A visit to Lhasa, capital of Tibet, is a unique and rich experience. The attractions in and around the city, center on Tibetan Buddhism and are unlike anything you would encounter elsewhere. This is a place that resonates with you long after you return home.
The city’s iconic landmark is the Potala Palace, the construction of which began in 1645. Flanked by lofty mountains of austere beauty, it has a magnificence that beckons. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to Tibetan rulers for centuries, it has over 1,000 rooms and 10,000 alters. A place of pilgrimage for the devout and a destination for the visitor which is not easily forgotten.
Housed within this massive stone and wood structure are glorious cultural objects and artifacts which relate to Tibetan history, and religion. Their richness is extraordinary. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted inside.
The Norbulingka Summer Palace was the Dalai Lama’s summer retreat. Built in 1755 the present Dalai Lama spent his last days in Tibet in the Palace. It is amazing to see that the interior remains exactly as the Dalai Lama left it in 1959! The furnishings and personal knickknacks are truly fascinating and well documented. The 99 acre gardens and pools surrounding the Palace provide a beautiful setting.
Central to the city itself is the Barkhor area of narrow streets and a public square. It is the most important road of the Tibetan pilgrimage, known as the circumambulation circuit or ‘saint road’. It is here that you can experience the prostrations – the ‘one-step-one-bow’ of devotion. You can’t help but be enthralled. A visit to this area is a wonderful introduction to the culture and beliefs of Tibetan religion.
It is extraordinary to see the depth of devotion expressed by pilgrims of all ages and health conditions and impossible not to become captivated by their rich spiritual heritage. You can literally feel it.
The old circumambulation circuit is always crowded with pilgrims from everywhere.
Located on Barkhor Square is the Jokhang Temple where pilgrams circulate clockwise doing full-body prostrations and spinning prayers wheels.
Here you will find four large incense burners in the four cardinal directions. Incense is burnt constantly to please the gods and protect the Temple. Combined with the spiritual expressions and acts of devotion, it’s quite intoxicating.
The Temple itself is a four-story construction with roofs glittering with gilded bronze tiles and religious symbols. The view from the roof top is fabulous even in wet weather.
A visit to the Ani Tsangkung Nunnery is well worthwhile. Dating back to the 7th century it now has more than 100 residing nuns. They are very poor and whilst they rely on alms given for their prayers, they produce printed religious texts and handicrafts and run an outdoor tea restaurant. It’s a very cheerful and busy place and you are made to feel welcome.
The Sera Monastery is just outside the city and is famous for the lively and unique debates conducted by the monks. The debates form a way of learning sutras and scriptures. Whilst it’s impossible to follow the debates (conducted in the open air), it’s fascinating to watch the variety of gestures, the clapping of hands, and the plucking of prayer beads that form part of the debating method.
Essential to Tibetan culture and spirituality are the yak butter candles or lamps, and the seven bowls containing pure water. The butter lamps represent the enlightenment of wisdom while the seven bowls of water signify purity of heart.
It’s not possible to visit Tibet without seeing prayer flags. The Tibetans believe that coupled with the wind they engender harmony with environment and work together to increase happiness and good fortune among all living beings.
Tibet is more than a tourist destination, it is a country with a unique and reach culture and a people whose devotion to their faith is palpable. Go if you can, it’s incredible!