Travel Destinations: Tibet
Known as ‘the Rooftop of the World’, Tibet is one of the most magical and hauntingly beautiful places you will ever experience in this world. When you think of Tibet, bright blue skies, peaceful nomads of their horses and magnificent temples instantly spring to mind.
Tibet is a country that has experienced some of the harshest treatment throughout the centuries and the people can live in some of the harshest environments; however, these strains do not deter the traveller from seeing the beauty of this country and her people.
There are five major roads that get the international traveller to Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. However, foreigners are only officially allowed to use the Qinghai and Nepal ones only. The Qinghai route is 1754km of road that connects Lhasa with Xining via Golmud. The mountain passes get quite chilly in the evening so take some warm clothing for this. Alternatively, the 920km road from Kathmandu to Lhasa is known as the Friendship Hwy.
Other routes into Lhasa are in Sichuan, Yunnan and Xinjiang and are closed to foreigners. Some travellers will try to hitchhike over the border but the Chinese government comes down very hard on both so do not attempt it.
Lhasa is the capital of Tibet and the first port of call for any traveller – it is the sacred and spiritual city in the Tibetan world. The PLA came marching in during the 1950s and reopened the city in the 1980s. However, the Chinese had done quite a lot of damage to this beautiful city; many of the temples now sit next to modern karaoke bars and such. Despite this though, Lhasa is still a beautiful place.
The Potala Palace (Budala Gong) is the world famous sight that visitors flock to in their thousands. It was once the seat of the Tibetan government and was the place where the Dalai Lamas would visit during the winter season.
It rises 13 storeys into the air, almost touching the sky it seems. There are over 1000 rooms in the palace and you can see the pilgrims whispering prayers as they go from room to room as they make offerings of liquid yak butter and khatak (ceremonial scarves).
Visitors have to line up for tickets the night before as they are limited here. But once you have got your ticket you can enter and see the White Palace (which is the eastern part of the building and were the living quarters of the Dalai Lama), and the Red Palace (the section used for religious purposes).
In Lhasa, about 3km west of the Potala Palace is Norbulingka (Luobulinka), which was the former summer home of the Dalai Lama. The highlight in this charming park is the New Summer Palace (Takten Migyu Potrang) and there are other chapels and palaces that you can visit as well.
Venturing outside of the capital is a wide range of wonderful cultural attractions for you to discover. Start by taking a trip to Drepung Monastery. Located 7km west of Lhasa, this 15th century monastery was one of the ‘three pillars of the Tibetan state’ along with Sera and Ganden Monasteries. The monastery was regularly destroyed by the Mongols and the Tsang kings but during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards pretty much left it alone fortunately. It has undergone some restoration and you can clearly see its architectural and spiritual beauty.
Sera Monastery (Sera Si) is located 5km north of Lhasa and another place you cannot miss. It was founded in 1419 by a disciple of Tsongkhapa and formed one of the three pillars of the Tibetan state. Today there are about 600 monks at home here, but at the very height it housed about 5000. Come here and you can catch the monks debating in the assembly hall.
Nam-tso is located 195km north of the capital and the waters are sacred. Think of crystal clear blue waters shimmering in the sunlight and you are here. You can also visit the Tashi Dor Monastery which is on an elevation of 4718m so climb slowly!
Samye Monastery is located 30km west of Tsetang and was built in 775 CE by King Trisong Detsen and was the first monastery in Tibet. The architecture and design here is absolutely beautiful – the main hall symbolises Mt Meru as the centre of the universe and other buildings here are also representations of Tibetan cosmetology. Although somewhat difficult to reach, once you make it here you will be rewarded with some exquisite beauty, history and peace.
There are many other places in Tibet to visit and explore. It is best to book your hotels and your visas before you depart but once you get here you will not want to leave!