Lhasa is More

Entering Tibet can feel like entering a different world. It is situated on the slopes of the Himalayas, some 12,000ft above sea level. Altitude sickness can be a real struggle, non-Chinese tourists must obtain a special permit in advance of their arrival, and even when here you can’t go anywhere without an official guide. These restrictions make it seem a little bit like North Korea, only with much, much more culture – and that’s why people flock here en mass every year.

"Downtown" Lhasa (the airport is out to the left)
“Downtown” Lhasa (the airport is out to the left)

I have visited China many times, but always Tibet was off of my radar (while being on my bucket list). Eventually, I summoned the courage to make that arduous journey (and obtaining a visa) and enjoyed everything that the autonomous state could throw at me. The capital of Tibet, Lhasa, is where almost all tourists stay. It is an amazing city, full of charm and was a cultural experience like no other. Accommodation in Lhasa is not cheap compared to the rest of China, but it’s still cheap when you consider prices in Europe and Australia (from where most tourists to Tibet seem to originate).

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One of the first things that struck me about Tibet was its people. They are surely the most relaxed and laid-back people I have ever seen. I don’t think they have a problem with tourists, but as tourism is restricted here in Tibet by the Chinese Government, we are still infrequent enough to be something of a curious clan to the Tibetan people. That said, they will go about their business in their own merry ways, seemingly without a care in the world that people from across the globe have turned up to explore their homely Himalayan habitat! Even the blue and white taxi drivers, who won’t charge more than 10 CNY for a day trip around the city (including waiting times), eagerly overcome the language barrier by utilising their friendly smiles!

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The natural beauty of Tibet is why people come here!
The natural beauty of Tibet is why people come here!

The Drepung Monastery and the Potala Palace are two of the most important tourist sites in Lhasa, as well as the Jokhang Temple. Drepung is one of the main Buddhist monasteries in the world, whereas the Potala Palace is the home of the Dalai Lama, no less. This “palace” is a resplendent abode, perched atop a small mountain, and dominates the view for miles around; an icon of Tibet it certainly is! Incidentally, you are not allowed to mention his name when in Tibet, and local monks can get into trouble if they are overheard discussing the subject with tourists. However, you would be foolish to think that monasteries and “palaces” are the main attractions in these parts. The stunning landscapes of the Tibetan Plateau – much of which can be seen and experienced just a stone’s throw from downtown Lhasa – will remain in your thoughts long after you have flown home!

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Aren’t these playful monks a little cold?
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Ah, so that’s where they’ve left their robes…

It is always advisable to spend a few days doing very little in Lhasa, as you need to acclimatise to the altitude. There is plenty to do if you’re laying low, and experiencing the local Tibetan cuisine is a great way to do this. Why not try the yak meat momos? Momos are steamed dumplings in Tibetan parlance, and these are also sold in northern India and in Nepal. Tibetan butter tea (known as Po Cha) is also a must have when in Lhasa, and if you’re lucky you find some monks relaxing outside the monasteries with which to enjoy it!

Tibet is such a cultural experience
Tibet is such a cultural experience

A trip to Tibet may not be possible for everybody. It requires a lot of hard planning in advance to make sure that your arrival is as smooth as possible. Yet for those who dare to seek the adventure of a lifetime, I guarantee that you will be rewarded in the best possible way. Compared to other Chinese provinces, such as Yunnan or Guangdong, Tibet is somewhat sparse in tourist attractions. But as a matter of fact, that’s exactly the reason you will want to come here! After all, Lhasa is more.

 

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7 thoughts on “Lhasa is More

  1. Sounds like an amazing trip!
    Did you travel to other areas of Tibet or just Lhasa? Tibet is one of the places i would love to visit, the only thing that puts me off slightly is that you have to be accompanied but a guide at all times, does this restrict the places you are able to go and visit?
    It looks like an amazing adventure though and i hope you loved it!

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    1. Sorry for the delay in responding. 🙂 I only visited Lhasa for 9 nights, I probably stayed there a little too long (maybe 6-7 is ideal) but I was worried about the altitude sickness – you must acclimatise, especially if you’ve come from the tropics like I did (Singapore). Most people stop over in Kathmandu in Nepal, or better Kunming in Yunnan Province, to get used to some higher elevation before actually entering Tibet.

      Guides need to be with you pretty much everywhere in the tourist places, at least mine was, but then again he was a great guide, so I didn’t mind one bit 😉 You don’t need guides for the public areas though, such as eating on Barkour Street.

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  2. Great summary of the experience. I hope you’re able to go into more detail in future posts! About what was your daily budget with a guide when touring the region?

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    1. I am in the process of writing many blogs on my time in Tibet, where I will go into more detail! 🙂 But during my 9 days, I spent around USD 300, so I guess, even with a guide and food and drink etc, it still works out at around $30 per day. Not cheap, but then again, you can’t TRULY budget in Tibet!

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