(or the "ground of the Gods") has been the capital city of
Tibet Autonomous Region since the 7th Century when Songsten Gampo
built his palace where the Potala now stands and attempted to unify
the various clans fighting in the area.
This is the first stop for most visitors
to Tibet and, although the journey here is not as exciting as it once
was, a trip here is still an essential part of any visit to Tibet.
Although Lhasa is famous for being one of the highest cities in the
world, a towering 3,600 meters above the banks of the Lhasa River,
what really knocks you out here is the full scale impact on your
senses of the breathtaking beauty, unique landscape and the holy
atmosphere of this religious center.
Most of the historical
sights here date back to the 1600s when the magnificent Potala
Palace was built. The Potala dominates the skyline but Jokhang
is considered to be the spiritual center of the city and there are
numerous other small active temples dotted about. Pilgrims still flock
to Lhasa to see and experience the remaining enclaves of tradition
Despite the important
religious and historical legacy of the city, Lhasa has changed more in
the past 40 years than ever before. Although pilgrims still visit
here, they are now joined and compete for space with western tourists
and numerous Chinese.
The enroaching "renovating" and
"modernizing" Chinese influence is fast changing the unique
flavor that makes Tibet and Lhasa so special. Before the Chinese moved
in to the city, in 1951, only about 20,000 people inhabited this small
area. Today, there are some 160,00 inhabitants here, including many
Chinese businessmen, here to utilize the modernization and development
In many respects this is changing the
face of Lhasa for the worse. For the adventurous traveler however,
this remains a city of intrigue and there is more than enough to hold
you here for a few days. Modernization too, means that facilities are
better in the capital city than they are elsewhere in the province.
Bear in mind however, that this place is becoming more similar to
other Chinese cities and is not truly representative of the
Although this is a good place to get your
bearings and start exploring, 80% of the population of Tibet live in
the countryside. Outside Lhasa is where the more authentic and
traditional aspects of the region can be enjoyed and experienced.