7 Essential Things To Do in Lhasa

Monday, February 11, 2019

It looks like you have made up your mind to venture into Tibet’s Forbidden City. Well, here are some of the things to do in Lhasa to help make your experience better!

Check out This Postcard from Lhasa!

Lhasa city, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is the home to Tibetan Buddhists and has its own culture, independent of ruling China.

Not only does Lhasa boast of numerous monasteries and the beautiful Potala Palace, but it also has the Jokhang temple and Norbulingka. That would be enough for an introduction, so, let’s now dive into the history of Lhasa and also check out some interesting Potala Palace facts.

#1: Move in and around the Potala Palace

Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lamas, impresses with its exterior architecture.
Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lamas, impresses with its exterior architecture.

After you’re ready, one of the first things to do in Lhasa – the Land of the Gods – is to visit the grand multi-story Potala Palace. This UNESCO World Heritage Site used to be the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas. Built originally by the then king, the present palace is made by the fifth Dalai Lama, and it now acts as a museum.

Check out This Postcard from the Potala Palace!

Apart from showcasing Tibetan arts and thousands of scriptures related to Buddhism, the palace itself is a live example of Tibetan architecture. Be prepared to climb a lot of stairs browsing through the thousand rooms of the White Palace and the Red Palace. And do remember to photograph its beauty.

#2: Visit the Jokhang Temple

Jokang Temple is the most sacred place in Tibet.
Jokang Temple is the most sacred place in Tibet.

Situated at the Barkhor square, Jokhang Temple is another place listed under UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Tibet. Built by the king, to house the statue of Buddha (brought by his queens), Tibetans consider this temple as the holiest place.

Check out This Postcard from the Jokhgang Temple!

Built in wood, this center of Tibetan Buddhism also gives a spectacular view of the Potala Palace at a short distance. And while you are at it, also pay a visit to Ramoche temple, Jokhang temple’s cousin about a kilometer north. Although Ramoche temple doesn’t match the beauty of Jokhang, it still is one of the places which many locals visit daily.

#3: Go round and round on Barkhor Street

Barkhor Street actually surrounds the most sacred place in Tibet, the Jokhang Temple, and because of that, it's a significant kora in Tibet (or a pilgrimage path).
Barkhor Street actually surrounds the most sacred place in Tibet, the Jokhang Temple, and because of that, it's a significant kora in Tibet (or a pilgrimage path).

Once you have finished visiting Jokhang Temple, our next place of interest would be the Barkhor Street below. The street runs around the Jokhang temple and is a significant kora (walking path). It’s one of the Tibetan customs to walk on trails surrounding a monastery or sacred places in a clockwise direction.

And while you are there, it’s one of the must things to do in Lhasa to circumambulate the Jokhang Temple alongside fellow Tibetans. You will watch people walking while they are praying (with the praying wheel in hand, sometimes), meditating and embracing the blessings of Buddha.

Other than being the path of relaxation, Barkhor Street also is the venue to get your hands on Tibetan stuff. You can take souvenirs and gifts for your friends and relatives back home. The things there include paintings, jewelry, carpets, and even medicines. But there also are vendors who sell items bought from China, Nepal, and even India. Thus, a bit of awareness required there.

Check out This Postcard from Barkhor Street!

And then, you can also enjoy a cup of Tibetan butter tea (or ghee tea) in one of the tea shops there. Tibetan sweet tea, though, is also famous. Moreover, you will get a chance to hang out with locals and get to know more about this mysterious little region.

#4: Get calmed at the monasteries

Sera Monastery is one of the three most important monasteries in Tibet, known for its Debate Courtyard, where monks practice critical debates.
Sera Monastery is one of the three most important monasteries in Tibet, known for its Debate Courtyard, where monks practice critical debates.

Being the center of Tibetan Buddhism, you will find many monasteries in Lhasa. And one of the prominent ones is the Ganden Monastery. Situated on a hill about 50 km away, Ganden Monastery is the administrative center of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhists. Not to mention that you must hike around its kora, not only for religious reasons but also to get some beautiful views from the top.

Check out This Postcard from Drepung Monastery!

Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery are the others worth visiting and are close to the city. The Drepung Monastery is one of the largest monasteries and has an extensive collection of historical and cultural resources. In its peak days, it had about 10,000 monks studying there. The monastery also has tombs of earlier Dalai Lamas. The later ones are now in Potala Palace.

The Sera Monastery, situated two kilometers north of Lhasa, although small, is known for the debates. Every day at 3 pm, monks gather in the courtyard asking questions related to Buddhism to each other, challenging (in a way).

Check out This Postcard from Sera Monastery!

And while you are spending time there, you may get a chance encounter with locals playing Tibetan music. By the way, getting to play those instruments would be fun, right? Go ahead, ask them. Another noteworthy monastery there is the Mindrolling Monastery.

The Mindrolling Monastery is about 120 km from Lhasa, to its south. It follows the Nyingma school of Buddhism which is the oldest among others. So, if you want to go deeper into their religion, this place is a must visit.

#5: The Norbulingka Park

It's no wonder why this beautiful palace called Norbulingka is the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas.
It's no wonder why this beautiful palace called Norbulingka is the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas.

OK, what’s next in our list of things to do in Lhasa? It’s time to visit the summer residence of Dalai Lamas. At a short distance from the Potala Palace, is Norbulingka. Not only the park is beautiful, but the palace itself is magnificent and is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Made in the Tibetan style, Norbulingka acted as the administrative center in summer.

Read more: Exploring Tibet, one of the most spiritual places in the world!

Apart from a collection of Buddhist artifacts in the palace and the beautiful park, it also is a popular venue for Tibetan entertainment. It hosts many music and dance shows and even festivals. The park, however, becomes alive during the annual Shoton festival – a week-long celebration sometime in July/August.

Along with the options for eating and drinking, there come artists from all over Tibet for Tibetan opera performances. So, if you happen to be there, you are in for a lifetime experience.

#6: The Namtso

Namtso Lake is located at an altitude of about 5000 meters, which makes it the highest saltwater lake in the world.
Namtso Lake is located at an altitude of about 5000 meters, which makes it the highest saltwater lake in the world.

“Tso” means lake and at an altitude of about 5000 meters, the Namtso (Nam Lake) is one of the most beautiful places in Tibet. It is the largest lake in Tibet and also the highest saltwater lake in the world. Snow-capped mountains and their reflections in the blue water just look magnificent.

It takes about 5 hours to reach Namtso and the sunrise as well as sunset there is an experience in itself. Breathtaking!

The lake, however, isn’t known only for its views but also is holy and holds religious values. It’s a popular place for meditation and also has a kora. And it’s believed that if you walk around it, this holy lake will clear your soul.

#7: Acquire a Tibetan taste

One of the absolute must things to do in Lhasa is to try the local beer, chaang.
One of the absolute must things to do in Lhasa is to try the local beer, chaang.

Your trip to Lhasa will never be complete if you haven’t tasted something Tibetan. Yes, the butter tea is a Tibetan delicacy, but it’s not all. Although the streets of Lhasa are full of restaurants serving Indian and Nepali cuisine, it isn’t hard to find a restaurant with exotic Tibetan food. There are many at Barkhor Street and also around the monasteries.

Tibetan dishes are hot (served hot) and consists mainly of barley and meat – yak, sheep or goat. Even the local barley beer, chhaang is best served warm (at room temperature, if required). Among the favorite dishes in Tibet are thukpa (noodle soup) and tingmo (steamed bread).

Read more: Meet the Tibetan Cuisine!

The national food, however, is tsampa which is made of ground barley flour. The Tibetan tsampa can either be eaten after mixing it with butter tea and salt or with milk and sugar. Other prominent dishes are momos (stuffed dumplings) and thenthuk (a variation of thukpa). Curried potato is also common in their daily food.


Now that you have got a long list of things to do in Lhasa, why not start packing and book a week of holiday in Tibet? Being at such an altitude, Lhasa never gets heated up, and you can complete rounds of kora without sweating a lot. But do take altitude sickness in consideration.
Tashi Delek! (Good luck!)

Abhijeet Kumar a freelance content writer for aSabbatical.com
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.