Places to See in Tibet
Lhasa, the capital of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, has a history of more than 1,300 years. It is the political, economic, cultural and transport center of the region. Lhasa covers an area of close to 30,000 square km. It has a downtown of 544 square km and a population of 400,000; 140,000 of its people live in the downtown area. Lhasa is home to the Tibetan, Han, and Hui peoples, as well as many other ethnic groups, but the Tibetan ethnic group makes up 87 percent of the total population.
Lhasa has beautiful scenery. The Lhasa River, known as the merry blue waves, runs through the snow-covered peaks and gullies of the Nyainqentanglha Mountains, extending 315 km. The river empties into the Yarlung Zangbo River at Quxu, forming a scenic wonder that features blue and white water waves.
The ancient city of Lhasa stands by the Lhasa River. Inside the city towers the Potala Palace. The city features a combination of traditional and modern things, including prayer wheels and computers.
Located at the bottom of a small basin surrounded by mountains, Lhasa has an elevation of 3,650 meters and sits at 91’06E and 29’36N, the center of the Tibet Plateau. Blessed with flat land and mild weather, Lhasa is free of frigid winters and unbearably hot summers, having an annual average daily temperature of 8 degrees C (43 degrees F). It enjoys 3,000 hours of sunlight annually, much more than all other cities in this regard, giving the city its title of sunlit city.
Lhasa enjoys an annual precipitation of 500 mm. It rains mainly in July, August, and September. The rainy seasons in the summer and fall are the best seasons of the year when it rains mostly at night and is sunny in the daytime.
Potala Palace is located in the heart of Lhasa city. Potala Palace has become a landmark for the city. Potala Palace is located on the side of Marpo Ri hill, the Red Mountain at an altitude of 3,700 m. The Potala Palace was named after Mount Potala, the abode of Chenresig or Avalokitesvara. The first palace was built by King Songtsen Gampo in 637 in order to greet his bride Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty of China. This extravagant palace was once used by Dalai Lamas as a winter retreat and is also known as the Winter Palace. But now it is used as a museum to showcase precious articles of history, culture, and arts. You will also find the most sacred items of Buddhist religion like amazing statues of Lord Buddha and many religious paintings. In 1994, the palace was recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO and named as the “New Seven Wonders” by American media. Now, it is also on the list of Chinese national key protected cultural relics. Being one of the oldest structures in Tibet, Potala Palace has also become the most visited monument in Tibet. You can visit the palace between 9.30 AM to 1 PM and from 3 PM to 6 PM.
The construction of the palace was started by King Songtsen Gumpa in the 7th century for his two newlywed wives. The palace was used by the king as a retreat for meditation till his death. The palace also suffered heavy losses due to several wars and lightning strikes and later reconstructed by the order of 5th Dalai Lama in 1645. It gave a new look to the structure as the palace was not only mended but was completely restructured, thus becoming a holy seat of Dalai Lamas gaining the important political center. After the 7th Dalai Lama, who constructed a summer palace in Norbulingka, Potala Palace was only used in winters. It stopped being an abode for Dalai Lamas after the 14th Dalai Lama was ousted from here to Dharamshala in India due to a failed uprising against the invading Chinese in 1959. Since then it is used as a State museum of China and is now a famous tourist destination. The construction of the present palace began in 1645 under the fifth Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso. In 1648, the Potrang Karpo known as White Palace was completed, and the Potala became the winter palace of Dalai Lama from that time. The Potrang Marpo or the Red Palace was added to the complex between 1690 and 1694.
Potala Palace generally comprises two portions, the White Palace which is the administrative block and the Red Palace – a religious block. You will be entering the Palace from the East portal which will lead you to Deyang Shar courtyard. This is the place where Dalai Lamas used to enjoy Tibetan Opera. To the west of it is the White Palace.
The White Palace is the part of the Potala Palace that makes up the living quarters of the Dalai Lama. The first White Palace was built during the lifetime of the fifth Dalai Lama in the 1650s then was extended to its size today by the thirteenth Dalai Lama in the early twentieth century. This palace was used for secular uses and contained the living quarters of monks, offices, the seminary, and the printing house, on the fifth and sixth floor. On the fourth floor, there is the longest hall of the White Palace called the.
Great East Hall
It is a brilliantly decorated hall that was once used for holding any big religious or political functions. A central, yellow-painted courtyard known as a Deyangshar separates the living quarters of the Lama and his monks with the Red Palace. The yellow building at the side of the White Palace in the courtyard between the main palaces houses giant banners embroidered with holy symbols that hung across the south face of the Potala during New Year festivals. From the balcony of the White Palace, you will get a panoramic view of Lhasa City.
In the Red Palace, you will find relics and antiques of the 7th century. The Red Palace is full of statues and gorgeously carved stupas that will completely justify your effort to come to Potala Palace. The Red Palace is part of the Potala Palace that is completely devoted to religious study and Buddhist prayer. Here also you will find a gigantic hall in the middle, the Greatest West Hall, which is the largest hall in the entire Potala Palace. The walls of the halls are filled with portraits about the life and works of the fifth Dalai Lama. Apart from the halls, you can also visit the other five chapels, The Saint’s Chapel, The North Chapel, The South Chapel, The East, and The West Chapel. The North Chapel is dedicated to Sakyamuni Buddha along with the fifth Dalai Lama. Similarly, all other chapels are also dedicated to some important personalities in the course of history. It consists of an intricate layout of many different halls, chapels and libraries on many different levels with a multifaceted array of smaller galleries and winding passages.
The great West Hall is the main central hall of the Red Palace, which consists of four great chapels that proclaim the glory, and power of the builder of the Potala, the Fifth Dalai Lama. The hall is illustrious for its fine murals reminiscent of Persian miniatures, depicting events in the Fifth Dalai Lama’s life. The famous scene of his visit to Emperor Shun Zhi in Beijing is located on the east wall outside the entrance. The numerous columns and pillars of the hall are wrapped with a special cloth from Bhutan.
The Saint’s Chapel
On the north side of the great west hall is this holiest shrine of the Potala. The 19th century Tongzhi Emperor of China wrote a large blue and gold inscription over the door. It contains a small ancient jewel-encrusted statue of Avalokiteshvara and two of his attendants. On the floor below, a low, dark passage leads into the Dharma Cave where Songsten Gampo is believed to have studied Buddhism. In the holy cave are images of Songsten Gampo, his wives, his chief minister and Sambhota, the scholar who developed Tibetan writing in the company of his many divinities.
The North Chapel
The North Chapel centers on a crowned Sakyamuni Buddha on the left and the Fifth Dalai Lama on the right seated on splendid gold thrones. Their equal height and shared aura entail an equal status. On the far left of the chapel is the gold stupa. This tomb belongs to the Eleventh Dalai Lama who died as a child and has rows of benign Medicine Buddhas who were the heavenly healers. On the right of the chapel are Avalokiteshvara and his historical incarnations including Songsten Gampo and the first four Dalai Lamas.
The South Chapel
The South Chapel centers on Padmasambhava, the 8th-century Indian magician and saint accompanied by his two wives. His Tibetan wife, a gift from the King is by his left knee and his other wife from his native land of Swat is by his right. On his left, eight of his holy manifestations meditate with an upturned gaze. On his right, eight furious manifestations wield instruments of magic powers to subdue the demons of the Bon faith.
The East Chapel
The East chapel is devoted to Tsong Khapa the founder of the Gelug tradition. Lamas from Sakya Monastery who had briefly ruled Tibet and formed their own tradition until converted by Tsong Khapa surround his central figure. There are also some other statues on display that are made of various different materials and exhibit noble expressions.
The West Chapel
This chapel contains the five golden stupas. The massive central stupa contains the mummified body of the Fifth Dalai Lama. This stupa is built of sandalwood and is amazingly coated in 3,727 kg of solid gold and studded with semi-precious jewels. It is almost 50 feet high and rises to three stories. On the left is the funeral stupa for the Twelfth Dalai Lama and on the right that of the Tenth Dalai Lama.
The First Gallery is on the floor above the West chapel and has a number of large windows that give light and ventilation to the Great West Hall and its chapels below. The Second Gallery provides access to the central pavilion which is used for visitors to the palace for refreshments and to buy souvenirs. The Third Gallery has a number of dark rooms branching off it containing enormous collections of bronze statues and miniature figures made of copper and gold worth a fortune.
The Tomb of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama
The tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama is located west of the Great West Hall. Built-in 1933, this 14 meters high giant stupa holds priceless jewels and one ton of solid gold. Devotional offerings include elephant tusks from India, ceramic lions and vases and a pagoda made from over 200,000 pearls. The elaborated murals of stupa exhibit the traditional Tibetan style and depict many events of the life of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama during the early 20th century.
Tsetang (Zetang) is the birthplace of the earliest Tibetans and the political and economic center of Shangnan prefecture. It sits on the south bank in the middle section of the Yarlung Tsangpo River with a moderate climate at an altitude of 3,600 meters.
The nearby Yarlung River scenic area is a national scenic park with Samye Monastery, Yumbu Lhakang Palace, the burial site for Tsampos and Traduk Monastery spotting the region. It is located between two mountain ranges at the northern side of Himalayas, to the south of Nyanchen Tanggula mountains, just by the Yalong zangbu river, with a land area over 800,000 square kilometers. The Yalong river flows from the south through the area and empties itself into the Yalong zangbu river, hence the Yalong river formed a huge river delta at its end when it merges into another.
There are several No.1s– the first farming land, the first king of Tibet, the first palace (Yhongbulakhang), the first monastery in Tibet (Samye monastery). And several kings tombs are here: the world treasure-Pearl Tangka (A type of painting) was also and is still kept in Changdrok monastery.
The Chenpu meditation caves area (located to the north of Samye monastery) is still a dream place for Tibetan Buddhism practices. You can have a touch and visit to the holy lake Larmulatso–which was and now still the image reflection watching lake for finding clues to choose the rein created boy of the Past Dalai Lhama and Panchan Lhama.
An excellent excursion from Lhasa is a circuit that takes in the towns of Shigatse, Gyantse, and Tsetang. Fine highways and stunning scenery, on the way, make this a superb trip. It also offers a comprehensive experience of Tibet ina neat itinerary. Shigatse (altitude 3/900 m) lies some 274 km to the west of Lhasa and is Tibet’s second-largest city. The highway runs alongside the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) river passing through narrow gorges and broad river valleys.|Framers plowing, their fields with yaks, sheep grazing on the vast plains, awesome sand dunes rocky hills in the distance are the scenic rewards of this journey. The Tashihunpo Monastery, built-in 1447 by the fits Dalai Lama, is Shigatses’s most important cultural and religious site. The main chapel here contains a huge 26-meter high statue of Maitreya the future Buddha. Other buildings contain images of Shakyamuni (The present Buddha), white and green Taras and embalmed bodies of past Panchen Lamas.
Shigatse to Gyantse (altitude 3,800 m) is 94 km of good road. Gyantse’s symbol is the Kumbum stupa which is 32 m high and contains 77 rooms and 100,000 images of the Buddha. A prince of Gyantse had it built in 1427 by craftsmen form the Kathamndu valley. It is the finest example of 15th-century Newar art extant in the world. Pelkor Chode Monastery and Gyantse Fort (built atop a massive rock) are other major sights here. The road from Gyantse to Lhasa (260km) takes you over three mountain passes Simala (4380m high), Korala (5,045m) and Ghampala (4,794m). The road skirts the Yamdrok Tso Lake before twisting up the Ghampala pass from the top of which there’s a fantastic view of the lake on one side and the Yarlung Tsangpo River on the other. The scenery and the adventure of traveling on the old mule caravan route make this excursion an unforgettable trip.
Ngari (Mt. Kailash Region)
Information about Ngari
Ngari is situated on the western side of Tibet autonomous region, at an altitude of 4500 meters above sea level and is often referred to as a ‘Roof of The World’. Ngari city covers the largest area in Tibet but has the lowest population. The city seems quite empty and deserted, but as far as a place like Tibet is concerned, this is the perfect setting for exploring the magical beauty of this unexplainable land. There are more than 80 rivers that cut through Ngari and more than 60 utterly captivating lakes that lie silently on the face of this city. Mt. Kailash, regarded as the greatest pilgrimage place on earth for many religions, has made Ngari a must-visit city for the pilgrimage. So old age people who are more into religion will find the city an apt place for traveling. And for adventure-loving youngsters, the same route turns out to be a wonderful trekking option. Ngari is genuinely scintillating and is equally challenging. One needs to have great physical fitness to complete the travel in Ngari. The best time to visit Ngari city is in the months of May, June, September, and October.
Climate of Ngari
The temperature here is quite low and the air is quite dry. It doesn’t rain much here but when it rains, traveling in the city becomes more difficult, though the rains bring with it different hues of charm to the city. The best time to visit Ngari city is in the months of May, June, September, and October when it is not raining. The temperature generally floats around the comfortable mark of 10 degrees Celsius.
Cuisine in Ngari
In Ngari city, the cuisine is different, their main foods belong to Chiang cuisine but few restaurants serve Sichuan cuisine. The food here is precisely light and salty, and exceptionally tasty.
Tourist Attractions in Ngari
Ngari is the home to the divine abode of Lord Shiva, Mt. Kailash. Thousand of devotees visit Ngari in order to reach the almighty. Besides Mt. Kailash, the city is brimming with natural wonders that single-handedly are good enough to make Ngari the favorite tourist spot. These are Mapam Yumco Lake, Lhanag Tso Lake, Tholing Monastery.
Tholing Monastery is located in the northwest of Ngari, in Zhada County. Tholing Monastery was built by the legendary king of Guge Kingdom in the 10th century. The name ‘Tholing’ means “to fly high and never fall” and it perfectly symbolizes the objective behind its construction. The main aim of the monastery was to spread Buddhism and keep it prevalent in Tibet. When you get the first glimpse of the monastery from outside, you become an admirer of it. The monastery is situated in between the dull-colored clay forest and the striking red color of the monastery wall stands out elegantly. Inside the monastery, the main attraction is the main hall, which is the only hall preserved. The frescos on the walls of the halls still give you the same vibrancy with which they were built.
Lhanag Tso Lake
Lhanag Tso Lake is also referred to as the Ghost lake, as the area around the lake looks absolutely lifeless. The lake was once connected to the famous Lake Mansarovar but got divided due to geographical disturbances, although the two are still joined by a natural stream called Ganpa Chu. Lhanag Tso Lake is situated at an altitude of 4752 m and covering an area of around 70 square km, the salty crescent-shaped lake is surrounded by dark red mountains.
Mapam Yumco Lake
The Mapam Yumco lake is situated at a distance of 20 km to the southeast of Mt. Kailash. It covers an area of 412 square km and lies at an altitude of 4558 m. It is the highest freshwater lake in the world. This is considered as a holy lake in the Buddhist religion and is called as ‘Mother of the rivers in the world’, due to the four major rivers flowing into the lake namely Shiquanhe River in the north, Peacock River in the south, Maquanhe River in the east and Xiangquanhe River in the west.
How to Reach Ngari
The highways connect Ngari with other major cities of Tibet. There are four main highways that cut through Ngari.
Xegar, also known as Tingri or Shekar Dzong is a new Chinese commune built at the foot of the ruins of Xegar Dzong. It is renowned for being the starting point for many climbing expeditions. It is base on an expedition to Mt. Everest and many other important peaks. It is located at 14,891 feet above sea level and only 7 km from the main road. With a population of 3000, it is the center of a large and remote country and also the base for the expeditions to Mt. Everest and other peaks. It provides spectacular views of Mount Everest, Mount Lhotse, and Mount Makalu which lie around in highest mountain group in the world. This town used to be an important trading post where Sherpas from Nepal exchanged rice, grain and iron for Tibetan wool and salt.
Also known as Shegar, it is a small town near Tingri. Surrounded by mountains, it is settled in the shadow of a ruined fortress. Though the fort has been ruined, it offers a majestic view to the visitors. Seeming to grow out of the craggy brown rock, its sinuous wall bristles with watchtowers like stegosaurus spines. Shegar is the last stop before Everest Base Camp and has the highest post office in China. New Tingri also has a beautiful functioning Gompa. Gompa is a Buddhist temple or vihara which contains a central prayer hall with a Buddha statue, benches for the monks or nuns to engage in prayer or meditation and attached living accommodation. With all these features New Tingri is a wonderful place to explore!
A small Tibetan town near the Nepal border is the county seat of the Nyalam region in Shigatse Prefecture. Nyalam is situated at 3,650 meters above sea level. A town of stone buildings and tin roofs, Nyalam is an important old trading post 145 km north from Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.
Zhangmu is known by its Tibetan name Khasa. This town lies in the southern region of Himalayas about 776 km. away from the capital of Tibet Lhasa. Bordering Nepal to the south, it has been one of the key routes of trans-Himalayan trade between China and Nepal since time immemorial. The work of Sino-Nepal Road has made this town a most welcome sight both for tourists and traders alike. It is popular among the tourists and adventurers due to its location near the Mt. Everest, the highest peak in the world. Travelers come mainly for climbing up the skyward mountain, admiring the delightful sights, or pilgrimage at its holiness. Since it is closest to Nepal as well, Zhangmu has become an important place for trading between Nepal and Tibet. This beckons a huge number of business travelers as well. As a trading port, Zhangmu Town is also much modernized with many grand buildings. One can find a customhouse, business bureau, factories, shops, banks, post offices, schools, hotels, restaurants, and residential buildings in this town that are orderly arranged beside the street.
Zhangmu town is the other face of Tibetan beauty, completely different from what you have seen till now. Covered with a green carpet of trees and grasslands, full of captivating flowers, Zhangmu offers something special to its guests. There is no competitor to this town when compared to the scenic beauty. That gives it an edge over the rest of the cities of Tibet. Zhangmu is pleasantly warm and overwhelmingly colorful, and the best part is that this exclusive beauty remains in the lap of this town for the entire period of twelve months. The hills around Zhangmu are heavily wooded with innumerable waterfalls in the summer and frozen ‘icicles’ during the winter. Situated at the altitude of about 2300 m, Zhangmu is a mild and humid place and provide extravagant hope in the common dry and cold Tibetan area. Zhangmu is a wonderful destination of Tibet with marvelous mountains, flexural rivers, lush pines and flourishing flowers almost all year round. God must have been in his most generous mood bestowing it with the treasures of nature. Meandering rivers, valleys saturated with brightest flowers, mighty mountains with snow-covered peaks, and milky waterfalls make this town a must-visit for any traveler.
Besides its calm and solitary nature, you will also find that the Zhangmu town has a very colorful bazaar that remains busy and crowded with tourists and businessmen. Zhangmu is the only place in Tibet where you can shop for Tibetan material as well as items from Nepal as Zhangmu borders Nepal. Here, you will see the women shopping for household items. Walking here is also a unique experience.