Three days are scheduled to appreciate the rich cultural history of Lhasa. We include visits to the Jokhang, the Norbulingka (the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama), and the famous Potala Palace. We also include visits to the nearby monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Ganden.
The Jokhang The Old City of Lhasa was built around the Jokhang, the most sacred temple in Tibet. Established in the 7th century when Buddhism was first introduced into Tibet, the temple has been considerably enlarged, particularly during the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama.Within the Jokhang, a series of temples are situated on the ground and the upper floors – some are closed to the public, but our guide will be able to give you a detailed description of each of the main chapels. The main entrance to the Jokhang is always full of activity, with pilgrims prostrating themselves as they conduct their prayers before continuing on their ritual circuit around the temple.This circuit area, together with the Barkhor– the marketplace outside the Jokhang – is a gathering place for Tibetans, who may have travelled for many months to reach Lhasa. The Barkhor is the 'real Tibet', with a multitude of stalls selling anything from ceremonial scarves to Chinese thermos flasks. You can spend many hours there people-watching, although be sure to ask first before taking any photographs.
Sera and Drepung monasteries. It is a short drive out of Lhasa to visit two of the most important Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. Drepung Monastery was founded in the 15th century. A century later the 2nd Dalai Lama established the Ganden Palace that was to be his residence until the 17th century when he moved to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. While at the monastery we visit the huge Main Assembly Hall and the famous teaching colleges.
Sera Monastery once housed a huge monastic population of around 5000 monks. However since the Cultural Revolution the number of resident monks has fallen to a few hundred. Like Drepung it was founded in the 15th century and includes several important teaching colleges (including the famous debating courtyard) and the Main Assembly Hall with its important thangka's and impressive statues.The Norbulingka This large compound, situated to the west of the city, is where successive Dalai Lamas spent their summer months. Indeed, the 14th (current) Dalai Lama preferred to stay in this summer palace, rather than in the cold, isolated chambers of the Potala.The Palace of the 14th Dalai Lama is situated in the centre of the compound, and little seems to have changed since the time when he escaped into exile in 1959.Most of the private quarters are open to the public, which always includes a steady flow of Tibetan pilgrims keen to pay homage to their exiled leader. The Palace of the 13th Dalai Lama, situated on the perimeter of the Norbulingka, is also open to the public.The Potala Palace is one of the highlights of a visit to Lhasa. It is divided into two main complexes – the outer white building that housed the administration, and the Red Fort, where chapels, tombs and the living quarters of the Dalai Lama are located. Founded in 1645 during the reign of the great 5th Dalai Lama, the White Palace was completed in 1648, twelve years after the Dalai Lama's death. To avoid possible problems, the head monks related to the masses that the 5th Dalai Lama was in deep meditation until after the Red Palace was completed.It is normal to approach the Potala through the Western Gate and make your way slowly through the labyrinth of chambers to the lower floor of the Red Fort. The most impressive hall within this medieval building is the chamber housing the tombs of the former Dalai Lamas, including the massive golden tomb of the 5th Dalai Lama. This chamber is currently undergoing renovation, however, and is not open to the public. Nearby is the chapel commemorating Padmasambhava, the Tantric sage who introduced Buddhism to Tibet. On the upper middle floor is the tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama, while the next floor contains the official Reception Hall and living quarters, some of which are open to the public.We complete our visit to the Potala Palace by leaving through the main gate to the Red Fort, before descending the series of steps to the marketplace immediately in front of the palace. The time spent in the Potala will depend on the number of pilgrims and tourists that are visiting while we are there.
On our third and final day Lhasa we will take a drive (40km) to the east of Lhasa in order to visit the Ganden Monastery. This expansive monastery was established in the 15th century, set high on a hillside it is an important site for Buddhist pilgrims of the Gelugpa sect.