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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

—  Prefecture-level city  —
拉萨市 · ལྷ་ས་གྲོང་ཁྱེར་
Tibetan transcription(s)
 - Tibetan ལྷ་ས་
 - Wylie transliteration lha sa
 - pronunciation in IPA [l̥ásə] or [l̥ɜ́ːsə]
 - official transcription (PRC) Lhasa
 - THDL Lhasa
 - other transcriptions
Chinese transcription(s)
 - Traditional 拉薩
 - Simplified 拉萨
 - Pinyin Lāsà
From top: The Potala Palace, Lhasa's most famous landmark, a city view of Lhasa, Barkor Street, and Jokhang Square
Lhasa is located in Tibet
Location within Tibet
Coordinates: 29°39′N 91°07′E / 29.65°N 91.117°E / 29.65; 91.117
Country China
Province Tibet
Prefecture Lhasa Prefecture
 - Mayor Doje Cezhug
 - Land 53 km2 (20.5 sq mi)
Elevation 3,490 m (11,450 ft)
Population (2009)
 - Prefecture-level city 1,100,123
 Urban 373,000
 - Major Nationalities Tibetan; Han; Hui
 - Regional language Tibetan language, Jin language (Hothot dialect)
Time zone +8
Area code(s) 850000

Lhasa (pronounced /ˈlɑːsə/ in English, Tibetan: ལྷ་ས་, pronounced [l̥ásə] or [l̥ɜ́ːsə]; simplified Chinese: 拉萨traditional Chinese: 拉薩pinyin: Lāsà and sometimes spelled Lasa) is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China. It is located at the foot of Mount Gephel.

Traditionally, the city is the seat of the Dalai Lama and the capital of Tibet, and is one of the highest capitals in the world. It is the location of the Potala and Norbulingka palaces (both are included as World Heritage Sites[1]), and is the birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism. The Jokhang in Lhasa is regarded as the holiest centre in Tibet. Lhasa literally means "place of the gods", although ancient Tibetan documents and inscriptions demonstrate that the place was called Rasa, which means "goat's place", until the early 7th century.[2]

Lhasa is now the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China. The city is part of a township-level prefecture, the Lhasa Prefecture, consisting of 7 small counties: Lhünzhub County, Damxung County, Nyêmo County, Qüxü County, Doilungdêqên County, Dagzê County and Maizhokunggar County.



By the mid 7th century, Songtsän Gampo became the leader of the Tibetan Empire that had risen to power in the Brahmaputra River (locally known as the Yarlung River) Valley. After conquering the kingdom of Zhangzhung in the west, he moved the capital from the Chingwa Taktse castle in Chongye County (pinyin: Qonggai), southwest of Yarlung, to Rasa (modern Lhasa) where in 637 he founded the first buildings of the Potala Palace on Mount Marpori. In 641 he founded the Rasa Trulnang or Jokhang.[3] Lhasa soon became not only the religious, but the political centre.[4] Lhasa remained the capital throughout the development of the Tibetan Empire until the reign of Langdarma in the 9th century, when the sacred sites were destroyed and desecrated and the empire fragmented.[5]

In CE 641, Songtsän Gampo, who by this time had conquered the whole Tibetan region, wedded Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal and Princess Wen Cheng of the Imperial Tang court. Through these marriages, he converted to Buddhism and proceeded to build the Jokhang Ramoche Temple in Lhasa in order to house two Buddha statues brought to his court by the princesses. Other building constructed about this time included the nine-storey Pabonka (Pha bong kha) tower and Pabonka Hermitage, and the gompas (temples) of Meru Nyingba, Tsamkhung and Drak Lhaluphuk.[6][7]

Tang dynasty records noted that Songtsän Gampo's empire was still largely nomadic and he held court in large movable resplendent tents, at least when his court moved about the country. The report by a Chinese ambassador in 672 that the Tibetan Emperor did "not live beneath a roof," was doubtless an exaggeration, and probably intended to belittle the country.[8] However, this was probably based on a simple misunderstanding. We learn from a somewhat later ambassador, who arrived in Tibet in 822 CE, that the Tibetan Emperor had his summer headquarters in a large tent just to the north of Lhasa. It is quite clear that this was just a summer encampment and one can only assume that he spent the freezing winters in one of the many building in Lhasa itself. The description of this royal summer camp, as the Chinese Ambassador saw it, is recorded in the Xin Tangshu 216A :

"The valley to the north of the Tsang River (Kyi-chu or Kyi River) is the princely summer camp of the bcan-po. It is surrounded with [a palisade of] posts attached together. At an average distance of ten paces [from each other] 100 lances have been set up; in the middle of which is planted a great standard. There are three gates a hundred paces from each other. Armour clad soldiers guard the gates. Sorcerers with caps of bird [feathers] and a girdle of tiger [skins] thumped on drums. Anyone who entered was searched before they were allowed to proceed. In the middle [of the camp] was a high terrace, surrounded with a rich balustrade. The bcan-po was seated in his tent. [There were] dragons with and without horns, tigers, and panthers, all made of gold. [The bcan-po] was dressed in white linen with a rose-coloured muslin cloth tied around his head. He carried a sword encrusted with gold. The Prime Minister was standing on his right, while the Ministers of State were arranged at the foot of the terrace." [9]

From the fall of the monarchy in the 9th century to the accession of the 5th Dalai Lama, the centre of political power in the Tibetan region was not situated in Lhasa. However, the importance of Lhasa as a religious site became increasingly significant as the centuries progressed.[10] It was known as the centre of Tibet where Padmasambhava magically pinned down the earth demonness and built the foundation of the Jokhang Temple over her heart.[11]

By the 15th century, the city of Lhasa had risen to prominence following the founding of three large Gelugpa monasteries by Je Tsongkhapa and his disciples. The three monasteries are Ganden, Sera and Drepung which were built as part of the puritanical Buddhist revival in Tibet.[6] The scholarly achievements and political know-how of this sect eventually pushed Lhasa once more to centre stage.

The fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso (1617–1682), conquered Tibet and, in 1642, moved the centre of his administration to Lhasa, which again became both the religious and political capital. In 1645, the reconstruction of the Potala Palace began on Red Hill. In 1648, the Potrang Karpo (White Palace) of the Potala was completed, and the Potala was used as a winter palace by the Dalai Lama from that time onwards. The Potrang Marpo (Red Palace) was added between 1690 and 1694.

The name Potala is possibly derived from Mount Potalaka, the mythological abode of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. The Jokhang Temple was also greatly expanded around this time. Although some wooden carvings and lintels of the Jokhang Temple date to the 7th century, the oldest of Lhasa's extant buildings, such as within the Potala Palace, the Jokhang and some of the monasteries and properties in the Old Quarter date to this second flowering in Lhasa's history.

The Norbulingka summer palace and gardens to the southwest of the city were constructed in the 18th century under the 7th Dalai Lama.[6]

The 11th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica published between 1910–1911 noted the total population of Lhasa, including the lamas in the city and vicinity was about 30,000[12]; a census in 1854 made the figure 42,000, but it is known to have greatly decreased since. Britannica noted that within Lhasa, there were about a total of 1,500 resident Tibetan laymen and about 5,500 Tibetan women.[12] The permanent population also included Chinese families (about 2,000).[12] The city's residents included people from Nepal and Ladak (about 800), and a few from Bhutan, Mongolia and other places.[12] The Britannica noted with interest that the Chinese had a crowded burial-ground at Lhasa, tended carefully after their manner and that the Nepalese supplied mechanics and metal-workers at that time.[12]

In the first half of the 20th century, several Western explorers made celebrated journeys to the city, including William Montgomery McGovern, Francis Younghusband, Alexandra David-Néel and Heinrich Harrer. As Lhasa was the centre of Tibetan Buddhism nearly half of its population were monks.

According to one writer, the population of the city was about 10,000, with some 10,000 monks at Drepung and Sera monasteries 1959[13] Hugh Richardson, on the other hand, puts the population of Lhasa in 1952, before the Chinese occupation, at "some 25,000–30,000—about 45,000–50,000 if the population of the great monasteries on its outskirts be included."[14]

With the invasion of China many people fled from the city; these included the living 14th Dalai Lama who fled from the Potala Palace into exile in India in 1959 after the Lhasa uprising.

Between 1987–1989 Lhasa experienced major demonstrations, led by monks and nuns, against the Chinese occupation. As a result the Chinese imposed restrictions and political re-education programmes in the monasteries. Many had to go through re-education sessions with the intent of having them align with the Communist views; they were also required to denounce both the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence. Many monks and nuns who refused to cooperate were sent to prison, while others left the monasteries and escaped to India so that they could carry on with their studies.

In the early 2000s, the city's population stood at about 255,000. For the history of Tibet since 1950, see the History of Tibet.

Geography and climate



Lhasa sits in a flat river valley in the Himalaya Mountains.

At an altitude is 3,490 metres (11,450 feet), Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world, covering a flat river valley in the Himalaya Mountains.[15] The air only contains 68% of the oxygen compared to sea level.[5]

Lhasa and the prefecture covers an area of close to 30,000 km2 (12,000 sq mi). It has a central area of 544 km2 (210 sq mi)[16] and a total population of 500,000; 250,000 of its people live in the urban area. Lhasa is home to the Tibetan, Han, and Hui peoples, as well as several other ethnic groups, but overall the Tibetan ethnic group makes up a majority of the total population.

Located at the bottom of a small basin surrounded by mountains, Lhasa has an elevation of about 3,600 metres (11,812 ft)[17] and lies in the centre of the Tibetan Plateau with the surrounding mountains rising to 5,500 metres (18,000 ft). The Kyi River (or Kyi Chu), a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo River), runs through the city. This river, known to local Tibetans as the "merry blue waves,", flows through the snow-covered peaks and gullies of the Nyainqêntanglha mountains, extending 315 km (196 mi), and emptying into the Yarlung Zangbo River at Qüxü, forms an area of great scenic beauty.

View of Lhasa looking south from Chupzang Nunnery


Lhasa features a cold steppe climate. Due to its very high altitude, Lhasa has a cool, dry climate with frosty winters. It enjoys 3,000 hours of sunlight annually and is sometimes called the "sunlit city" by Tibetans.

Lhasa has an annual precipitation of 400 millimetres (16 in) with rain falling mainly in July, August and September. The rainy season is widely regarded the "best" of the year as rains come mostly at night and Lhasa is sunny during the daytime.

Temperature; Daily average (January) -1.2oC, 29.8oF; (July) 16.4oC, 61.5oF
Precipitation; Daily average (January) 0.5 mm, 0.02 inches; (July) 129.7 mm, 5.11 inches.[16]
Climate data for Lhasa (1971-2000)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 7.2
Average low °C (°F) -9.0
Precipitation mm (inches) 0.8
Sunshine hours 250.9 226.7 246.1 248.9 276.6 257.3 227.4 219.6 229.0 281.7 267.4 258.6 2,990.1
% Humidity 28 26 27 36 44 51 62 66 63 49 38 34 44
Source: 中国气象局 国家气象信息中心 2009-03-17



Lhasa prefecture-level city in Tibet Autonomous Region

Administratively speaking, Lhasa is a prefecture-level city that consists of one district and seven counties. Chengguan District comprise the city of Lhasa.

Lhasa mcp.png
# Name Hanzi Hanyu Pinyin Tibetan Wylie Population (2003 est.) Area (km²) Density (/km²)
1 Chengguan District 城关区 Chéngguān Qū ཁྲིན་ཀོན་ཆུས་ khrin kon chus 140,000 525 267
2 Lhünzhub County 林周县 Línzhōu Xiàn ལྷུན་གྲུབ་རྫོང་ lhun grub rdzong 60,000 4,100 1
3 Damxung County 当雄县 Dāngxióng Xiàn འདམ་གཞུང་རྫོང dam gzhung rdzong 40,000 10,234 4
4 Nyêmo County 尼木县 Nímù Xiàn སྙེ་མོ་རྫོང་ snye mo rdzong 30,000 3,266 9
5 Qüxü County 曲水县 Qūshuǐ Xiàn ཆུ་ཤུར་རྫོང་ chu shur rdzong 30,000 1,624 18
6 Doilungdêqên County 堆龙德庆县 Duīlóngdéqìng Xiàn སྟོད་ལུང་བདེ་ཆེན་རྫོང་ stod lung bde chen rdzong 40,000 2,672 15
7 Dagzê County 达孜县 Dázī Xiàn སྟག་རྩེ་རྫོང་ stag rtse rdzong 30,000 1,361 22
8 Maizhokunggar County 墨竹工卡县 Mòzhúgōngkǎ Xiàn མལ་གྲོ་གུང་དཀར་རྫོང་ mal gro gung dkar rdzong 40,000 5,492 7


Competitive industry together with feature economy play key roles in the development of Lhasa. With the view to maintaining a balance between population growth and the environment, tourism and service industries are emphasised as growth engines for the future.

Agriculture and animal husbandry in Lhasa are considered to be of a high standard. People mainly plant highland barley and winter wheat. The resources of water conservancy, geothermal heating, solar energy and various mines are abundant.

There is widespread electricity together with the use of both machinery and traditional methods in the production of such things as textiles, leathers, plastics, matches and embroidery. The production of national handicrafts has made great progress.

A market in Lhasa.

With the growth of tourism and service sectors, the sunset industries which cause serious pollution are expected to fade in the hope of building a healthy ecological system. Environmental problems such as soil erosion, acidification, and loss of vegetation are being addressed.

The tourism industry now brings significant business to the region, building on the attractiveness of the Potala Palace, the spectacular Himalayan landscape together with the many wild plants and animals native to the high altitudes of Central Asia. Many of Lhasa's rural residents practice traditional agriculture and animal husbandry. Lhasa is also the traditional hub of the Tibetan trading network. For many years, chemical and car making plants operated in the area and this resulted in significant pollution, a factor which has changed in recent years. Copper, lead and zinc are mined nearby and there is ongoing experimentation regarding new methods of mineral mining and geothermal heat extraction.


An elderly Tibetan woman holding a prayer wheel on the street in Lhasa
Mendicant monk in Lhasa
Woman with son busking in Lhasa, 1993.

Tibetan exile groups assert that ethnic Tibetans are now in a minority in Lhasa, because of the influx of migrants from other parts of the Peoples' Republic of China over the past years (particularly Han and Hui Chinese). This is backed up by many foreign journalists who have reported from the city.[18][19] Officially, the total population of Lhasa Prefecture-level City is 521,500 (including known migrant population but excluding military garrisons). Of this, 257,400 are in the urban area (including a migrant population of 100,700), while 264,100 are outside.[20] Nearly half of Lhasa Prefecture-level City's population lives in Chengguan District, which is the administrative division that contains the urban area of Lhasa (i.e. the actual city).

According to the 2000 census (which did not count the substantial People's Liberation Army garrison or the many undocumented migrants), the ethnic distribution in Lhasa Prefecture-level City was as follows in November 2000:

Major ethnic groups in Lhasa Prefecture-level City by district or county, 2000 census[21]
Total Tibetans Han Chinese others
Lhasa Prefecture-level City 474,499 387,124 81.6% 80,584 17.0% 6,791 1.4%
Chengguan District 223,001 140,387 63.0% 76,581 34.3% 6,033 2.7%
Lhünzhub County 50,895 50,335 98.9% 419 0.8% 141 0.3%
Damxung County 39,169 38,689 98.8% 347 0.9% 133 0.3%
Nyêmo County 27,375 27,138 99.1% 191 0.7% 46 0.2%
Qüxü County 29,690 28,891 97.3% 746 2.5% 53 0.2%
Doilungdêqên County 40,543 38,455 94.8% 1,868 4.6% 220 0.5%
Dagzê County 24,906 24,662 99.0% 212 0.9% 32 0.1%
Maizhokunggar County 38,920 38,567 99.1% 220 0.6% 133 0.3%

The Tibetan government in exile assert that, if the excluded military garrisons and migrants from outside Tibet were to be considered, ethnic Tibetans would be seen as being a minority in Lhasa. Resentment at the relative wealth and influence of the newcomers was one of the reasons behind the recent unrest in the city.

Culture and landmarks

The Barkhor, a place for walking, meditation and shopping

Lhasa has many sites of historic interest, including the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery, Zhefeng Temple, Drepung Monastery and Norbulingka. However, many important sites were damaged or destroyed mostly, but not solely, during the Cultural Revolution.[22][23][24]

The city of Lhasa contains three concentric paths used by pilgrims to circumambulate (walk around) the sacred Johkhang Temple, many of whom make full or partial prostrations along these routes in order to gain spiritual merit. The innermost, the Nangkor (Nang-skor), is contained within the Jokhang Temple, and surrounds the sanctuary of the Jowo Shakyamuni, the most sacred statue in Tibetan Buddhism. The middle circumambulatory, the Barkor (Bar-skor), passes through the Old Town and surrounds the Jokhang Temple and various other buildings in its vicinity. The outer Lingkor (Gling-skor) encircles the entire traditional city of Lhasa. Due to the construction of a large new street, Beijing Lam, the Lingkor is not usually used by pilgrims.

Every August the Shoton Festival, one of Tibet's biggest traditional festivals, is held in Lhasa; it was first held in the 7th century.

Food in Lhasa can also be seen as part of the culture. Usually, Tibetans live on mutton and beef. Especially for the herdsmen, who dry the mutton and beef before winter comes so that there are supplies during the cold months. Wine is indispensable to Tibetans, who brew it with Qingke, a kind of crop which grows on Qingzang Plateau.



Sho dun (Shotun) festival

According to the region's authorities, 1.1 million people visited Tibet in 2004. Chinese authorities plan an ambitious growth of tourism in the region aiming at 10 million visitors by 2020; these visitors are expected to be mostly ethnic Chinese. Proponents of greater Tibetan autonomy are concerned that the increase in tourism will lead to an erosion of the indigenous culture of Tibet; in particular, these proponents have stated that renovation around historic sites, such as the Potala Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are creating a jarring "Disney-like" degradation of the sacred site.[25]




The new Lhasa Railway which proceeds north and then east to Xining, some 2000 km, is the highest plateau railway in the world. Journalists report that the opening of the railway in July 2006 has brought with it an increasing demand for property which has pushed prices up.

Five trains arrive at and depart from Lhasa railway station each day. Train numbered T27 takes 47 hours, 28 minutes from Beijing West, arrives in Lhasa at 20:58 every day. The ticket costs 389 yuan for 'hard seat', or 813 yuan for a lower 'hard sleeper', 1262 yuan for a lower 'soft sleeper'. T28 from Lhasa to Beijing West departs at 08:00 and arrives in Beijing at 08:00 on the third day, taking 48 hours. There are also trains from Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou, Xining, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. Initially the large altitude difference has caused problems on this route, giving passengers altitude sickness. To counter this, extra oxygen is pumped in through the ventilation system, and personal oxygen masks are available.[26]

Air Transport

Lhasa Gonggar Airport is located about one hour's taxi ride south from the city. There are flight connections to several Chinese cities including Beijing and Chengdu, and to Kathmandu in Nepal.


Lhasa in entertainment

Bar in Lhasa with image of Potala on wall. 1993.

Life in Lhasa was covered by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer in his book Seven Years In Tibet and the film of that same name which starred Brad Pitt and David Thewlis. The book in particular relates the story of his life in Lhasa during the 1940s. His autobiography, Beyond Seven Years in Tibet, published in English in 2007 also gives a perspective on his time in Lhasa.

There are some night spots which feature cabaret acts in which performers sing in English, Chinese, Tibetan, and Nepalese songs and dancers wear traditional Tibetan costume with long flowing cloth extending from their arms. There are a number of small bars which feature live music, although they typically have limited drink menus and cater mostly to foreign tourists.



  1. ^ "Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa". unesco. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  2. ^ Kolmaš, Josef. (1967) Tibet and Imperial China: A Survey of Sino-Tibetan Relations up to the end of the Manchu Dynasty in 1912, p. 7. Occasional paper 7. The Australian National University-Centre of Oriental Studies, Canberra.
  3. ^ Dorje (1999), pp. 68, 201-202.
  4. ^ Stein (1972), p. 38.
  5. ^ a b Dorje (1999), p. 68.
  6. ^ a b c Dorje (1999), p. 69.
  7. ^ Dowman (1988), p. 65.
  8. ^ Stein (1972), p. 118.
  9. ^ From the French translation by Pelliot (1961), pp. 130-131.
  10. ^ Bloudeau, Anne-Mari & Gyatso, Yonten. 'Lhasa, Legend and History' in Lhasa in the Seventeenth Century: The Capital of the Dalai Lamas, 2003, pp. 24-25.
  11. ^ Bloudeau, Anne-Mari & Gyatso, Yonten. "Lhasa, Legend and History." In: Lhasa in the Seventeenth Century: The Capital of the Dalai Lamas. Françoise Pommaret-Imaeda, Françoise Pommaret 2003, p. 38. Brill, Netherlands. ISBN 9789004128668.
  12. ^ a b c d e LHASA. Online Encyclopedia. Search over 40,000 articles from the original, classic Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition
  13. ^ Dowman (1988), p. 39.
  14. ^ Richardson (1984), p. 7.
  15. ^ "Lhasa, Tibet : Image of the Day". Retrieved 2009-11-01. 
  16. ^ a b National Geographic Atlas of China (2007), p. 88. National Geographic, Washington, D.C. ISBN 978-1426201363.
  17. ^ National Geographic Atlas of China. (2008), p. 88. National Geographic, Washington D.C. ISBN 978-1-4262-0136-3.
  18. ^ China cracks down on protests in Tibet
  19. ^ Midnight ultimatum for Tibet showdown
  20. ^ People's Government of Lhasa Official Website - "Administrative divisions"
  21. ^ Department of Population, Social, Science and Technology Statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics of China (国家统计局人口和社会科技统计司) and Department of Economic Development of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission of China (国家民族事务委员会经济发展司), eds. Tabulation on Nationalities of 2000 Population Census of China (《2000年人口普查中国民族人口资料》). 2 vols. Beijing: Nationalities Publishing House (民族出版社), 2003. (ISBN 7-105-05425-5)
  22. ^ Bradley Mayhew and Michael Kohn. Tibet. 6th Edition (2005), pp. 36-37. Lonely Planet. ISBN 1-74059-523-8
  23. ^ Keith Dowman. The Power-Places of Central Tibet: The Pilgrim's Guide, (1988) pp. 8-13. Routledge & Kegan Paul, Ltd., London and New York. ISBN 0-7102-1370-0.
  24. ^ Laird, Thomas. (2006). The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama, pp. 345-351.Grove Press, New York. ISBN 978-0-8021-1827-1.
  25. ^ Miles, Paul (8 April 2005). "Tourism drive 'is destroying Tibet'". Telegraph. Retrieved 20 May 2009. 
  26. ^ Train 27, Now Arriving Tibet, in a 'Great Leap West'


  • Das, Sarat Chandra. 1902. Lhasa and Central Tibet. Reprint: Mehra Offset Press, Delhi. 1988. ISBN 81-86230-17-3
  • Dorje, Gyurme. 1999. Footprint Tibet Handbook. 2nd Edition. Bath, England. ISBN 1 900949 33 4. Also published in Chicago, U.S.A. ISBN 0 8442-2190-2.
  • Dowman, Keith. 1988. The Power-Places of Central Tibet: The Pilgrim's Guide, p. 59. Routledge & Kegan Paul. London. ISBN 0-7102-1370-0 (ppk).
  • Miles, Paul. (April 9, 2005). "Tourism drive 'is destroying Tibet' Unesco fears for Lhasa's World Heritage sites as the Chinese try to pull in 10 million visitors a year by 2020". Daily Telegraph (London), p. 4.
  • Pelliot, Paul. (1961) Histoire ancienne du Tibet. Libraire d'Amérique et d'orient. Paris.
  • Richardson, Hugh E (1984). Tibet and its History. Second Edition, Revised and Updated. Shambhala Publications, Boston. ISBN 0-87773-376-7.
  • Richardson, Hugh E (1997). Lhasa. In Encyclopedia Americana international edition, (Vol. 17, pp. 281–282). Danbury, CT: Grolier Inc.
  • Stein, R. A. (1972). Tibetan Civilization, p. 38. Reprint 1972. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-8047-0901-7 (paper).
  • Vitali, Roberto. 1990. Early Temples of Central Tibet. Serindia Publications. London. ISBN 0-906026-25-3.
  • Liu, Jianqiang (2006). chinadialogue - Preserving Lhasa's history (part one).
  • (2006). Lhasa - Lhasa Intro

External links


Maps and aerial photos

Coordinates: 29°39′N 91°06′E / 29.65°N 91.1°E / 29.65; 91.1

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

The Potala Palace
The Potala Palace

Lhasa Tibetan: (ལྷ་ས་) Chinese: (拉萨) is the capital of the Tibet autonomous region in China. It is located at 3650 meters (12 000 feet) above sea level on the northern slopes of the Himalayas.


Lhasa, which means "Land of the Gods", is the heart of Tibet. Over 1,300 years old, it sits in a valley right next to the Lhasa River. Tourist resources are plenty, good hotels, tasty restaurants, travel agencies, Chinese department stores and supermarkets, in some parts of the city, you may find no difference to other Chinese cities, but the Tibetan influence is still strong and evident, especially around the old quarters near Barkhor.

The Eastern end of Lhasa is more prominently traditional Tibetan, focusing on the area around the Jokhang and the Barkhor. Traditionally dressed Tibetans engaged on a kora (a clockwise journey around the Jokhang, the major Buddhist shrine), often spinning prayer wheels are a common sight in that area. The Western end of Lhasa is more Chinese in character (i.e. Han Chinese from the east of the country). It is busy and modern, and many ways a surprise to many tourists. It is there one finds most of the infrastructure, such as banks and contact with officialdom.

Get in

It is possible to visit Lhasa on 3-7 day tours from Kathmandu, Nepal, but there have been reports of tours that do not allow enough time for visitors to adjust to the dramatic altitude change resulting in some travelers sufferring altitude sickness being left off along the way (without any refund, of course). You can choose from the options fly-in and fly-out, drive-in and fly-out, etc. Fly-in and fly-out comes at a small extra cost and offers the most comfort and safety.

Chinese Standard Time (Beijing) is used in Tibet, which is 8 hours ahead (+) of GMT and 2 hours 15 minutes ahead of Nepal. However, it is not uncommon for Western climbing groups to keep on Nepali time since this better coincides with the expected times of sunrise and sunset.

Non-Chinese nationals are required to obtain a special permit to visit Tibet. Individual permits are hard to obtain, group permits (at least 5 person) are easier. Travel agents from Kathmandu are very good in obtaining one and also a Chinese visa for you in very short time (one day or two) when you book a trip.

By plane

The Lhasa Gonggar Airport (贡嘎机场) (IATA: LXA) is about 50 km from Lhasa. It takes 1 hour to the center of Lhasa. There are flights from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Kunming, Qamdo, Shanghai, Xi'an, Xining, and Zhongdian (Shangri-La).

International flights are available to Kathmandu, Nepal and Hong Kong.

  • Buses run from Golmud in neighbouring Qinghai province, but are almost as pricey as the flight from Chengdu due to the permit issue.

By train

The Qinghai-Tibet (Qingzang) railway connects Lhasa and Golmud, with services continuing onto Xining, Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing.

Total Trains Running To/From Lhasa

  • T27/8 to/from Beijing (West) - Lhasa - takes about 48 hours
  • T22/23/24/21 to/from Chengdu - Lhasa - takes about 48 hours
  • T222/223/224/221 to/from Chongqing - Lhasa - takes about 49 hours
  • T164/5 T166/3 to/from Shanghai - Lhasa - takes about 51 hours
  • T262/4 to/from Guangzhou - Lhasa - takes about 60 hours
  • K917/K918 to/from Lanzhou - Lhasa - takes about 28 hours
  • N917/N918 to/from Xining - Lhasa - takes about 24 hours

It is difficult to get a ticket during Chinese New Year (January and February) and summer holidays (July and August). Also you will probably get ripped off on arrival at Lhasa station by the taxi drivers who will not use their meter (starting rate of ¥5 and then 1.8km after the initial distance covered in the ¥5). The normal rate should be ¥40 but sometimes they want ¥100. A bus costs ¥1 from the railway station to the urban area.

Get around

The Jokhang area is easily navigable on foot. Cycle rickshaws are everywhere, though prepare to bargain. Taxis are a standard Y10 for anywhere in Lhasa city. Minibuses operate to areas such as Norbulingka, Sera Monastery, Drepung Monastery, and other nearby sites.

Buses are available in front of Jokhang Temple or at the parking lot near the temple for Tsurphu Gompa, Ganden Gompa, Nyemo (Dazi), Phenpo Lhundrub (Linzhou), Meldro Gungkar (Mozhugongka), Chushul (Qushui), Taktse (Dazi), Gongkar (Gongga), and other nearby areas. Tickets are available at the ticket office at the parking lot or when you board the bus.

  • The Jokhang Temple (Tsuglagkhang) - constructed in the 7th century AD to house the statues of Buddha that princesses Bhrikuti from Nepal and Wen Cheng from Tang Dynasty China brought as gifts for their future husband, King Songtsan Gampo. The temple has been enlarged many times over the centuries and now also houses statues of King Songtsan Gambo and his two famous foreign brides. However, the original statue of Jowo Sakyamuni Buddha that Princess Wen Cheng brought from Chang’an over 1300 years ago is definitely its most sacred and famous possession, and is perhaps the most venerated religious artifact in all of Tibet. The temple, a splendid four-floor building facing west under a guilded rooftop, is on Barkhor Square in the center of the old section of Lhasa.
  • The Potala Palace (Podrang Potala) - A stronghold probably existed on Red Hill as early as the 7th century AD when King Songtsen Gampo built a fortress on it for his two foreign wives. The palace was rebuilt by the Fifth Dalai Lama in three years, while the Thirteenth Dalai Lama extended and repaired it into what it is now. It became winter palace in 1755 when the Seventh Dalai Lama made the Norbulinka into a summer residence. With over 1 000 rooms, the Potala contained the living quarters of the Dalai Lamas while they lived, and their sumptuous golden tombs when they died. As the religious and political centre of old Tibet and the winter residence of Dalai Lamas, the palace witnessed the life of the Dalai Lamas and the important political and religious activities in the past centuries. Potala Palace also houses great amounts of rare cultural relics including the gold hand-written Buddhist scriptures, valuable gifts from the Chinese emperors and a lot of priceless antiques. Admission RMB 100. Guided palace tours generally include one hour inside the palace; allow at least that much time to walk up and down the many steps leading up to and from the palace. The palace is 14 stories tall and any visit involves climbing a lot of stairs up/down. Make sure you are fully acclimated before visiting.

The Potala was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994, the Jokhang Temple Monastery in 2000 and the Norbulingka Summer Palace in 2001.

  • The Norbulingka Summer Palace - located about 1km south of the Potala Palace - The Seventh Dalai Lama constructed the first summer palace in 1755 and each successive ruler added his own buildings. Norbulingka is now undergoing complete restoration. Presently, the complex contains a small zoo, botanical gardens, and a mansion. There is a small entrance fee.
  • The Barkhor Street market a circular street around the Jokhang Temple in the center of the old section of Lhasa, it is the oldest street in a very traditional style in Tibet, where you can enjoy bargaining with the local Tibetan vendors for the handicrafts which are rare to be seen elsewhere in the world. Barkhor Street is one of the most important religious paths along which pilgrims walk around Jokhang Temple while turning prayer wheels in their hands through centuries. Buddhist pilgrims walk or progress by body-lengths along the street clockwise every day into deep night.
  • Drepung Monastery was founded in 1416 by a disciple of Tsong Khapa, was the biggest and richest monastery in Tibet and its lamas helped to train each new young Dalai Lama. Drepung was also home to the Nechung, the state oracle. At its height, Drepung had over 10 000 monks, and governed 700 subsidiary monasteries and owned vast estates. Drepung belongs to the Gelupa sect.
  • Sera Monastery was founded in 1419 by one of Tsong Khapa’s (the founder of the Gelupa sect) eight disciples. It became famous for its tantric teachings, while Drepung drew fame from its governing role. Sera was smaller than Drepung, with 7,000 monks, but was very rich and comparable in power. The monks of Sera were considered clever and dangerous.
  • Tibet Museum Minzulu Road, Lhasa. Admission RMB 25. Elaborate museum with artifacts reflecting the entire history of Tibet. Ask for a free audio tour in your language at the entrance. Predictably, the museum presents a very Chinese view of the "Peaceful Liberation" of Tibet, but the museum is worth a visit.
  • The koras with other pilgrims
  • Drink tea and eat thugpa in the many teahouses near the Jokhang
  • Shop in the Barkhor square
  • Watch people
  • Blind Massage at Medical Massage Clinic Lhasa, located on the 3rd floor of Number 59 Beijing Middle Road, directly across from the Kichu Hotel (can ask at the hotel for directions). Phone 6320870. Cost 80 RMB per hour. English spoken. A vocational project of NGO Braille Without Borders [1]. Great way to adjust to the altitude or just relax.


ATMs and foreign currency conversion can be done at the Bank of China main office west of Potala Palace or at the branch on Beijing Donglu between the Kirey Hotel and the Banok Shol Hotels.

Collectables in Lhasa The stalls around the Barkhor offer fascinating browsing. Though much (predictably) is junk from Nepal and other parts of China. Bronze laughing Buddhas with no connection with Tibetan tantric belief are just one of the many examples. Despite this there are still many authentic items to be had. Ignore bronzes and paintings - they are all fake. Instead, look for household items and carved wood pieces, such as bowls, pilgrims' stamps, silver items such as gau (amulet cases of various sizes worn by men and women), silver and brass personal seals, old Tibetan banknotes, knitted satchels and woven bags and so on.Though this is quite fascinating for a tourist to look at it is good not to buy any Tibetan antiques as it destroys the culture.

The very large shopping emporia that have appeared around the Barkhor should be treated with caution, unless imported souvenirs are your thing. If you want a local thangka painting for example, find a workshop on the back streets where they are being painted in front of your eyes. This way you will get the real thing rather than Nepalese hack work, and have a more interesting experience buying. Searching in the back streets around the Barkhor is very rewarding in this respect, and you can find artisans making paintings, furniture, clay sculpture, masks and ceremonial banners and applique. Not all of it is easily transported home, but it is fascinating to watch.

Tibet is the home of traditional carpet making, though the industry suffered a decline after 1959 from which it has only slowly begun to recover. Today many "Tibetan" carpets are in fact made in Nepal in factories run by Tibetan exiles. For the visitor, a little caution is needed when buying Tibetan carpets in Lhasa since the majority of pieces displayed in stores in the Barkhor and in front of the Potala are in fact imported from non-Tibetan parts of China, and many of the designs on display have no connection with Tibetan tradition, Turkomen and Afghan designs being common!. In some workshops you will find a few carpets on looms for display purposes, but the carpets in the showroom will mostly have been shipped in from elsewhere.

So how to find authentic Tibetan carpets? By all means visit the factories and their showrooms. Look closely at what is being woven, and make sure the piece you are buying matches what you are shown on the looms. Check the smell of the carpet: authentic Tibetan wool has a high lanolin content and a distinctive odor: cheaper wools from Qinghai and Mongolia are dry by comparison.

A few older carpets can still occasionally be found on the Barkhor and the shops around, though good, old carpets are much sought after by collectors, so prices tend to be surprisingly high even in Lhasa.

  • Tibetan Rugs Snow Leopard Industries, #2 East Zang Yi Yuan Road, Lhasa (next to the Snowland Hotel and near Barkhor Square). Phone 0891-6321481. Small shop with a wide variety of traditional and contemporary Tibetan designs made at their own factory. Rug prices are fixed and very reasonable. Owner Phurbu Tsamchu speaks English and can explain about the different Tibetan designs and the process of making rugs. This store also has a fixed-price souvenir shop with very low, set prices. Can arrange shipping of rugs overseas. Credit cards accepted.
  • Tibetan Rugs The Tanva Carpet Workshop, at Nam village on the road between Lhasa and Gongkar airport, is a new Tibetan carpet workshop using only handspun Tibetan highland wool to make both traditional and contemporary carpets. You can see the whole carpet making process from start to finish and also buy carpets (including 'seconds' at reduced prices) in the showroom on site. To get directions and arrange a visit call factory manager Norbu on his mobile 1398 990 8681. Tanva makes the carpets that are sold in Torana stores in Beijing and Shanghai. There are photos and details on the Torana website [2].
  • Oil Paintings Kharma Gallery, on the 2nd floor across from the Snowland Hotel, phone 86-891-6338013. Art gallery offering quality oil paintings by Tibetan artists on Tibetan themes (landscape, people, religious, animals, etc.)
  • Gedun Choephel This gallery, on the corner of the Barkhor, roughly at the furthest point from the Jokhang temple, is the meeting place of Lhasa's most avant-garde group of artists, several of whom have recently exhibited in Beijing and London. The gallery runs rotating exhibitions and is well worth a look.
  • Handicrafts Dropenling Handicraft Development Center [3], 11 Chak Tsal Gang Road, phone 0891-6360558. Call for directions, or from Barkhor Square, head to the Lhasa Mosque, then turn left. This shop is not the cheapest but has very high quality items made in Tibet. Profits go to artisan development programs. Credit cards accepted.
  • All types of handicrafts, prayer wheels, and other items can be purchased from small kiosks along the circumambulation route around the Jokhang Temple and around Barkhor square. Bargaining is expected.


A lot of nice and comfortable restaurants can be found in Lhasa old district. Most of them are located near the Jokhang Temple along Beijing Zhong Lu (or called Beijing Road Middle) and its tributary road Zang Yiyuan Lu (or called Tibetan Hospital Road). Some of them serve western food, Nepali and Indian food. Examples are Snowland Restaurant, Lhasa Kitchen, Naga French Restaurant, Tashi Restaurant. Each meal can be as cheap as USD$3 per person (price at 2005 October). On the southeast corner of Barkhor Street, there is a well-known Tibetant restaurant among backpackers -- Makye Ame - means beautiful woman. Sitting at this second-floor restaurant gives you an amazing view, especially at sunset, of the part of the Barkhor Street which is full of pilgrams moving in clockwise direction. The location of Makye Ame is unbeatable, but the food is nothing to write home about. The smaller Tibetan restaurants, especially the teahouses are much cheaper and serve more tasty food.

  • Snowland Restaurant Tenjieling Road #4, near Jokhang Square, phone 0891-6337323 Large menu features a mix of Western, Napali, Indian and Tibetan food. Good service, good food, very popular.
  • New Mandala Restaurant with roof top Garden, located in front of Jokhang Temple, phone 86-0891-6342235. Indian, Nepali, Tibetan and some Western dishes. Roof top has good views of the city. Try the Yak sizzler.

Tengyelink Cafe. Great Yak Steak, great atmosphere. Best food to be found in Lhasa. Cheap breakfast options are available.

For Chinese restaurants, though usually poorly-decorated, meals are much cheaper. A plate of beef noodles can be as cheap as USD$0.7 and you can have a full meal including drinks for less than €4! Most of the Chinese restaruants, however, serve Sichuan's spicy cuisine. In recently years, a lot of Chinese, most of them from Sichuan and Shannxi provinces, moved to Lhasa for business.

Apart from eating at restaurants, you can buy food or snacks in the main supermarkets, all around Beijing Zhong Lu.

  • Hong Yan
  • Le Bai Long
  • Si Fang
  • inside Lhasa Department Mall

Yak meat. Most restaurants sell Yak meat and it is a must try in Tibet. Yaks are actually cattle that are adapted to the highlands. Dried yak meat is available at all supermarkets, as is another Tibetan staple, tsampa.

Although Tibetan restaurants are more traditional and full of history, to the western traveler the Chinese food might seem more diverse and more appealing than the greasy boiled yak meat typically served in the Tibetan ones. Westerners also might avoid the traditional Tibetan tea which is in fact black tea with yak butter in it and is typically being kept warm in heat insulating containers for quite some time.

Be prepared with at least a few basic food describing words as in many of the restaurants they only speak chinese! Be prepared to learn to use chop sticks as some restaurants do not have forks, spoons or knives.


See Tibet for typical Tibetan drinks.


Hotels in Lhasa are not up to international standard. A four star hotel in Lhasa is probably equivalent to a three star in Europe. Also, some hotels have branches of KTV (Chinese Karaoke) next door or even as part of the hotel. You should ensure that your room is not above one of these establishments or it may be difficult to sleep!

  • Banak Shol Hotel, 8 Beijing Dong Lu, Lhasa, (0891)6323829.  edit
  • Dong Cuo International YHA, 10 Beijing East Road, Lhasa.  edit
  • Kirey Hotel, 105 Beijing Dong Lu, Lhasa, (0891)6323462.  edit
  • Phuntsok Khasang Youth Hostel, 48 Dosenge Road, Lhasa, (0891)6915222. a very nice place  edit
  • Yak Hotel, 100 Beijing Dong Lu, Lhasa, (0891)6323496.  edit
  • Himalaya Hotel, 6 East Linguo Road, Lhasa, (0891)6331300 (fax: (0891)6334855).  edit
  • Hotel Kyichu, 18 Beijing Zhong Lu, Lhasa, (0891)6331541 (fax: (0891)6320234). a very nice midrange hotel. Located near the main tourist sights. Staff is quite nice and helpful. Restaurant is top-notch in quality and presentation..  edit
  • Lhasa Hotel (Lhasa Fandian), 1 Minzu Road, Lhasa, (0891)6832221 (fax: (0891)6836651). Formerly the Holiday Inn, this now government owned hotel has been neglected, and most locals recommend people to stay elsewhere. While it may be expensive, the quality is about as good as a 1-star hotel at best.  edit
  • Tibet Hotel (Xizang Binguan), 221 West Beijing Road, Lhasa, (0891)6834966 (fax: (0891)6836787).  edit
  • Tibet International Grand Hotel, 1 National South Road, Lhasa, (0891) 6832888 (fax: (0891) 6820888).  edit

Stay safe

Lhasa is 3750 meters (12 000 feet) above sea level, so there is considerable risk of altitude sickness, especially if you fly in from a much lower altitude so your body does not have time to acclimatise. This is a serious concern; altitude sickness can easily ruin a holiday and can even be fatal. There are several components to high altitude illness, including: 1) acute mountain sickness: is characterised by headache, nausea and lassitude developing 6 to 24 hours after ascent to altitude; 2) high altitude cerebral oedema: has similar symptoms to acute mountain sickness but other symptoms, such as confusion and impaired balance, may develop; 3) high altitude pulmonary oedema: typically develops on the second or third day after ascent and initially produces a dry cough followed by increasing shortness of breath and a frothy phlgem due to accumulating fluid in the lungs, and; 4) high altitude periodic breathing of sleep, which can cause poor sleep and lethargy.

Certain drugs are available to reduce the risk of or treat the different components of high altitude illnesses, including acetozolamide (Diamox), salmeterol (Serevent), temazepam (Temaze), nifedipine and dexamethasone. Some of these drugs are found in capsules sold in China eg. Gao Yuan Kang (高原康), which contains dexamethasone. Some herbal preparations are also purported to prevent/treat high altitude illness, such as gingko biloba and a combination capsule called Gao Yuan Ning (高原宁), sold in China. The effectiveness of these preparations remain scientifically unproven, although Gao Yuan Ning (高原宁) is used by Chinese military personnel in cases of rapid ascent.

It is extremely important to note that all these drugs can have significant side effects, especially dexamethasone, a potent steroid medication. Tourists are advised to consult their doctor prior to obtaining these medications. Foreign tourists should procure any necessary medications in their home countries and note the ingredients contained in the medications. The information in this page is in no way a substitute for official medical advice.

If you must fly to Lhasa, it would be wise to fly via an intermediate destination such as Kunming at 1950 meters (6200 feet) and spend several days at that intermediate destination completely acclimatizing there before flying to Lhasa.

Do not under any circumstances give or show to monks or locals pictures of Dalai Lama as this can get you in trouble and cause severe trouble for the recepient. Keep in mind some monks may colaborate with the authorities, or may not be monks at all.

Take common sense precautions when shopping at the many small kiosks around the Barkhor and along the Jokhang Temple circumambulation route. While problems are few, leaving large backpacks at your hotel and keeping your wallet well guarded are both good ideas. Do not give to children begging and be cautious before giving to any beggers in this area at all; giving to one may attract a crowd.

Get out

On the street east of the Yak Hotel, buses wait for passengers early in the morning for destinations such as Shigatse, Tsethang, Samye, Nakchu and Danzhung. From the long distance bus station, buses are available to Golmud, Chengdu (via Xining and Lanzhou), Nakchu, Chamdo, Bayi, Tsethang, Shigatse and Dram. Depending on your paperwork, you might not be allowed to purchase tickets for all these destinations.

A 7-day trip to Kathmandu typically includes hotel and breakfast, a 4-wheel drive jeep, a driver and a guide. The guide will take care to register you at the police when you leave one city and when you arrive in another one. This is standard procedure.

It is easy and trouble-free to fly out of Lhasa, with many daily flights to various major Chinese cities and several times a week to Kathmandu, Nepal.

  • Samye Monastery was constructed in 779AD under the patronage of King Trisong Detsen and overseen by Santarakshita and Padmasambhava, two prominent Buddhist teachers from India. It was the first Buddhist Monastery established in Tibet and as such remains one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the region. Samye is located near Dranang, 150 kms south-east of Lhasa. Buses and minivans are available to take you to Samye. Plan a two day trip. If you can spend more time, go to nearby hermitages at Chimpu, and feel more spiritual vibes than in Samye proper. Permit imperative if you want to avoid police hassle and fines.
  • Ganden Monastery is on the south side of Kyi-chu River 45 km east of Lhasa. It is the head monastery of the Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) order of Tibetan Buddhism. Built in 1409 by Tsongkhapa, the founder of Gelukpa and recently reconstructed, this monastery offers outstanding views from its mountainside location.

A popular trekking route is available between Ganden and Samye Monasteries. The average is 4-5 days with fast walkers taking 3 days.

  • Do not wear a hat inside the Jokhang, Potala or other sacred sites. Please no short pants or tank tops. When visiting shrines it is customary to leave a small money offering, especially where you do not have to buy a ticket!
  • Circumambulate stupas and other sacred objects in a clock-wise direction.
  • Do not climb onto statues, mani stones or other sacred objects.
  • Photography is NOT allowed inside the Potala Palace. You can take photos in the Jokhang temple. Some monasteries will allow photography upon payment of a small donation or fee. Monks begging will often allow a photograph after you make a small contribution. When in doubt, ask before snapping your camera.
Routes through Lhasa
XiningGolmud  N noframe S  END
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Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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  1. Capital of Xizang (Tibet) Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.



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