Lying in the rain shadow, behind the great wall of the Himalayas is the vast expanse of the Tibetan plateau, the roof of the world. Much of the country is a spectacular arid desert, stretching thousands of kilometres into central Asia. This is a land of wide-open spaces, ancient cultures and mystical Buddhist tradition.
Famed as the Roof of the World, the Tibet autonomous Region of China lies on a plateau at an average elevation of 4000m. It is bounded by the Kunlun Mountains to the north and the Himalayas to the south. Tibet covers an area of 1.2 million sq. km. and has a population of 2.3 million.
Tibet, the very name evokes feelings of awe and mystery. A land of ancient culture, awesome landscapes, artistic monasteries and centuries-old caravan trails. Tibet is a destination out of the ordinary. For centuries Tibet has fascinated mankind. This land beyond the mighty Himalayas on the highest plateau in the world was almost inaccessible to the outside world until recently. This the "Land of Mysteries", "Forbidden Land" has appealed to explorers, scholars, pilgrims and adventurers hoping to find a "Shangri La".
For centuries Tibet was forbidden to all but a few intrepid travellers as the Tibetans themselves chose to keep the rest of the world out of their country. Until the Chinese invasion in 1951, the nomads, farmers and traders lived a hardy, yet contented life. Religion and the state were inseparable and every aspect of daily life was governed by Buddhist teachings. The Dalai Lama, in exile in India encourages westerners to visit Tibet, as do the Tibetan people. By travelling through Tibet we increase our awareness of the Tibetan situation by experiencing first hand the resilient Tibetan culture and feeling something of the pilgrims spirit, undefinable but imperishable.
Loshar, the Tibetan New Year, is the largest and the longest festival. Sky burials, water burials, stupa burials and cremations are of great interest. Technology, medicine, Buddhist philosophy, astrology, drama and debating form the basis of Tibetan science and culture.
The fascination of TIBET and its ever-smiling people have lured travellers for centuries, yet few have been able to make it. Remote and isolated by the most formidable mountain ranges in the World, LHASA - the ultimate Travel destination - is now within your reach.
Adventure on the road is never short on the beautiful Trans-Himalayan drive of over 970-kms, through four mountains passes, promising a panorama of a cultural and scenic diversity unsurpassable anywhere. The Buddhist monasteries of Drepung, once the largest; the Jokhang- a spirtual centre, and the awesome palaces of the Dalai Lama. Norbulingka or the Summer Palace and the Potala - the Traditional Seat are some of the highlights of visit.
Lhasa, the capital, is the center of Tibetan culture, religion and Lama theology. The Tibetans, Monpas, Lhopas and Muslims who inhabit the plateau have their own distinctive.
The dominant landmark of Lhasa 117 metres above the city below construction started on the red hill in 1645 under the 5th Dalai Lama. An immense building, 13 storeys high with walls 3 metres thick Containing over 1000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues it was both residence of the current Dalai Lama and tomb of the former Heads of state. The entire building is made of stone and wood and covers an area of 130,000 square metres. The Potala is full of elaborate artwork and frescos that tell many stories.
On the banks of the Kyichi River, there is a tree and flower filled park known as the Norbulingka or the Jewel Park. Covering a total area of 360,000 square meters, the park was originally laid out in the 1750s. There are fountains, pavilions, terraces and stone tablets where visitors may rest amidst the numerous kinds of flowers and various colours. The whole park consists of two main parts - Norbulingka at the Eastern area and Jianselingka at the Western area.
Norbulingka is also the site of the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas (8 th to 14 th). The small palace of the 13 th Dalai Lama is an odd mix of traditional Tibetan architecture and modern paraphernalia, such as a Philips radiogram and Victorian bathroom fittings! At Norbulingka you will also find the one and only zoo in Tibet.
The foremost monastery in Tibet, built in the 7 th century AD and now housing the most prized Buddhist relic, a 1300 year old Sakyamuni Buddha statue. The main section of the temple is topped with golden roofs found nowhere else except in Tibet. Watch the many worshippers pay their respects and prostrating themselves at the main gate. The monastery is encircled with the Barkhor Bazaar a sacred pilgrim path, but also a lively & colourful market where you can bargain over such treasures as ornate long-bladed knives, prayer wheels and exquisite jewellery.
Sera is more like a small town on the outskirts of Lhasa at the base of Tatipu hill. It is the main teaching monastery and one of the three great Gelukpa 'Universities' - once housing more than 5500 monks. Here one can see the young novices learning scriptures in the Debating Garden and being rewarded for a correct answer with a resounding handclap from their Master. Sera is also the birthplace of Tibetan medicine.
Drepung monastery is situated in the west suburbs of Lhasa city. Formerly the largest and richest monastery in the world with 10,000 monks (now 400). It is the size of a small town and lies sprawled over the side of a mountain 8 km from Lhasa. Of particular interest is the medieval monk's kitchen with its great cauldrons of steaming barley 'tsampa' sitting on top of huge earthen stoves and tented by saffron-robed monks wielding massive ladles. From the roof of the monastery one can enjoy the natural beauty of the Lhasa valley to one's heart content.
Tsurpu monastery is built on the north side of the river in the Dowo Lung Valley. This is the home of Karmapa. Karmapa is the true 'living little Buddha' - the new reincarnated leader of the black hat sect. He is the only spiritual leader actually living in Tibet. The recent recognised 17 th Karmapa can be visited by all visitors. Tsurpu monastery was built in 12 th century. Tsurpu is the richest monastery in Tibet.
Once Tibet's third most important city, lying in the Nyangchu valley along the main routes from India and Nepal to Lhasa. In former times it was a fort, the centre of Tibet's wool trade and a gateway to the outside world. Other spots of interest: Palcho Monastery and Kumbum Pagoda.
Shigatse is Tibet's second largest city. It is the administrative centre for 18 countries in southern and western Tibet. Besides its rich cultural heritage, Shigatse has an abundance of native fruits and products. At the bazaar, there are more than 300 stalls selling local produce as well as colourful and elaborate handicraft, accessories, antiques and porcelains. In Shigatse one can also find Tashilumpo monastery, the seat of the Panchen Lama. The Monastery, built in 1447 by a nephew of Tsong Khapa once housed over 4000 Monks, but now there are only 600.
With more than 3000 hours of sunshine annually, Lhasa is famed as 'the city of sunshine'. Sunlight is extremely intense. Sunscreen lotion, a salve for lips and sunglasses are a must. Clothing should be simple and consist of layers, which can be added or removed as temperatures vary during the day. In winter, a warm windbreaker and stout, comfortable shoes are especially recommended.
Contrary to popular belief, wintertime is the perfect season to visit Lhasa as the summer rains have passed and we have and average 10 hours of sunshine every day! All Superior Rooms in Hotel Lhasa have central heating.