Lhasa: “The Forbidden City” and a Tourists’ Haven in Tibet

Lhasa (Tibetan: ལྷ་ས་) is the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Home of former Dalai Lama, Lhasa is known as the “Land of the Gods,” mainly because of the existence of Dalai Lama, the living God of the Tibetans. Located at an elevation of 3,490 m (11,450 ft), it is one of the highest cities in the world.



A forbidden city during primeval time, Lhasa was completely inaccessible by the foreigners. News journalists and photographers could never make it inside the city despite crossing the border and entering Tibet.

The 5th Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso (1617–1682), unified Tibet and, in 1642, moved the center of his administration to Lhasa, which thereafter became both the religious and political capital. In 1645, the reconstruction of the Potala Palace began on Red Hill.


Barkhor Street Market in Lhasa is the most busiest place

Barkhor Street Market in Lhasa is the most busiest place

Because of its discret nature in the past, the city rarely received any contact with the modernization. One couldn’t fly or ride to Lhasa but walk. The first theater in the country was build at the time of 14th Dalai Lama.

By the 17th century, Lhasa became a home of not only native Tibetans but migrants and traders from Greater Indian subcontinent and mainland China, forming a community of Muslims, Hindus along with Han Chinese.

Following the coup by Chinese government in the 1950s, the city of Lhasa was occupied by the Red Army and kept under strict supervision for decades. It was finally opened for international tourists in the mid 1980s.

Today, one can easily travel to Lhasa by obtaining a VISA from the Chinese embassy, however, it must be obtained through a reliable travel company and in a group of 5.

Dalai Lama

According to Tibetan dictionary, the Dalai Lama is the rebirth in a line of tulkus who are considered to be manifestations of the bodhisattva of compassion,Avalokiteśvara. He is the spiritual leader and sometimes political leader of greater Tibet.

14th Dalai Lama

14 Dalai Lama

The Mongol ruler Altan Khan bestowed the title Dailai Lama on Sonam Gyatso, the first Dalai Lama, in 1547. The 5th Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyasto, united the entire region under one rule and established his abode in current day Lhasa. . The 14th Dalai Lama was close friend to Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian adventurer and traveler.

Inhabitants of the region consider the Lama as their god. The 14th Dalai Lama went into exile to India in 1959 following the coup by the Red Army. He took took retirement on May 29, 2011.

Places to See Around

Check out: Tibet Travel Guide

  1. Potala Palace (Winter) -Potala Palace is the winter abode of Dalai Lama. Constructed by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1645, ever since it has been used as a palace of Dalai Lama till .. Today Potala Palace is a major tourist destination.The palace is 13 storied – containing over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues – soar 117 m (384 ft) on top of Marpo Ri, the “Red Hill”, rising more than 300 m (1,000 ft) in total above the valley floor.
  2. Jokhang Temple -Constructed in the 7th century by the King Songtsan Gampo, it contains a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha that Princess Wen Cheng brought over 1300 years ago is the most venerated artifact in all of Tibet. The temple, a splendid four-floor building facing west under a guilded rooftop, is on Barkhor Square in the center of the old section of Lhasa.
  3. Norbulingka Palace (Summer) -Norbulingka is a winter abode of Dalai Lama, constructed by the 7th Dalai Lama in 1755. The former palace is a public destination containing of a small zoo, botanical gardens and a mansion. 1km away from Potala, Norbulingka is another major tourist attraction in Lhasa.
  4. Barkhor Street Market -By the 17th century Barkhor became the biggest market for foreign goods in Tibet. The area was occupied by the traders and migrants of different ethnicity and was considered the most lively place in the entire Tibet. The market today is popular among incoming tourists and the locals. Handicrafts, curios and every other imported items are found here.

Other popular tourist destinations in Lhasa are Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery and Tibet Museum.

Basic Guidelines for Tourists

  • Do not wear a hat inside the Jokhang, Potala or other sacred sites. Please no short pants or tank tops. When visiting shrines it is customary to leave a small money offering, especially where you do not have to buy a ticket!
  • Circumambulate stupas and other sacred objects in a clock-wise direction.
  • Do not climb onto statues, mani stones or other sacred objects.
  • Avoid eating garlic before visiting a temple. Tibetans find the garlic breath in a temple disrespectful.
  • Photography is NOT allowed inside the Potala Palace. You can take photos in the Jokhang temple. Some monasteries will allow photography upon payment of a small donation or fee. Monks begging will often allow a photograph after you make a small contribution. When in doubt, ask before snapping your camera.


The rainy season is widely regarded the “best” of the year as rains come mostly at night and Lhasa is still sunny during the daytime, however, you can still visit Lhasa at anytime of the year.


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3 thoughts on “Lhasa: “The Forbidden City” and a Tourists’ Haven in Tibet

  1. Pingback: Lhasa: "The Forbidden City" and a Tou...

  2. Reblogged this on Chronicles of ADVENTURE TRAVEL and commented:

    Inside Lhasa, The Forbidden City: An old city in Tibet was hidden for thousands of years from the gawking eyes of foreign media and tourists! Today, Lhasa is considered a tourists’ haven, for the majestic Potala Palace, ancient Buddhist traditions, surreal landscapes and greater architecture.

  3. Pingback: Inside Lhasa -The Forbidden City of Tibet |

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