Lhasa Travel Guide

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Potala Palace,

Potala Palace,

Peter Richards

Lhasa is the capital of Tibet. Tibet is quite an exotic place to visit. You will feel like you somehow landed in an issue of National Geographic: colorful monks with prayer wheels, magnificient landscapes, great monasteries and palaces and funny smelling yaks.

Lhasa can be reached from Chengdu by plane (two daily flights) and from Beijing. From Golmud you can take a bus with a stop in Amdo. From Nepal you can fly or come by bus. You need to get the necessary permits form the Chinese embassy. For the brave: try to get here from Kashgar.

Most people head straight for the barkhor district of Lhasa as its the best place for cheap accomodation, good food(Chinese, Tibetan, Western & Nepali), & also the best place to get in touch with other travellers to organise trips.

Any travellers journey to Tibet is blighted by permits & the lack of public transport. Outside of the Lhasa area & U district permits are a must & can only be arranged by a travel agent who is happy to make you pay.

Joining together with other travellers( most meet up by posting notes on public boards at guest houses) makes things cheaper but for the more independant traveller this can be a bind.

Barkhor also offers the best place in souvenir shopping. The Kora(pilgrim circuit) around the Jorkhang is packed with small stalls selling everything from fake antique cross bows to beautiful linens, necklaces & other local handicrafts. With time to spare you can wander the rabbit warren of back streets that make up the Barkhor district meeting some of the 'real' locals.

One of the main attractions when visiting Lhasa is the Potala Palace, the one time residence of the Dalai Lama. Domonating the old city, the Potala is the citys most recognised Landmark. Although the Palace is no longer in use, except for housing a small detachment of Chinese troops, its become a major tourist attraction. Entrance to the Potala is not as straight forward as simply buying a ticket & numbers of tourists are strictly controlled on a daily basis...so get there early. Just buying ticket is an ordeal & the proceedure seems to vary. You will need to vist the ticket office the day before you visit when you will be given a number & told to return at a set time the next day when you can purchase you ticket. But be prepared: on returning the next day you will be allocated a seat number & told to wait in a chaotic queue until your number comes around.

Despite the bizzare ticket system the Potala is well worth a visit & although some areas of the Palace are closed off, those you can access are well kept. No photography is allowed inside & this rule is strictly enforced. The one down side to visiting the Palace are the organised groups of Chinese tourists who can sometimes appear insensitive to the Tibetan Pilgrims also visiting the Potala. However, despite the plastic Buddhas & Disney-fied tour groups the Potala still retains an air of the spiritual & is a stark reminder of the country's tragic history.

Beyond Barkhor you get in touch with the Lhasa of the 21st Centuary. The Chinese section of the city is brash, modern & worth a look simply for the contrast it offers to the Tibetan part of the city. This is also a good place to do a bit of shopping as there are supermarkets on every street corner.

With the new railway line now open Lhasa is no longer cut off from the rest of China & this makes travel to & from Tibet much easier & cheaper. The station is about 20 minutes by bus from Barkhor & tickets can be bought quite cheaply. A travel agent in town will charge you a fortune in comission so its worth the bus ride to save the money. 

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November 18, 2006 change by saghia (2 points)

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