in the Tibetan calendar. It is celebrated over a period of two weeks and generally falls during the months of January and February. It is regulated by the very ancient Tibetan calendar. Read more on Tibetan New Year

The Great Prayer Festival

It falls on the fourth up to the eleventh day of the first Tibetan month. It is the grandest religious festival in Tibet. Monks of Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, and Gaden Monastery will assemble in Jokhang Monastery for the occasion.

The Ox Festival

The Ox Festival takes place from the 15th day of the 8th month in the Tibetan calendar. Celebrations usually last more than 10 days or even one month sometimes. During this festival, people will ask a “heiba”(wizard) to recite scriptures, play a yak horn and kill tens of yaks or over 100 sheep, drinking freely and talking cheerfully.

The Butter Lamp Festival

This grand festival falls on the 15th day of the first Tibetan month, the last day of the Great Prayer Festival. In the daytime, people will go to monasteries to worship Buddhas and pray. At night, a lamp festival will be held on Barkhor Street, where there will be lots of shelves filled with colorful and various images such as gods, figures, birds, animals, flowers, and trees.

The Saka Dawa Festival

On this day, in accordance with their conventions, Tibetans will dress in their holiday best and assemble at the Dragon King Pool behind the magnificent Potala Palace to celebrate this grand religious festival.

Tibet Entry Permit

Tibet Entry Permit is issued only to tour groups traveling with a Chinese tour operator. Your travel agency will represent you to go on the application process. A permit to Tibet usually costs around 200 yuan. You need to apply for the permit at least 10 days in advance. Read more about Tibet Travel Permit

Money, Banks, and Currency

Bank of China, Construction Bank, and Agriculture Bank set their branches in Lhasa. Agriculture Bank has the most banking outlets and the branches of Construction Bank have been connected with a network. There’s a branch of Construction Bank at the west junction of the square of the Potala Palace. The ATM has been hooked up to the network and you can draw cash with credit cards there.

The office hours of the bank are from 9:00 to 12:00 am and 15:00 to 18:00 pm. If you withdraw money with credit cards, you’d better avoid Saturdays and Sundays.

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