This page generally contains a list of major places of interest in Tibet. Therefore, we hope the information will be helpful to the prospective travellers of Tibet.
The holy Lhasa city is the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region of People’s Republic of China; located at the north bank of Kyichu River at an altitude of (3,600m/11,811ft) above sea level. ‘Lhasa’ in Tibetan means ‘the land of Lords’. In Lhasa, there are plenty of scenic spots and historical attractions; such as the Potala Palace of the Dalai Lama with thirteen storey and 1,000 rooms; Norbulingka- the summer palace of the Dalai Lama; Drepung and Sera Monastery; Jokhang Temple- the holiest shrine of Tibet and the famous Rimpoche Temple.
King Songtsen Gampo was the first Tibetan ruler to establish a palace on this outcrop-The Red Hill, which dominates the city of Lhasa. This palace was called Kukhar Potrang was burned down by the invading Chinese during the reign of his successor Mangsong Mangtsen the construction of the present palace was begun in 1645 during the reign of the great fifth Dalai Lama and completed in 1694. The building has its name after Mount Potala in South India, one of the holy mountains of the Hindu God Shiva.
Buddhists however dedicated this same mountain to Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion and gave the name “Potala” to the pure land where Avalokitesvara resides. Since both Songtsen Gampo and Dalai Lama are considered the incarnations of Avalokitesvara; Potala was the obvious choice for their dwelling. The Potala has two sections such as the Red Palace and the White Palace. The total height of the Potala is 117 meters spanning thirteen storeys. The Palace from east to west is 400 meters long while the breadth from south to north is 250 meters. The building was constructed of stone and timber with golden roofs. It is certainly a majestic architectural masterpiece.
It is popular as the ‘Jewel Park’ – a large open area that lies at about 4km to the west of Lhasa and referred to as the summer palace of the Dalai Lama. Its official name now is the People’s Park. Kelsang Gyatso, the Seventh Dalai Lama, was the first Dalai Lama to make use of this rural park. He came here not only to rest but to bathe in a curative spring to treat his legs. Since the time of the Eighth Dalai Lama, the park has been used as a summer palace, retreat and recreation area for the successive Dalai Lamas. Most of the main buildings were constructed during the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas. It is the first building one encounters in the eastern section of the Norbulingka is the Kelsang Palace; named after the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso.
Sera means ‘hailstone’ in the Tibetan language. It is located at 5km further north of Lhasa. Sera Monastery together with Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery in Lhasa are popular as the ‘three Great Monasteries of Tibet’. It was built below a small hermitage where Tsong Khapa spent several years in retreat and meditating, by his leading discipline Jamchen Chöje Shakya Yeshe of Tsel Gungtang in 1419. Sera has two main colleges (dratsang), Sera Me and Sera Je.
It is located at 8km west of Lhasa and is one of the three great Gelukpa Monasteries. It has served like its two other sister monasteries Sera and Ganden as centre for learning and monastic training to which monks from all over Tibet would come to spend as long as 15 years methodically studying and debating the meaning of the Buddhist scriptures. For centuries it existed as a small monastic township housing thousands of fully ordained monks and other functionaries. It was founded in 1416 by Jamyang Chöje Tahsi Pelden, a disciple of Tsong Khapa.
Ganden Monastery is located at 40km east of Lhasa. The fifteenth century monastery erected on top of Mount Drokri after a prayer festival by Tsong Khapa and the main centre of the Gelukpa order. Ganden in Tibetan means ‘Tushita’ – the Pure Land where the future Buddha Maitreya resides. Tsong Khapa died at Ganden two years later in 1419. Shortly before his death, he passed the mantle of succession to Gyelstab Je, one of his two main disciples.
Jokhang Temple formerly called the Trulnang Temple or temple of ‘magical appearance’ – erected by King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century to house statute of Akshobhya Buddha in Tibetan Jowo Mikö Dorje and given to him by his Nepalese Wife Princess Bhirikuti. Later the statue of Jowo Shakyamuni given to him by his Chinese wife Princess Wen Cheng, was moved here from the Ramoche Temple that the present name became Jokhang, the ‘Shrine of the Jowo’. It is one of the holiest temples in Tibet and is the main centre of pilgrimage. An evening walk (Kora) around the Jokhang Temple together with the Tibetan pilgrims is a lifetime experience.
It was the first Buddhist Monastery in Tibet, probably built during the 770s. The central temple represents Mt. Sumeru, the mythical mountain at the centre of the cosmos. Around it are four temples called ‘ling’ which represent the four continents (ling) situated in the vast ocean to the north, south, east, and west of Sumeru. To the right and left of each of these temples are two smaller temples ‘ling-tren’; representing the subcontinents (ling-tren) of the Buddhist universe.
Namtso Lake is another attraction that lies at 265km away from Lhasa. It is very much popular for its spectacular tidal views which are 70km long and 30km wide; the second largest salt water lake in the Tibetan Plateau after Kokonor. The average altitude is 4,718m (15,479ft) and the snow peak of Nyencheb Tanglha to the southwest dominates the landscape.
At 3,950m (12,959ft), a small agricultural town famous for its wool carpets and the Phalkor Choide Chorten; Gyantse lies between a monastery and fort. This unique structure, built in 1414, consists of five stories representing the five steps to enlightenment and is topped by thirteen rings, which symbolizes the stages of advancement towards Buddha hood. Likewise, there are 108 halls inside, each with frescoes and Buddhist Shrines. Gyantse has good accommodation facilities as per one’s requirement.
Phalkor Monastery is located in Gyantse and founded jointly by Kedup Je of the Gelugpa Sect and Rabten Kunsang of the Sakyapa Sect in 1418. The Phalkor Monastery has a special influence over Tibet’s Buddhism owing to its unification of three different Sects; the Gelugpa, the Sakyapa and the Bhuton Sects in a single monastery.
The famous Kumbum pagoda, built in collaboration with Newari artists from Nepal and Tibet, also stands in the same courtyard where Phalkhor Monastery is with nine storeys, 108 doors and 77 chapels containing clay sculptures and various murals. The pagoda is said to have 100,000 images, either sculptured or painted, this is the reason for the name ‘100,000 Image Pagoda’ refers to a particular style of stupa construction in which chapels are housed in ascending symmetrical stories. Rabten Kunsang in July 1427 embarked on his most ambitious project – the construction of the Kumbum (or Tashi Gomang Chöten), which was probably completed later in 1439. The gilded copper roofing and the final consecration ceremonies, however not completed until 1474.
Yamdrok Tso Lake – The Sacred Lake:
Yamdrok Tso Lake is one of the biggest and most beautiful lakes in Tibet situated at an altitude of 4,425m (14,518ft). We pass by this lake with about two hours drive along its bank. Yamdrok means turquoise in Tibetan language. On the days when the weather is good the lake does take on the beautiful blue aspect of turquoise. This lake unlike other Tibetan lakes is fresh water, extending for 624 sq km, in the shape of two pincers of a large scorpion; you can have a short stop on its bank to take photographs.
It lies at 3,900m (12,795ft) from the sea level in the southwest of the Tibet where the Nyangchu River joins the Yarlung Tsangpo River. Shigatse is the second biggest town in Tibet and the centre of transportation and distribution of agriculture and husbandry products from the south-eastern part of Tibet especially. ‘Xigatse’ in Tibetan means the ‘Estate that fulfils one’s Wishes’. Shigatse also offers good accommodation facilities as per one’s need.
Tashilhunpo Monastery is located on the western edge of modern Shigatse and was founded in 1447. Gendun Drup was entombed in Tashilhunpo, one of two Dalai Lamas (the other was the sixth) whose remains are not enshrined in Lhasa. It was here that the Fifth Dalai Lama declared his teacher, Losang Chökyi Gyeltsen, then abbot of Tashilhunpo Monastery, to be a manifestation of Buddha Amitabh and the fourth in a line of incarnate lamas starting from Khedrup Je, one of Tsongkhapa’s two chief disciples. Since the abbot of Tashilhunpo was already referred to by the title Panchen (great scholar), these incarnate lamas were called the Panchen Lamas. Losang Chökyi Gyeltsen thus became the fourth Panchen Lama. It is one of the main Geluk Monasteries.
Lhatse is located at 4,350m (14,272ft) where a main Tibetan road turns westwards to Mt. Kailash (6,714m/22,028ft) and Manasarovar Lake. During the short summer season, the whole valley covers with green barley fields and bright yellow mustard meadows. It is a welcome change after the barren lands of the Tibetan plateau. There is also a small hot spring located a few kilometers away.
The Holy Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar:
In the far western Himalayas, a pure white-snow the mystical Mount Kailash lies, also known as the ‘Precious Snow Jewel’. The snow covered holy peak shines brightly as the holiest place of pilgrimage in the entire Indian subcontinent. Since centuries, Mount Kailash has become a famous pilgrims and mystics who endured great hardships to reach the holy mountain’s remoteness and worship on its gem-like slopes. In fact, it is not an easy task to visit the great Mount Kailash. We have been making the journey comfortable but one must be ready to endure the rigors of the road conditions.
Xegar (New Tingri):
A new Chinese commune built at the foot of the ruins of Xegar Dzong is located at 4,050m (13,288ft), 7km away from the main road. The total population of Xegar is about 3,000 and it is the centre of the large and remote area and a base station from where the expeditions to Mt. Everest and other peaks begin.
Tingri is an old Tibetan settlement with typical cluster-style housing at the foot of small hillock that lies at 4,100m (13,452ft) from the sea. A short exploration of the settlement further can expose you to a typical remote Tibetan lifestyle. Right from the roadside of Tingri, you can see Mt. Everest (8,848m/29,028ft), the top of the world towards the south.
Nyalam is located at 3,700m (12,139ft) and as being an important trade centre, known as Kuti by the Nepalese traders. Nowadays, barrack style Chinese communes surround the typical old flat roofed, mud brick houses. Vegetation is quite rare but one can still see an abundance of alpine fauna on the hillside during summer months.
Zhangmu is the closest Tibetan town from Nepal which lies at 2,300m (7,546ft) from the sea level. This place popularly refers to as Khasa among Nepalese while Tibetans call it by the name of Dram. Zhangmu is a small settlement clinging to a hillside 10km away from the Friendship Bridge above the great Bhotekoshi River. Zhangmu has become the major trading point between Nepal and Tibet since many centuries. The climate is quite different from the hinterland. The hills around Zhangmu are heavily wooded with many waterfalls in summer and impressive ice formations in winter.
Kerung is the newly developing Tibetan town located at 145km from Kathmandu. The Rasuwagadi-Kerung border crossing has got recognition as an international access point between Nepal and Tibet (China). Tibet tours have now resumed through the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung instead of the Tatopani-Kodari border. The massive earthquake in 2015 badly affected the road connection between Nepal and Tibet. Then the new border post via Rasuwagadhi in Nepal and Kerung in Tibet has come in operation. The upgrading of road work in Nepal side continues while the Chinese authority is heavily working to regulate the Kerung port. China is also working hard to extend their railway network up to Kerung in the near future.