Lhasa Things to Do Tips by Confucius
Lhasa Things to Do: 173 reviews and 320 photos
The Dalai Lama's Summer Residence at Norbulinka
You're probably trying to budget your time in Lhasa and wondering if the Norbulinka is worth a visit. I almost didn't go as I had considered deleting this place from my itinerary even before I went to Tibet.
Let me tell you why you should go: The Norbulinka is the only public place in Lhasa where one can actually see a drawing of the current 14th Dalai Lama. His photo is banned in Lhasa but here you can actually see his picture on the wall of a shrine. There are a few interesting exhibits inside the Norbulinka and the gardens are pretty, but what really makes it special are the rooms inside the Dalai Lama's former residence. Almost everything was left in place the way it looked back in 1959 when the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa and escaped to India. It reminded me of a show I once saw on TV documenting the well preserved hut in Antarctica left behind by Captain Scott.
You'll see the Dalai Lama's desk, bed, mirror, clock, Russian radio, and even his bathroom. That's right, the Dalai Lama's bathroom! (Guess what kind of toilet he had! See my additional photo!) I looked out the window of his residence and wished that the Dalai Lama could come back and live here again. In the meantime, perhaps through some odd key word search, maybe his Holiness will have a nostalgic glance at the photos I took of his former summer residence.
He probably would not be too fond of a couple more recent additions: the Hall of Budweiser and the Norbulinka Zoo. There is an outdoor stage with a long corridor perhaps used for wedding parties or other social functions; all walls stapled with Budweiser posters and signs.
Budweiser has done a brilliant marketing job in getting their brand name placed all over the city of Lhasa, as mentioned in my general tip. The other attraction, which is notoriously unattractive, is the zoo. I skipped this part but took a picture of the billboard outside which advertises its presence.
Directions: 12 minute walk south of "The Former Holiday Inn" (Lhasa Hotel) on Minzu Road
Here is one of the 8 corners of Barkhor Bazaar
"Barkhor" means "8 corners" and is the name of the octagon shaped street that goes around the Jokhang Temple. You can easily spend a couple hours here just being an amateur photographer before recalling that it's also a shopper's paradise as well.
This is the old city of Lhasa, the part that attracts praying pilgrims and bargain-seeking backpackers. You'll see pilgrims from all regions of Tibet walking clockwise while spinning their portable prayer wheels. They make outstanding subjects for photography, as seen in my additional photos.
Every Tibetan souvenir imaginable is sold here, but it's also a market for ordinary Tibetan people. I watched one "hada" stall do brisk business selling the same traditional long white scarf that was given to me free upon arrival at Lhasa train station. (I was on a VIP train.) Peasants from rural Tibet buy their prayer wheels here too just like Chinese and foreign tourists except they know how to bargain in Tibetan.
My favorite activity at Barkhor Bazaar is taking portrait shots of Tibetan pilgrims. I got tired of asking permission for photography only to see Tibetans either vehemently refuse or hold their hand out expecting to get paid cash. At Barkhor you can capture them on film with natural expression and without compensation. I have a fantastic Lhasa travelogue that tells you exactly how to get the best pictures.
Directions: The street that goes around the perimeter of Jokhang Temple
Walk behind Sera Monastery to see painted rocks
"Oh, you can see monks on a Monday, a Monday, a Monday ... is really not that bad
Or visit Sera on a Tuesday, a Tuesday, a Tuesday ... in fact I wish I had!
Watch monks debating on a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday, and Saturday is best
But never ever on a Sunday, a Sunday, a Sunday ...'cause that's their day of rest!
Most any daaaaaay ... you can be their guest
watch monks slap their hands ... see them beat their chest!
Just name the day ...that you like the best
Only stay awaaaay ... on their day of rest!
I made the mistake of visiting Sera Monastery on a Sunday, the one day of the week that they don't do the debates. Fortunately I saw the same show several days later at Ta'Er Monastery near Xining, so I didn't have to pay the entrance fee to Sera Monastery (50 yuan) a second time.
There's more to see at Sera Monastery than debating monks, and I had the rest of Sunday afternooon to uncover other sights while the monks took a nap. It's a good idea to arrive at Sera Monastery before the noontime call to prayer. Two monks on the roof of the assembly hall will start blowing their long horns while another bangs a gong. Suddenly monks in red robes from all directions converge at the assembly hall and are seated in rows inside. You may go into the assembly hall and watch what proceeds from the rear wall. There is a loud chorus of sutra chanting which begins with one monk's deep bass bellow. You will also see young monks sprinting at an amazing speed just to fetch tea.
There are about 600 monks living at the monastery and you may wander around the grounds observing their daily life. I saw monks washing their robes, taking a bath, and practicing English with tourists.
Sera Monastery allows you to take photos inside some parts of the monastery for a small fee. For example, the Tibetan scripture printing center charges 5 yuan for photography and one of the sacred chapels is only 15 yuan. (See my "Inside Sera Monastery" travelogue)
Directions: Around 4 kilometers north of the Potala in Lhasa
Everybody takes this photo; you have one like it?
Aside from the Potala, this is the other "must do" destination in Lhasa. Everybody takes pictures on the roof, and afterwards people walk around the temple's perimeter in the clockwise footsteps of Tibetan pilgrims.
At the entrance of Jokhang Temple you'll see Tibetan pilgrims doing repeated prostrations.
(See additional photo) They consider this temple to be among the most sacred sites in Lhasa.
Inside the temple are many religious and cultural relics, among the most well known being the golden Buddha statue dowry of Tang dynasty princess Wen Cheng. She married a Tibetan king in order to form an alliance between him and China's emperor back in the capital of Xi'an.
Once you've seen the Buddhist art treasures and smelled enough yak butter lamps then it's time to go up on the roof and take beautiful photographs of golden ornaments. The view of the Potala from Jokhang Temple is famous and you'll also get good looks at the surrounding area called Barkhor, which means "eight corners" as the street surrounding Jokhang is actually shaped like an octagon.
This is the first view of the Potala after entry
On the morning of my organized tour of the Potala, we were told to bring our passports along for admission. The price of the ticket was 100 RMB in August 2006, but there are rumors of an increase that will double or triple this fee in the near future. I will update this information as necessary. There is also a one hour time restriction inside the palace, as groups are moved along by police who frequently interrupt tour guides during their narration telling them to hurry up.
You may take pictures outside the bottom of the Potala, but photos are forbidden inside the palace after you reach the middle terrace where the restroom is located. Photos are also not allowed atop the roof. This rule is strictly enforced.
I saw a tourist try to sneak a photo and he was immediately surrounded by palace police, who roughed him up a bit and then ushered him through a back door. Nobody in our group saw him again; he simply vanished just like the naughty kids in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory:
Oompa Loompa Potala Doo
I've got a Potala warning for you
Oompa Loompa Potala Dee
If you are wise you'll listen to me
What do you get when you try to sneak pics
a mob of mad monks and police with big sticks
What a sad feat, getting terribly beat
then whisked away and dumped onto the street
... I don't like the look of it!
Oompa Loompa Potala Da
You shall go far if you obey the law
You will buy some nice postcards too
Like the other group members do!
The Potala is not a monastery, so you are not going to see many monks. It is more like a combination museum and library for the Tibetan Buddhist religion. You will see the tombs of former Dalai Lamas as well as thousands of thangkas, statues, and ancient scriptures.
One of the major highlights is the oldest part of the Potala, dating back 1300 years. Another big highlight is the restroom on the middle terrace. (You can see photos of it in my travelogue.) From the restroom's window you can have a view behind the Potala, as seen in my additional photo on the right.
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