Lhasa-Gateway to Transcendent Tibet
Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, lies on the Lhasa River's north bank in a valley of the Himalayas.
Lhasa has a cool semi-arid climate, attributed to its high elevation, yet its valley position protects it from intense heat or cold and strong winds. It is also one of the sunniest places in the world. Winters are frosty, with large diurnal temperature variation often above 16-17°C and an average January temperature of -0.3°C (31.4°F) with lows around -8°C (17°F). Highs however do rise above 5°C (41°F). The average January high is 8.4°C (47.1°F) and the average low is -7.4°C (18.6°F). Sometimes, light snow can be seen falling early in the morning, but large snowstorms are impossible due to very little precipitation falling during winter months. The lowest temperature ever recorded is -16.5°C (2.3°F). Summers are moderately warm with an average June temperature of 16.7°C (62°F). Lows hover around 10°C (50°F) and highs around 24°C (75°F). The highest temperature ever recorded is 30.4°C (86.7°F). Summer is also the rainiest time of the year, measuring 332mm on average, out of the total of 456.9mm.
>> Potala Palace
A stronghold probably existed on Red Hill as early as the 7th century AD when King Songtsen Gyalpo 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. 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.
>> Jokhang Temple
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.
>> Norbulingka Summer Palace
It is located about 1km west 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.
>> Ramoche Temple
Ramoche Temple is a Buddhist monastery widely considered to be the second most important in Lhasa after the Jokhang Temple. Situated in the northwest of the city, it covers a total area of 4,000 square meters (almost one acre). This temple is one of the key cultural relic protection sites of the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as a popular attraction in Lhasa.
The Lhasa Gonggar Airport (IATA: LXA) is 61km southwest 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.
Five highways stretching into the mysterious high land include Sichuan-Tibet Highway, Qinghai-Tibet Highway, Xinjiang-Tibet Highway, Yunnan-Tibet Highway and China-Nepal Highway. Only Qinghai-Tibet and China-Nepal Highway are open to foreigners at present. Qinghai-Tibet Highway starts from Golmud of Qinghai; it is 1,160 kilometers (720 miles) long and averages at 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) high. It runs along the Kunlun Mountains and vast grasslands which amaze people by their natural beauty. The China-Nepal Highway is another main road often used. It stretches for 900 kilometers (558 miles) from Kathmandu to Lhasa. The condition of most roads is so bad that visitors are advised to take Land Cruisers.
Going to Lhasa by train is another choice. The first section of the Tibet Railway between Xining Railway Station and Golmud Railway Station was put into use in 1984. The second section between Golmud Railway Station and Lhasa Railway Station began to operate on the 1st of July, 2006. With a total length of 1,956 km (around 1,215 miles), Tibet Railway is the longest plateau railway and also the highest in the world. Trains on the railway are well equipped. Signs inside the carriage are written in both Tibetan and Chinese Han language. Oxygen respirators are available too.
A minibus is the main form of transport in Lhasa. It is a quick and convenient way to get across town. Visitors can easily find minibuses around Beijing Road and they operate a fixed charge of CNY 2 per person. Generally the bus starts operation late in the morning and stops early at night due to the temperatures.
Bus No. 1 and 2 goes through the Norbulingka to the coach station.
Bus No. 3 and 5 run to the Drepung Monastery.
Bus No. 4 runs to the Sera Monastery.
Bus No. 91 runs between the city center and the Railway Station. Eight more public buses including No. 82 and 83 were open in 2007.
Pedicabs are unique vehicles to get around downtown. A pedicab can carry two people and generally costs RMB 4 to 7. It is a more time-consuming journey than traveling by minibus but is an interesting and popular way to see downtown area.
If your schedule and health permit, riding a bike is another pleasurable way to look around the city. Bikes can be rented from many hostels along Barkhor Street. Generally, the rental for an ordinary bike is RMB 2 per hour and RMB 20 per day; for a mountain bike it is RMB 3 per hour and RMB 30 per day.