Lhasa

Inside Norbulingka Summer Palace

Lhasa (Tibetan: ལྷ་ས་, Chinese: 拉萨) is the capital of the Tibet autonomous region in China. It is located 3,750 meters (12,000 feet) above sea level on the northern slopes of the Himalayas.

Understand

Lhasa, which means "Land of the Gods" and is over 1,300 years old, sits in a valley right next to the Lhasa River. In the eastern part of the city, near the Jokhang Temple and Barkhor neighborhood, Tibetan influence is still strong and evident and it is common to see traditionally dressed Tibetans engaged on a kora (a clockwise circumambulation or walk around the Jokhang Temple), often spinning prayer wheels. The western part of Lhasa is more ethnically Han Chinese in character. It is busy and modern and looks similar to many other Chinese cities. Much of the infrastructure, such as banks and government offices is to be found there.

Get in

Non-Chinese nationals are required to obtain a special permit and must have a tour guide to visit Tibet. For information on visa requirements and immigration procedure, see Tibet#Get_in

By plane

The Lhasa Gonggar Airport (贡嘎机场) (IATA: LXA) is 61km southwest of Lhasa. There are flights from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Kunming, Qamdo, Shanghai, Xi'an, Xining, and Zhongdian (Shangri-La). International flights are available to Kathmandu, Nepal.

Non-Chinese nationals are required to be met at the airport by their tour guide. Taxis are available outside the airport. There is also an official shuttle bus (¥25).

By bus

Non-Chinese nationals are not allowed to ride the intercity buses in Tibet. For Chinese nationals, there is frequent and cheap bus service between Lhasa and nearly all parts of Tibet.

By train

The Qinghai-Tibet (Qingzang) railway connects Lhasa and Golmud, with services continuing onto Xining, Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing.

It is difficult to get a ticket during Chinese New Year (January and February) and summer holidays (July and August).

Transportation from the train station

A taxi ride between the urban area and the train station should cost a flat ¥30 and no drivers use the meter. Be sure to fix the price in advance as many drivers will try to charge ¥100. As an alternative, take a bus (¥1) to anywhere across the river, and then get a taxi that uses the meter.

Get around

The central area with the main tourist attractions (Potala, Jokhang, Barkhor, Ramoche) is easily navigable on foot.

See

The Potala Palace

Do

Buy

Note that many ATMs do not accept foreign cards; however, foreign cards are generally accepted at Bank of China ATMs. Bank of China also offers currency conversion.

The stalls on Barkhor Street offer fascinating browsing. However, most of the items are junk from Nepal and other parts of China. Examples include bronzes and paintings that are all fake and laughing Buddhas with no connection with Tibetan tantric belief. Despite this, there are still many authentic items. Look for household items and carved wood pieces, such as bowls, pilgrims' stamps, silver items such as gau (amulet cases), silver and brass personal seals, old Tibetan banknotes, knitted satchels, and woven bags. Though it is quite fascinating, buying Tibetan antiques destroys the culture.

If you want a local Buddhist Thangka painting, find a workshop on the back streets where you can watch them being painted. Searching in the back streets around the Barkhor is very rewarding in this respect, and you can find artisans making paintings, furniture, clay sculpture, masks and ceremonial banners and applique. Not all artwork is easily transported home, but it is fascinating to watch.

Tibet was the home of traditional carpet making, though many "Tibetan" carpets displayed in stores in the Barkhor and in front of the Potala are now made in Nepal in factories run by Tibetan exiles and many of the designs on display are Turkomen and Afghan and have no connection with Tibetan tradition. In some workshops you will find a few carpets on looms for display purposes, but the carpets in the showroom will mostly have been shipped in from elsewhere. To find authentic Tibetan carpets, visit the factories and their showrooms. Look closely at what is being woven, and make sure the piece you are buying matches what you are shown on the looms. Check the smell of the carpet: authentic Tibetan wool has a high lanolin content and a distinctive odor. Cheaper wools from Qinghai and Mongolia are dry by comparison. A few older carpets can still occasionally be found on the Barkhor and the shops around, though good, old carpets are much sought after by collectors, so prices tend to be surprisingly high, even in Lhasa.

Tianhai Night Market, in the western suburbs, is known for its great variety of goods and for being cheaper than the market on Barkhor Street.

Eat

See Tibet#Eat for descriptions of typical Tibetan food.

A lot of nice and comfortable restaurants are located near the Jokhang Temple along Beijing Zhong Lu (or called Beijing Road Middle) and its tributary road Zang Yiyuan Lu (or called Tibetan Hospital Road). Some of them serve western food, Nepali and Indian food. Meals can be as cheap as ¥20 per person, including drinks. The smaller Tibetan restaurants, especially the teahouses, may not be decorated as nicely, but are much cheaper than the tourist restaurants and serve more tasty food. Note that most of the Chinese restaurants serve Sichuan's spicy cuisine. Although Tibetan restaurants are more traditional and full of history, to the western traveler the Chinese food might seem more diverse and more appealing than the greasy boiled yak meat typically served in the Tibetan ones. Westerners also might want to avoid the traditional Tibetan tea which is in fact black tea with yak butter in it and is typically being kept warm in heat insulating containers for quite some time.

Apart from eating at restaurants, you can buy food or snacks in the main supermarkets, all around Beijing Zhong Lu.

Be prepared with at least a few basic food describing words as in many of the restaurants they only speak Chinese! Be prepared to learn to use chop sticks as some restaurants do not have forks, spoons or knives.

Drink

See Tibet#Drink for descriptions of typical Tibetan drinks.

Sleep

Some hotels have branches of KTV (Chinese Karaoke). You should ensure that your room is not above one of these establishments or it may be difficult to sleep!

Budget

Mid range

Splurge

Intercontinental have recently opened a luxury hotel in Lhasa, but this has been hugely contrerversal and has resulted in the boycott of the company by many Pro-Tibet groups, such as 'Free Tibet'. Its' simple - Don't stay there if you support human rights for Tibetans!

Stay safe

Altitude sickness

Read the article on altitude sickness and study its symptoms, precautions, and treatments before traveling to Lhasa. Altitude sickness can easily ruin a holiday and can even be fatal. Lhasa is 3,750 meters above sea level, so there is considerable risk of altitude sickness, especially if you fly in from a much lower altitude and your body does not have time to acclimatize. If you must fly to Lhasa, it would be wise to fly via an intermediate destination such as Kunming at 1,950 meters and spend several days there to acclimatize before flying to Lhasa.

Religious laws

Do not under any circumstances give or show to monks or locals pictures of Dalai Lama as this can get you in trouble and cause severe trouble for the recipient. Keep in mind some monks may collaborate with the authorities, or may not be monks at all.

Petty theft

Take common sense precautions when shopping at the many small kiosks around the Barkhor and along the Jokhang Temple circumambulation route. While problems are few, leaving large backpacks at your hotel and keeping your wallet well guarded are both good ideas.

Beggars

Do not give to children begging and be cautious before giving to any beggars in this area at all; giving to one may attract a crowd.

Respect

Go next

If you are traveling within Tibet without an organized tour, make sure you have the proper permits/visas to travel to these destinations.

A popular trekking route is available between Ganden and Samye Monasteries. The average is 4–5 days with fast walkers taking 3 days.


Routes through Lhasa

Xining Golmud  N  S  END


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, March 13, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.