Lhasa (Lāsà, 拉萨) is, quite simply, the heart and soul of the Tibetan Autonomous Region— its cultural capital and political and administrative center.
Situated in a valley at around 3,700 m (11,100 ft) above sea level, Lhasa is surrounded by high mountains, with the scenic Kyichu River flowing right through town and the unmistakable Potala Palace— the former chief residence of the Dalai Lama—dominating the skyline.
While the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has made the region more accessible in recent years, it's also sparked rapid modernization and a massive growth in tourism. A major consequence of this is an increase in the high-rises, karaoke bars and other expressions of Chinese economic growth springing up in increasing numbers, especially in the western part of town, which now dwarfs the Tibetan quarter.
Nevertheless, the Tibetan influence is fortunately still strong and evident in the eastern end and older parts of Lhasa, particularly in the main areas of interest around the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Circuit where traditionally-clad Tibetans can be found spinning prayer wheels, prostrating on the ground and going about their Buddhist business.
Other major attractions include the Sera and Drepung Monasteries located on Lhasa's outskirts, where scarlet-robed monks can be seen chanting prayers amidst the intoxicating scent of flickering yak-butter lamps.
Dynamic and vibrant, mysterious and exotic, Lhasa's unexpected and otherworldly sights still make a visit to this soulful capital very much worth the journey.
Any trip to Lhasa will warrant a few visits to Barkhor (Bākuò Jiē, 八廓街; "Barkhor Street")—the religious heart and market center of the capital surrounding Jokhang..
Ganden Monastery (Gāndān Sì, 甘丹寺) is an important monastic university—the first of the three great Gelugpa spiritual and educational centers built in the early 15th..
Sitting well exposed to the glare of the sun, the summer experience at Potala Palace prompted the Seventh Dalai Lama (1708-1757) to have Norbulingka built, a summer palace for..
A palace was originally built at this site in 637 by the founder of the Tibetan Empire Songtsän Gampo, and even though none of that original structure remains, it's..