Lhasa is the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Besides its official name, Lhasa is often referred to as the “roof of the world” or “the place of gods”. This city was not available for tourists for many years. Lhasa opened its doors for foreign guests only twenty years ago. Hundreds of pilgrims from all regions of China visit Lhasa in order to pray in the sacred place of this settlement – the Jokhang Temple. When taking a stroll in the city’s streets, it is not rare to see monks holding prayer wheels. These wheels are a part of an old ritual. West Lhasa is a more active and populated part of the city. The major infrastructure is also located here.
According to local legends, Songtsen Gampo, the Tibetan emperor, was the founder of Lhasa. The king, who ruled in the first half of the 7th century, chose Lhasa the capital of his empire. However, historic records prove that the center of the Tibetan Empire was changed several times to different Chinese cities. When Lhasa became the capital of Tibet, it started growing in size and developing quickly. This is when the first large monasteries appeared in the city. Numerous students of Je Tsongkhapa studied here. In the 17th century, the 5th Dalai Lama decided to make Tibet his own. He also made Lhasa the region’s administrative center.
The Drak Yerpa Monastery is one of the main sacred shrines in Lhasa. Why is this place so special? Great Padmasambhava spent time meditating in this monastery in the past. His wife was meditating with him. When the couple left the monastery, the sacred building became one of the main treasures in the city. Drak Yerpa consists of numerous caves, in which monks meditate, and the central temple. The caves were made in this area before the emergence of Buddhism, but the monastery has always been a Buddhist one.
According to local legends, Tibetan hero Gesar visited the monastery in the past. Local people still cherish stories about the legendary person. There is a hole in a rock that reminds us of the hero. The legends say that Gesar shot an arrow in the rock and made that hole. Over the years, three hundred monks lived in Drak Yerpa. They were not only meditating here but also maintained the building. The Cultural Revolution in China caused some damages to the temple, but the monastery was thoroughly restored once it was over.
In Lhasa, tourists can visit a beautiful museum – the Potala Palace. All year round, thousands of Buddhist pilgrims arrive here in order to perform “kora”, a special ritual circuit. There are ritual drums along the route of the kora pilgrimage. The history of the palace started in the first half of the 7th century. Initially, a pavilion for meditations appeared on the site of the palace that we can see nowadays. The Tibetan king of that time, Songtsen Gampo, felt calm and peaceful in the pavilion, and so he decided to turn it into a big palace.
He ordered to build Potala that had almost one thousand rooms. However, nature damaged the palace – a lightning strike caused a fire that destroyed all wooden parts of the palace. The Potala Palace got its current look in the mid-17th century after extensive restoration. The 5th Dalai Lama, who was the ruler at that time, ordered to restore the building and made it his residence. Visitors are welcome to visit the grave of the 3rd Dalai Lama, but this is possible only together with a guide who is a local monk.
To get to Lhasa, tourists usually fly to a big Chinese city first. Flights to Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou are the most popular. There are daily flights to the capital of China from many countries of the world. Having arrived in any of these cities, tourists can choose a flight directly to Lhasa. Airplanes arrive at Lhasa Gonggar Airport. After that, tourists can reach the city center by public transport (buses) or call a taxi.