An epic train journey brought us into Lhasa, the once forbidden city on the Tibetan Plateau. Maybe its most prominent sight is the Potala Palace, built in the 17th century and formerly the winter residence of the Dalai Lama. This imposing 13-storey building dominates the cityscape and includes literally hundreds of rooms full of ancient Tibetan art including the ornamented tombs of the previous Dalai Lamas. As the palace has to be approached over long and steep staircases, it might be wise to postpone a visit for some days until one gets accustomed to the altitude of almost 3700 m. A more relaxed place to start exploring is the Norbulingka, the former summer residence of the Dalai Lama. Small pavillons are scattered across the park-like palace grounds and the atmosphere is very quiet. While the Potala and Norbulingka are now mere museums almost without religious meaning, Tibetan Buddhism still thrives in the temples and monasteries. The most sacred place in entire Tibet is the Jokhang Temple where every day throngs of pilgrims congregate for their prayers. A visit in the early morning before other tourists arrive is probably the best choice. Afterwards, it is possible to join the prayer-wheel spinning pilgrims in circumambulating the temple on the Barkhor. Lhasa offers a number of other places very well worth visiting, including the Drepung Monastery, which dates back to the 15th century and once stood among the largest monasteries in the world.
Maybe the best thing about this journey to Lhasa was the feeling of exploration as we did not come here with a tourist group, but as individual backpackers! Unfortunately, money is a big issue as a student and we did not have the finances to get the permits and transportation to see places further afield in Tibet. Nevertheless, we were able to join at least a day trip to nearby Nam-tso Lake – but this is covered in the next post! 🙂