Even though traveling to Lhasa was one of my most memorable travel experiences, I have been putting off writing about it.
This is due to the fact that this is a once in a lifetime trip for many people and I wanted to ensure that I capture all the facts and my experiences.
So in order to do this, I have decided to separate Lhasa into a series of three posts:
First Post: How to travel and experience Lhasa.
Second Post: Things to see in Lhasa and my experiences.
Third Post: Tips and Advice on visiting Lhasa.
Just a few years ago I flew to Lhasa from Chengdu, China. From Lhasa I traveled throughout Tibet visiting many Tibetan towns and villages. I spent some time at Everest Base Camp and then traveled on to Kathmandu, Nepal.
I started my journey in Lhasa where I was struck with cultural overload. It’s hard to decide whether the culture, the scenery or the altitude was responsible for my giddiness!
Lhasa is the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It is a very unique location with its 1000 plus years of culture. What also sets it apart is its high altitude location of 3650 meters (12,000 feet). I was allured to Lhasa not only for the Tibetan culture but also for its stunning scenery. The mountain fringed city of Lhasa has beautiful temples and palaces dotted around the city, with Potala Palace dominating the valley.
How can you visit Lhasa?
The bad news for us independent travelers is that we cannot travel Tibet as solo travelers. You do not necessarily have to travel Tibet as part of a Tour group, but at the very least you have to travel with a guide. Traveling with a guide would be the most costly option though.
The easiest way to travel to Lhasa is to start off in Kathmandu. From there visit Thamels many travel agencies and find a licensed guide or tour group. I recommend using a Tibetan owned agency so that the money goes to the Tibetan people. If you prefer to plan ahead, you can book a place on one of the many tour groups that travel throughout Tibet, namely Intrepid or Gap Adventures.
Travelers to Tibet should have travel permits, a private vehicle and guide. Although a private vehicle isn’t necessary if you plan to just visit Lhasa. Your guide or tour group should arrange and assist with the travel permits.
Getting to Lhasa
There are three options in getting to Lhasa: By Air, Train and Land.
Flying is the most timesaving option, although it does not allow sufficient time to acclimatize. To counteract this, it is recommended to acclimatise beforehand by gradually increasing in altitude.
The main Airports in China to fly from are Chengdu, Xian, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Chongqing. The most convenient Airport being Chengdu as it has the most frequent flights. Flights from Kathmandu, Nepal are also available.
Taking the train can be the most visually pleasing option as you pass through the most stunning landscape. This is the highest train journey in the world, hence the reason for the oxygen being pumped into the cabin! You can take the train from the following Chinese cities: Xining, Lanzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
You can travel to Lhasa via limited overland routes. One option is traveling from Kathmandu, Nepal along the friendship highway; this will take approximately four to five days. Obviously, it would need to be as part of a tour group or with a guide.
Internet access in Lhasa
There are many internet cafes in Lhasa, many with Wi-Fi access. Internet access is available in most hotels and cafes such as the Summit Cafe or Nomad Cafe. You will find that the internet can be quite slow at times and that some international sites are not available. Accessing Google can be temperamental. Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and You Tube are blocked in China (as of 2011).
Getting around Lhasa
Taxis are plentiful charging a flat rate of 10 Yuan to anywhere in the city. I found the cycle rickshaws to be the most fun though!
The Bank of China has ATM’s and facilities to convert currency. This is where you can also cash travelers cheques. The main branch is located west of the Potala Palace.
The area around Jokhang square has many stalls selling everything from linens, handicrafts and jewellery. Lhasa is known for its Tibetan rugs, Oil Paintings and Handicrafts.
Eating out in Lhasa
Many restaurants in Lhasa have English menus, and there are many western restaurants. I preferred to stay away from these and experience as much of the Tibetan cuisine as I could.
I am not going to recommend any particular restaurant as each person has different tastes in cuisine and atmosphere. What I did enjoy though was sitting on the second floor of the restaurants overlooking Barkor square. Sipping Chai, watching the pilgrims prostrate and gazing at the scenery of the surrounding mountains was priceless.
Tibet’s staple foods are Beef and Mutton, with the following being typical Tibetan dishes:
- Yak meat
(followed by Yak Cheese and a glass of Yak Milk!)
My absolute favorite. You can choose from a variety of fillings such as buffalo, cheese and vegetables. Momos are offered fried or steamed.
(a Tibetan bun that usually accompanies soup) I loved eating these without soup, with their soft yummy texture.
- Tibetan Tea
Black tea with yak butter. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste!
Places to Stay in Lhasa
Lhasa has a variety of hotels to stay at, although the most popular ones tend to be in the old part of town.
Here are a few suggestions.
Budget – Yak Hotel or Dong Cuo YHA
Mid range – Himalaya Hotel or Four Points Sheraton
Luxury hotels – although there are five star hotels in Lhasa, they do not compare to the 5 star hotels that you are used to in other countries. Luxury hotels include, Brahmaputra Grand Hotel and St Regis Lhasa Resort.
Lhasa is at an altitude of 12,000 feet, so it is important to take it easy for the first couple of days. Be aware of altitude sickness symptoms such as, headaches, nausea and confusion. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
Best time to visit Lhasa
The best time to visit is between March and October.
The warmest time of the year in Lhasa is July, with the average temperature being 22.6 °C (72.7 °F)
Continue on the journey through Lhasa with the upcoming post.
Next Post: What to see in Lhasa, Tibet and my experiences.