When I first saw Lhasa, Tibet I remembered the description of Shangri La from James Hilton’s epic novel Lost Horizon! To paraphrase Hilton, “There are moments in every woman’s life, when she glimpses the eternal.” Lhasa, known for its sacred sites, Buddhist monasteries, and spectacular mountain views is the perfect embodiment of remote grandeur. At over 12,000 feet (3,650 meters), Lhasa is one of my favourite places above the Cloud!
The Potala Palace is the beautiful iconic site in Lhasa!
Lhasa is the centre of the Tibetan Buddhist world, and with that title comes a whole lot of history. Humans have inhabited the Tibetan Plateau for at least 21,000 years and the genes of those long-passed palaeolithic peoples are still active in modern Tibetans who can thrive at great altitudes that leave the rest of us struggling.
Lhasa is stunning and icy in Winter!
The current Dalai Lama is the 14th reincarnation and was born in 1940. Although he lives in exile since the incorporation of Tibet into China during the 1950s, the Dalai Lama has kept a strong following throughout the region.
Although quite distant, this autonomous region of China is easily reached from larger metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai. One big thing to note about Tibet is that Independent travel for non-nationals is prohibited. In practice, this means that to visit this stunning region, you’ll need to book a guided tour with a registered tour operator. Another item to note is that Tibetan New Year takes place during February and March, and you’ll struggle to find a tour that operates during this period. Instead, try visiting between May and October when the weather is far more enjoyable, and the warmer air is heavier making breathing easier.
Here’s a Pro Tip: The currency used is the Yuan Renminbi (Chinese Yuan). About 10 Renminbi is equal to one British Pound, though the rate regularly fluctuates, so check when you enter a Chinese port.
Lhasa’s temples are as beautiful as they are ancient
Alternatively, make use of the airport taxis which are found outside the arrivals terminal. The cost of a one-way private taxi can be anywhere from £16 to £20 but the journey time is far quicker than the shuttle. If you have more time, my favourite way to visit Lhasa is on the Qinghai – Tibet Railway; the highest train route in the world! The 41 hour ride from Beijing covers over 2,300 miles (3730 Kms) and is quite comfortable in a pressurised cabin with sleeping compartments. This is the most epic way to enter Lhasa and one I personally recommend!
Here’s Another Pro Tip: In the lead up to your trip to Tibet, try and make sure you stay as fit and healthy as possible. If you’ve have even a slight cold, the altitude sickness upon arrival can feel ten times worse!
Once in Lhasa, there is so much to see and appreciate. Here are my favourite sites:
- Potala Palace – This famed royal retreat dates back to the 17th-century and is almost impossible to miss when exploring Lhasa. I’ll go as far to say as it’ll be the first thing you see in the city!
- Jokhang Temple – As Lhasa’s most visited temple, Jokhang is unsurprisingly an awe-inspiring place of worship. The temple, which is considered to be one of the most sacred in Tibet, sits in Barkhor Square.
- Norbulingka – This large green park is home to a number of monuments and smaller temples, each hidden away in the grounds. I enjoy a peaceful stroll around the gardens early in the morning before the rest of the city awakes.
- Sera Monastery – This giant Buddhist complex sits just north of the city and is named after the wild roses that once bloomed on its land.
- Tibet Museum – Make sure you visit the Tibet Museum for an overview of the region’s history and culture. Each exhibit paints a picture of Lhasa’s rich culture. Some of the most ancient finds in the region have rewritten the evolution of mankind!
It’s alright to hug a monk as long as you don’t get in the habit!
Tibet, with a very short growing season, has some of the most interesting cuisine in the entire world. Nepalese, Bhutanese, Tibetan and Chinese flavours produce a unique dining experience with exotic ingredients! One of the favourite meats in Lhasa restaurants is yak! Here are some of my favourite restaurants:
- Dunya Restaurant and Bar – This former Dutch restaurant now serves a taste of Tibetan, Nepalese, and Chinese cuisine. It’s a popular place with tour groups, so you might have to pre-book a table to avoid disappointment.
Mmmm, more yak please, mum!
- Tibetan Family Kitchen – Enjoy homemade dishes including yak meat with tomatoes at this family-run establishment. The restaurant, which has been passed down from generation to generation, sits on the corner of the Barkhor and is the perfect place for a light lunch or a hearty evening meal.
- Lhasa Namaste Restaurant – A mix of Tibetan and Indian dishes make up the menu at Lhasa Namaste, a colourful establishment with spacious private dining booths.
Because of its altitude, Lhasa isn’t known for its wild nightlife, but the few bars that do exist are welcoming and fun. I’m talking about old school establishments with designated chill-out zones (hello comfy cushions on the floor!) and live music. Check out my three favourites but be careful drinking too much alcohol at altitude:
- Low House Music Bar – Honey tea flowing freely, locally brewed beer behind the bar, and live music late into the night; this is the epitome of a wonderful Tibetan Bar? Make sure Low House is high on your list to visit!
- Mayke Ame – This aging yellow tavern might seem rustic, but head on inside and take a seat by the window to watch the world go by. You’ll be presented with a surprising collection of beers and wine; all at reasonable prices!
- Ganglamedo Cafe & Bar – This little bar looks more like a dolls house than an actual establishment! The large windows that adorn the front of the building allow you to peek through to watch residents and tourists gather to eat, drink and unwind after a long day.
If you enjoy a little luxury on a budget then you’re going to love Lhasa. Hotels here are affordable and comfortable, and you have the choice of large chains or independent boutiques. Here are some to consider:
- Shangri La Hotel Lhasa – You can’t go too far wrong with a Shangri La property, and Lhasa’s doesn’t disappoint. This luxury hotel boasts spacious, contemporary rooms and is just walking distance from the very best of the city’s attractions.
- Intercontinental Lhasa Paradise – If you’re on a budget but don’t want to compromise on quality or comfort, consider the Intercontinental. The hotel features an onsite oxygen bar to relieve mountain sickness!
- Songtsam Retreat Lhasa – This luxurious lodge is a 5-star boutique hotel that is still affordable. The hotel’s selling point is the marvellous views toward nearby Potala Palace.
While the modern side of Lhasa has certainly developed at rapid speed, old town Lhasa still maintains timeless beauty that will enchant you. If you visit, you may find your own Lost Horizon!