Lhasa Things to Do

  • Things to Do
    by blueskyjohn
  • Things to Do
    by blueskyjohn
  • Things to Do
    by sanluipal

Best Rated Things to Do in Lhasa

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    DREPUNG MONASTERY: BEST TIME TO VISIT

    by mavl Updated Feb 18, 2007

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    most people who visit lhasa only have a few days to go around. i therefore recommend the following schedule for visiting drepung monastery:

    visit drepung IN THE MORNING. it usually opens at 9am so make sure you get there before then.

    there's nothing like wandering around the narrow streets at this time because there will be very few tourists. you'll see only locals dressed in traditional tibetan attire going about their business in and around the monastery so you'll get an authentic glimpse into what life on this mountainside monastery was like 600 years ago - priceless!

    morning is also the best time to visit so that you'll be able to look into preparations in case there'll be an activity in the monastery later in the day.

    you should be done around lunchtime so you can then spend the afternoon at another monastery (pls. see succeeding tips for recommendations).

    entrance fee is Y55.

    fee for taking pictures inside is usually Y20 per room/hall.

    worth it!

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    GO TO YAMDROK-TSO (one of tibet's sacred lakes)

    by mavl Updated Jan 25, 2007

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    just about an hour and a half to two hours from lhasa by 4x4, yamdrok-tso is a must see for any visitor to lhasa. it is one of tibet's four sacred lakes and offers stunning views (pls. see my travelogue entitled 'yamdrok-tso' on my damxoi page).

    a winding mountain pass must be climbed before getting to kamba-la summit (elev. 4794m / 15728 ft.) from where you can see the lake. it is about 1300m higher so make sure you acclimatize in lhasa for three days before making the trip.

    yamdrok-tso is usually one of the stops on a tour to gyangze or shigatse (xigaze). you may get in touch with my guide, nga wang, if you want to arrange a trip. will list his contact info below.

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    SERA MONASTERY: BEST TIME TO VISIT

    by mavl Updated Feb 27, 2007

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    the best time to visit sera monastery is right after lunch. i suggest you visit drepung monastery or the potala in the morning, have a quick lunch, then head for sera and get there around 1pm, 130pm at the latest.

    you can then spend an hour or two going around the monastery.

    what's important is you GET TO THE DEBATING COURTYARD BY 3PM. from 3pm to 5pm, the monks of sera monastery engage in debate practice at the courtyard. this is an absolute spectacle! you don't need to understand what they're saying, just watch and listen. there will be intense, animated, almost violent debating and gesticulating! awesome! (get it on video if you can!)

    though there is a similar practice at jokhang temple, the debating at sera is just so much more, well, outrageous.

    entrance to sera monastery is Y55. the usual Y20/hall fee for interior photos.

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    GO TO NAM-TSO (highest lake in the world)

    by mavl Updated Aug 1, 2007

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    mountain not iceberg (12x optical zoom)

    when planning a trip to tibet, i highly recommend including a trip to nam-tso, most stunning of tibet's four sacred lakes. although it is about 5 hours from lhasa by 4x4, nam-tso can be done in a day. you can leave lhasa early in the morning, get there just after lunch, spend an hour or two, then head back and get back to lhasa by dinnertime. no need to sleepover like others do, a couple of hours there is fine.

    because of its distance from lhasa and the 1100m climb, i didn't include it in my itinerary at first. but i decided to go for it on the morning of my last day because i finished my tour early and because i was already acclimatized (stay in lhasa at least 3 days before making the trip, see my warnings and dangers tips).

    best decision of my life! this is the most awesome place i've ever seen! clear turquoise waters with snow-capped peaks in the background!

    from any hotel/guesthoue in lhasa, you can join a trip to nam-tso by 4x4. cost is about Y1500-Y1600 for the roundtrip so for a group of 4, it'll be about Y400/person. entrance fee to lake is Y40/person. you can also get in touch with my guide, nga wang, to arrange a trip for you. his contact info is listed below.

    do it, i guarantee it'll be worth it! (see my damxoi page for more photos).

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    Barkhor Bazaar; clockwise (and counterclockwise)

    by Confucius Updated Jun 19, 2007

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    Here is one of the 8 corners of Barkhor Bazaar
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    "Barkhor" means "8 corners" and is the name of the octagon shaped street that goes around the Jokhang Temple. You can easily spend a couple hours here just being an amateur photographer before recalling that it's also a shopper's paradise as well.

    This is the old city of Lhasa, the part that attracts praying pilgrims and bargain-seeking backpackers. You'll see pilgrims from all regions of Tibet walking clockwise while spinning their portable prayer wheels. They make outstanding subjects for photography, as seen in my additional photos.

    Every Tibetan souvenir imaginable is sold here, but it's also a market for ordinary Tibetan people. I watched one "hada" stall do brisk business selling the same traditional long white scarf that was given to me free upon arrival at Lhasa train station. (I was on a VIP train.) Peasants from rural Tibet buy their prayer wheels here too just like Chinese and foreign tourists except they know how to bargain in Tibetan.

    My favorite activity at Barkhor Bazaar is taking portrait shots of Tibetan pilgrims. I got tired of asking permission for photography only to see Tibetans either vehemently refuse or hold their hand out expecting to get paid cash. At Barkhor you can capture them on film with natural expression and without compensation. I have a fantastic Lhasa travelogue that tells you exactly how to get the best pictures.

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    • Arts and Culture
    • Religious Travel

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    DREPUNG MONASTERY: CHECK FOR ACTIVITIES IF YOU CAN

    by mavl Updated Feb 18, 2007

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    i was lucky, they held a gathering of all the monks in drepung the day i visited. i was just winding up my visit when, all of a sudden, a monk on the roof of the main assembly hall (tsogchen) started banging a gong. from every corner of the monastery, monks started to appear! amazing to see them in their crimson robes and gold head dresses making their way to the main assembly hall.

    this happened right at noon. once all inside, they all sat down and started chanting in low and gutteral voices. the sound reverberated throughout the hall as incense burned all around - it was simply an overwhelming experience! after some time, bells started to chime then all the young monks ran to get the yak milk (which i witnessed being prepared in the kitchen) and started serving the older monks.

    visitors are allowed inside too and you can take photos for a Y20 fee, do it!

    apparently, a prominent benefactor of the monastery asked for some prayers (probably after making another donation) so the entire congregation prayed for him. these gatherings do not happen often.

    so, if you're planning a trip to lhasa and are in touch with someone from there (local guide or agency), it makes sense to ask if there are any such gatherings scheduled (unlikely that they'll know but worth a try). might as well see if you can plan your visit to coincide with this.

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    Norbulinka, the Dalai Lama's Summer Palace

    by Confucius Updated Jun 19, 2007

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    The Dalai Lama's Summer Residence at Norbulinka
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    You're probably trying to budget your time in Lhasa and wondering if the Norbulinka is worth a visit. I almost didn't go as I had considered deleting this place from my itinerary even before I went to Tibet.
    Let me tell you why you should go: The Norbulinka is the only public place in Lhasa where one can actually see a drawing of the current 14th Dalai Lama. His photo is banned in Lhasa but here you can actually see his picture on the wall of a shrine. There are a few interesting exhibits inside the Norbulinka and the gardens are pretty, but what really makes it special are the rooms inside the Dalai Lama's former residence. Almost everything was left in place the way it looked back in 1959 when the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa and escaped to India. It reminded me of a show I once saw on TV documenting the well preserved hut in Antarctica left behind by Captain Scott.
    You'll see the Dalai Lama's desk, bed, mirror, clock, Russian radio, and even his bathroom. That's right, the Dalai Lama's bathroom! (Guess what kind of toilet he had! See my additional photo!) I looked out the window of his residence and wished that the Dalai Lama could come back and live here again. In the meantime, perhaps through some odd key word search, maybe his Holiness will have a nostalgic glance at the photos I took of his former summer residence.
    He probably would not be too fond of a couple more recent additions: the Hall of Budweiser and the Norbulinka Zoo. There is an outdoor stage with a long corridor perhaps used for wedding parties or other social functions; all walls stapled with Budweiser posters and signs.
    Budweiser has done a brilliant marketing job in getting their brand name placed all over the city of Lhasa, as mentioned in my general tip. The other attraction, which is notoriously unattractive, is the zoo. I skipped this part but took a picture of the billboard outside which advertises its presence.

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    • Castles and Palaces

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    Sera Monastery: "Never on Sunday"

    by Confucius Written Sep 29, 2006

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    Walk behind Sera Monastery to see painted rocks
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    "Oh, you can see monks on a Monday, a Monday, a Monday ... is really not that bad
    Or visit Sera on a Tuesday, a Tuesday, a Tuesday ... in fact I wish I had!
    Watch monks debating on a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday, and Saturday is best
    But never ever on a Sunday, a Sunday, a Sunday ...'cause that's their day of rest!

    Most any daaaaaay ... you can be their guest
    watch monks slap their hands ... see them beat their chest!
    Just name the day ...that you like the best
    Only stay awaaaay ... on their day of rest!

    I made the mistake of visiting Sera Monastery on a Sunday, the one day of the week that they don't do the debates. Fortunately I saw the same show several days later at Ta'Er Monastery near Xining, so I didn't have to pay the entrance fee to Sera Monastery (50 yuan) a second time.
    There's more to see at Sera Monastery than debating monks, and I had the rest of Sunday afternooon to uncover other sights while the monks took a nap. It's a good idea to arrive at Sera Monastery before the noontime call to prayer. Two monks on the roof of the assembly hall will start blowing their long horns while another bangs a gong. Suddenly monks in red robes from all directions converge at the assembly hall and are seated in rows inside. You may go into the assembly hall and watch what proceeds from the rear wall. There is a loud chorus of sutra chanting which begins with one monk's deep bass bellow. You will also see young monks sprinting at an amazing speed just to fetch tea.
    There are about 600 monks living at the monastery and you may wander around the grounds observing their daily life. I saw monks washing their robes, taking a bath, and practicing English with tourists.
    Sera Monastery allows you to take photos inside some parts of the monastery for a small fee. For example, the Tibetan scripture printing center charges 5 yuan for photography and one of the sacred chapels is only 15 yuan. (See my "Inside Sera Monastery" travelogue)

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    • Arts and Culture
    • Architecture

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    Jokhang Temple: Here's Another "Must do" in Lhasa

    by Confucius Written Sep 26, 2006

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    Everybody takes this photo; you have one like it?
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    Aside from the Potala, this is the other "must do" destination in Lhasa. Everybody takes pictures on the roof, and afterwards people walk around the temple's perimeter in the clockwise footsteps of Tibetan pilgrims.

    At the entrance of Jokhang Temple you'll see Tibetan pilgrims doing repeated prostrations.
    (See additional photo) They consider this temple to be among the most sacred sites in Lhasa.

    Inside the temple are many religious and cultural relics, among the most well known being the golden Buddha statue dowry of Tang dynasty princess Wen Cheng. She married a Tibetan king in order to form an alliance between him and China's emperor back in the capital of Xi'an.

    Once you've seen the Buddhist art treasures and smelled enough yak butter lamps then it's time to go up on the roof and take beautiful photographs of golden ornaments. The view of the Potala from Jokhang Temple is famous and you'll also get good looks at the surrounding area called Barkhor, which means "eight corners" as the street surrounding Jokhang is actually shaped like an octagon.

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    DREPUNG MONASTERY: BE SURE TO CHECK OUT KITCHEN

    by mavl Written Feb 18, 2007

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    since drepung is a complex of several buildings, it is very easy to overlook certain areas - especially if you start thinking that the different halls are starting to look alike (they're not).

    whatever you do, make sure you don't miss checking out the main kitchen. if you go in the morning like i suggested, you're likely to see the monks preparing lunch. this is a sight (and smell) to behold! they cook the same way they have for the last thousand years, using the same ingredients, the same ovens and furnaces, the same pots and pans, the same butter churns, same everything!

    pay the photograph fee of Y20, it's well worth it! (video it if you can!)

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    WANNA RIDE A YAK?

    by mavl Written Jan 21, 2007

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    most people who travel to tibet, myself included, eventually ask, "where can i see a yak?" well, if you make your way to yamdrok-tso lake (pls. see my yamdrok-tso things to do tip on this page and my yamdrok-tso travelogue on my damxoi page), you will eventually see them along the mountain passes.

    don't worry about not getting a chance to have a closer look, you may actually ride one at kamba-la summit while looking down on stunning yamdrok-tso lake. there will be a few locals there with yaks who will let you ride one for a price, usually about Y10 - though just long enough for a picture.

    you simply cannot go to tibet and not ride a yak, it's just one of those things.

    (if you simply want to see a yak, you can order yak burger or yak steak anytime at any restaurant in lhasa :))

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    You can't go to Lhasa and miss the Potala Palace

    by Confucius Updated Sep 24, 2006

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    This is the first view of the Potala after entry
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    On the morning of my organized tour of the Potala, we were told to bring our passports along for admission. The price of the ticket was 100 RMB in August 2006, but there are rumors of an increase that will double or triple this fee in the near future. I will update this information as necessary. There is also a one hour time restriction inside the palace, as groups are moved along by police who frequently interrupt tour guides during their narration telling them to hurry up.
    You may take pictures outside the bottom of the Potala, but photos are forbidden inside the palace after you reach the middle terrace where the restroom is located. Photos are also not allowed atop the roof. This rule is strictly enforced.
    I saw a tourist try to sneak a photo and he was immediately surrounded by palace police, who roughed him up a bit and then ushered him through a back door. Nobody in our group saw him again; he simply vanished just like the naughty kids in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory:

    Oompa Loompa Potala Doo
    I've got a Potala warning for you
    Oompa Loompa Potala Dee
    If you are wise you'll listen to me

    What do you get when you try to sneak pics
    a mob of mad monks and police with big sticks
    What a sad feat, getting terribly beat
    then whisked away and dumped onto the street
    ... I don't like the look of it!

    Oompa Loompa Potala Da
    You shall go far if you obey the law
    You will buy some nice postcards too
    Like the other group members do!

    The Potala is not a monastery, so you are not going to see many monks. It is more like a combination museum and library for the Tibetan Buddhist religion. You will see the tombs of former Dalai Lamas as well as thousands of thangkas, statues, and ancient scriptures.
    One of the major highlights is the oldest part of the Potala, dating back 1300 years. Another big highlight is the restroom on the middle terrace. (You can see photos of it in my travelogue.) From the restroom's window you can have a view behind the Potala, as seen in my additional photo on the right.

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    • Castles and Palaces

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    Drepung Monastery

    by mim95 Updated Dec 20, 2005

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    Part of the massive Drepung Monastery complex
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    Drepung is one of three major monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism. It is located just outside of Lhasa on the mountain side, and has been there for almost 600 years. Just like other Tibetan monasteries, Drepung has a huge complex of buildings and halls. In fact, it is the largest, At one point, as many as 10,000 monks resided here. Today, there are only about 500. It is kind of sad to see the emptiness in this massive monastery.

    It has been the home of the Dalai Lamas for many years until the Potala Palace was chosen as the new residence. At first, there were seven colleges in Drepung, each was specialised in a different kind of teaching and practice. It was reduced to four later when some were combined to others. Two remained today, and you could still see the destruction by the Chinese in the 1960s.

    You can get there by bus. Ask at your guesthouse of which bus and where to take it. Admission is 55 RMB. Plan to spend half a day here as it is a huge complex.

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    Jokhang Temple

    by mim95 Updated Dec 19, 2005

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    Front view of Jokhang Temple
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    The Jokhang was built in 647. It is right in the middle of a busy pilgrimage route in the city center. It is a huge temple, with many halls inside. You can't take photos inside the main hall, which housed many historical antiques from centuries ago, including sculptures that were brought by Princess WenCheng of the Tang dynasty. She was married to the Tibetan King in the 7th century.

    From the rooftop, you can get a good view of the surrounding traditional houses, the busy Jokhang Square and the Potala Palace. Snow cap mountains around Lhasa can be seen as well.

    Admission is 70 RMB.

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    Barkhor Square

    by grets Written Oct 29, 2005

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    Barkhor Square
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    The square was opened in 1985 allegedly to mark the 20th year of the creation of the TAR. Of course, in reality the square was built to provide easier access for the Chinese military to the area which at that time was full of ‘troublesome’ Tibetans. Even now, if a small gathering appears to be forming in the square, the military will break it up, fearful of a repeat riot. For the pilgrims coming to the Jokhang, the walk around the Barkor is part of their pilgrimage.

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Lhasa Things to Do

blueskyjohn's Profile Photo

There is so much to do in Lhasa.  Some things that should not be missed are the monasteries.  Sera Monastery usually has the most going on with debating monks every day at around 3pm...

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