Top 8 Attractions to Visit in Tibet

Written by Ruru Zhou Updated Jul. 14, 2021

Tibet is always described as a holy land, not only because of its beauty but also its spirit that catches many travelers' hearts. Towering Snow Mountains, grand plateaus, rare animals, colorful prayer flags, beautiful lakes, sacred monasteries and colorful Tibetan dress, all these make Tibet a fascinating place to visit. This article focuses on must-see, must-do and some unusual activities in Tibet.

The Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Norbulinka Palace are all included on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the "Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace"

1. Potala Palace

Standing on the "Red Hill", in the northwestern part of Lhasa City, the Potala Palace(布达拉宫) is both symbol and spirit of this ancient city and indeed of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. An imposing palace overlooking the city, the Potala now houses a rich collection of ancient and beautiful relics, precious jewels, art and craftwork.

Known as the Pearl on the Roof of the World, this palace has a history of over 1,300 years. The first buldling was erected on the Red Hill during the 7th century by Songtsen Gampo as a defensive structure during his unification of Tibet, after he transferred his capital from Tsedang in Nagqu to the Potala Palace. A more popular story is that Songtsen Gampo built this palace for his bride, Princess Wencheng, when she brought images of the Buddha with her from inland China.

The 13-storey palace was once the winter residence of the Dalai Lama; the White Palace provided living quarters whilst the Red Palace was used for religious purposes. The 5th Dalai Lama initiated major renovations in the 17th Century.

Visitors follow a specific route through the Potala; not all the small chapels are available to tourists, but during major Tibetan festivals they may be lucky enough to see more of the palace. There is still an enormous amount on view, climbing slowly through room after room of this amazing treasure trove. Photography is not permitted inside and visitor numbers are controlled. Visitors need to buy tickets the day before visiting, and show an ID or passport. It is also important to be punctual according to the time stated on the ticket. The whole visit can take up to 4 hours or more, including time to climb the stairs outside the palace itself.

Given sufficient time travelers may also walk around the palace clockwise to join local Tibetan people who go to the palace to worship every day.

2. Norbulingka

Built in the 18th century during the time of the 7th Dalai Lama, Norbulingka(罗布林卡)is situated in the western part of Lhasa City and served as the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas. Its beauty, role and function are very similar to that of the Summer Palace in Beijing, so Norbulingka is also famous as the Summer Palace in Lhasa. Norbulingka means 'treasure garden' or 'jeweled park' in Tibetan and is a large and beautiful complex.

The complex comprises several sections: formal gardens, pools, courtyards and fountains surrounding palaces and pavilions and then a big forest garden for various plants and natural big trees. The design of draws on Tibetan styles as well as absorbing the traditional Chinese gardening style, giving a sense of tranquility and splendor. There are over 100 species in the less formal woods including those native to Lhasa area as well as rare flowers, famous and expensive plants from the Himalaya, inland China and other countries. 4 hours is required to truly appreciate Norbulinka.

3. Jokhang Temple

Jokhang Temple (大昭寺) is the most famous temple in Lhasa. In the centre of old Lhasa, on Barkhor Square, and surrounded by Barkhor Street, it is highly significant to the city, because it was first named 'Rasa Tulnang Tsuklakang' (House of Mysteries), and Rasa is an early name for Lhasa City. The Temple was so called because it was built to house the images and statues of Buddha that Songtsen Gampo's Nepalese wife (Princess Bhikruti) brought to Lhasa as well as those brought from China by his other wife, Princess Wengcheng. It is also one of the key sites for Tibetan Buddhism, and highly revered throughout the world.

Jokhang Temple is regarded as the most outstanding example of Tibetan Buddhist buildings from the Tubo Period through several reconstructions during the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. With its unique Chinese golden roof, the temple is four-storeys high, while the main building is three-storeys with Tibetan style carved beams and watchtowers. The wooden animals and sphinx under the roof are typical of Nepalese and Indian styles of the period. The combination of different styles makes the temple particularly attractive.

The Temple houses many images and statues of Buddha, various other deities and historical figures. Interestingly the statue brought from China by Princess Wencheng remains there, whilst the one brought from Nepal by Princess Bhikruti was later moved to the Ramoche Temple.

4. Barkhor Street

Barkhor Street (八角街) is in the center of old Lhasa City, and is a living showcase of life as it has been traditionally lived in old Lhasa. Local residents in their colorful costumes, braids and head dresses, travelers, religious pilgrims prostrating themselves and lots of stalls selling Tibetan products make the street a lively spot in terms of religion, economy and culture.

The street is encircles Jokhang Temple, and is about a kilometer long. Tibetan Buddhists believe that circling the temple on foot and clockwise is the way to worship Shakya Muni Buddha, housed in the Temple. Most visitors also walk clockwise around Barkhor Street to soak up the atmosphere and experience local tradition. They often move on to Makye Amye,a nice bar/restaurant overlooking Barkhor Square, and to take a break from shopping and bargaining for unique souvenirs and local goods.

5. Sera Monastery

lies at the foot of Tatipu Hill in northern Lhasa. 'Sera' means wild roses in Tibetan and the monastery is named for the many wild roses growing on the hill. Sera, Drepung and Gandan Monasteries are the three most famous in Lhasa. Sera Monastery was constructed in 1419 (during the Ming Dynasty) and at times there have been around 5500 Tibetan monks in residence. There are over 10 thousand Vajra statues from Tibet, inland China or India, along with many other interesting paintings and murals – not to be missed.

The "Monk's Debates" attract many visitors. These are integral to the tradition of scholarship, learning and philosophy that developed here in the study of Buddhism, and the young monks' debates are famous particularly for the ritual gestures, behaviors and performance that accompany the debates according to strict rules. These occur on weekdays 15:00-17:00.

6. Lake Yamdrok

Lake Yamdrok is one of the Three Holy Lakes in Tibet, along with Namtso and Lake Manasorovar. The literal translation is "Jasper lake on high pasture", and this lake enjoys a reputation as one of the most beautiful in the world.

Local legend has it that the lake is a turquoise earring that was dropped by a fairy, since it is not possible to get a panoramic view of the lake! Lake Yamdrok zigzags between the mountains for about 130 km. The colors vary according to the time of day, giving it a dreamlike aspect. The surrounding landscape is blessed with snowcapped mountains, high meadows, hot springs, monasteries, along with marvelous wildlife and plants, creating sences of great beauty. A day visit is needed from Lhasa.

7. Mt. Everest Base Camp

The highest mountain in the world at 8844.43 meter (29017.16 ft), Mt. Everest has been a dream for many adventurers. Due to the demands of the terrain only specialist trekking groups or people with a professional guide are allowed. Mt. Everest Base Camps (珠峰大本营) are designed for visitors who wish to see the breathtaking views of this iconic mountain.

Mt. Everest borders Nepal and Tibet, thus there are two Mt. Everest Base Camps, one on each side of the mountain. South Base Camp is in Nepal with an altitude of 5,364 meters (17,598 ft) and North Base Camp is in Tibet at an altitude of 5,150 meters (16,900 ft), 19 km as the crow flies from the mountaintop. It is possible to enjoy the views from here and also experience life on the snowy mountains just by getting here.

North Base Camp is situated south of the Rongbuk Monastery with a group of "tent inns". Tea houses, stores, post office and lights at night are also available, but be aware that there are currently only two contemporary toilets. The peak climbing season is April and May, when there are lots of climbers from all over the world stopping at the base camp for rest and supplies. Colorful tents with many logos from world-class outdoor clubs make the camp even more special, all against the wonderful backdrop of the Himalaya.

8. Tashilhunpo Monastery

The first sight of Tashilunpo Monastery (扎什伦布寺) is splendid, the gilded roofs of the monastery atop a green hill in the western part of Shigatse City is visible from a great distance and provides an impressive introduction to visitors. The Monastery was constructed in 1447 during the Ming Dynasty by the first Dalai Lama and later became the residence for the fourth Panchen Lama and his successors.

Tashilunpo was less damaged during the Cultural Revolution in China and subsequent upheavals than some other places, and now boasts some wonderful statues, murals, thangkas, and other fascinating examples of Buddhist religious art..

The most important activity at Tashlunpo is the Buddha Exhibition Festival held on the 15th day of the 5th month in the Tibetan calendar. The festival generally lasts three days. The monastery places three statues of Buddha on a huge platform facing the sun. Many monks and the local population go to worship and present Hadas to pray for peace in the world.

It takes around three hours provides to get the most from a visit.

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