Tibet is one of the most beautiful and magical places to visit on the planet. Tibet Plateau’s unique alpine environment is magical with its stunning scenery of mountain ranges, lakes, endless grasslands, nomads, wild life and traditional towns and villages. Enigmatic Tibetan Buddhism adds an additional mystical layer to this already surreal environment. Shaped with the nomadic, ancient past of Tibet, an influence of neighbouring India, Bhutan and Nepal as well as the animistic religion of pre-Buddhist times, Tibetan Buddhism is unique and is the main driving factor in everyday lives of Tibetans after the environment. You will come across this religion in its most beautiful representations during your Tibet travel such as beautiful monasteries, pilgrimages all around, monks and many Buddhist artefacts and images.
Tibet offers many places to visit and visiting all may require multiple trips to Tibet which is a quite worthwhile feat. But if you are first-timer to Tibet, there are some must-see places first. Here, we have listed the top 5 must-visit attractions to the first-timers to Tibet.
Potala Palace is one of the most recognized and beautiful structures in the world. Located in the ancient capital of Tibet, Lhasa, the place was once the residence of Dalai Lama until the current Dalai Lama fled to India after 1959 Tibetan uprising. With over 1,000 rooms, Potala Palace is a major tourist attraction today and is the best place to have a fantastic birds eye view of Lhasa.
The palace is named after Mount Potala, the mythical abode of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. Its construction started in 1645 and took 3 years. The building measures 400 metres east-west and 350 metres north-south. It contains the living quarters for Dalai Lamas and houses great amounts of rare cultural relics including hand-written golden Buddhist scripts. The palace is 14 stories tall, and the visit involves climbing a lot of stairs up and down.
Jokhang Temple is a Buddhist temple in Barkhor Square, at the heart of the old town of Lhasa. For most of the Tibetans, this temple is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. The temple’s architectural style is a mixture of Indian vihara design, Tibetan and Nepalese design.
Jokhang Temple is a significant pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists.Although Jokhang Temple is currently maintained by the Gelug school, but they accept worshipers from all sects of Buddhism.
There are many important statues and artefacts to see inside the temple. A life-sized Statue of Shakyamuni, Jowo Rinpoche (or Jowo Shayamuni), is a statue of the Shakyamuni of age 12 and is the most famous attraction in Jokhang Temple.
The inside of the temple is composed of many chapels dedicated to different gods and bodhisattvas. Do not forget to climb to the rooftop for a fantastic view of Potala Palace and the surrounding area of Jokhang Temple.
Located in the Lhasa downtown, Barkhor Street surrounds the Jokhang Temple. It is a commercial centre and a magnet for pilgrims who are performing circumambulation around the temple. The street is full of small shops selling almost everything you would like to take as a souvenir and is a fantastic place to experience local Tibet life. If you are into photography, this one of the best places in Tibet to take traditional life photos.
History of Barkhor Street is interesting. After the Jokhang Temple was built, countless pilgrims performed circumambulation around the temple. Gradually, a path formed around the temple which was later built into a street. Today, you can see some of the best examples of Tibet traditional architecture here as the street is full of shops, hotels, restaurants. Although the street is now a busy commercial centre, the pilgrimage is still the biggest activities here.
Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street can be packed in a single day tour. Still, it is wise to spend some good time here since there are some nice restaurants and good opportunities to buy souvenir here.
Heavenly Namtso Lake
Like mountains, lakes are considered sacred by Tibetan people.They are believed to be the dwelling places for protective deities. This is also believed to give these sacred places a spiritual power. There are many sacred lakes in Tibet, and some of these are very important religious focal points.
One such sacred lake is Namtso Lake. This is the largest lake in the Tibet. Namtso means “Heavenly Lake” and has a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains over its turquoise waters and especially offers fantastic sunrise and sunset view. Namtso is one of the holy lakes and one of the four “Great Wrathful Lakes” guarded by the goddess DorjeGegkyi Tso.
The scenery of Namtso Lake is very surreal. Its crystal-clear waters reflect the snow-capped mountains, open grassland and the clouds in the sky. The grassland is dotted with yak herds and local nomads.
Namtso Lake has five uninhabited islands of reasonable size. Like the hills around the lake, these islands have been used spiritual retreat by pilgrims who walk over the lake’s frozen surface at the end of winter.
Yamdrok Lake is one of the four “Great Wrathful Lakes” guarded by the goddess Dorje Gegkyi Tso and is regarded as one of the most sacred of the holy lakes in Tibet. It is so sacred that Tibet’s fate is traditionally tied to this freshwater lake: it is believed that if Yamdrok Tso Lake dries, Tibet would not be habitable.
Yamdrok Lake is a72 km (45 mi) long fresh water lake and has a very beautiful scenery. Its crystal clear, blue waters are surrounded by snow-capped mountains.The lake is also one of the most easily accessible of the holy lakes. It is on Friendship Highway S307 (the highway connecting Nepal to Tibet), and you can have a panoramic view of the lake from the road.
Travel documents needed
In addition to Chinese visa to enter the country, you need an additional visa called Tibet Visa, or Tibet permit to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region. This document is issued by Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) and arranged by the tour operator (it usually takes 3 workdays to get this permit). This document is needed before buying the travel ticket to Tibet.
Tibet Travel Permit alone will only allow you to enter Lhasa City and some parts of Shigatse Prefecture and Lhoka and Nyingchi, Nagqu, etc. For getting out of Lhasa City, you need one more document named Aliens’ Travel Permit. The Alien’s Travel Permit is issued by police, Public Security Bureau. If you are planning to go out of Lhasa City and visit places in “unopened areas” like Shigatse, Samye Monastery or Everest Base Camp, you need this document.
If you are traveling alone, you cannot go to unopened areas alone, and you need to join a tour group or customize your tour with the company of a guide.
Tibet is a truly magical experience. The region offers a mystical and beautiful mix of environment and culture. If you are a first-time visitor, there are some top places to visit such as Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street in Lhasa as well as Namtso and Yamdrok Lakes outside Lhasa.