Tibet is all you’ve heard and everything you’ve imagined: a land of intense sunshine and towering snowcapped peaks, where crystal clear rivers and sapphire lakes irrigate terraced fields of golden highland barley. The Tibetan people are extremely religious, viewing their daily toil and the harsh environment surrounding them as challenges along the path to life’s single goal, the attainment of spiritual enlightenment. The region’s richly decorated monasteries, temples, and palaces—including the Potala Palace—were not constructed by forced labor, but by laborers and artisans who donated their entire lives to the accumulation of good karma. Here are top 8 things to do in this magical land.
1. Mt. Kailash Kora
Over the centuries pilgrims have constantly been braving their way to Mt. Kailash in order to attain spiritual enlightenment despite the harsh weather and often forbidding terrain. Hike the age-old pilgrims’ path around Mt. Kailash, Asia’s holiest mountain. The holy Kailash Circuit (parikrama or kora) is the three-day ritual circumbulation that takes you along a 52km kora. The circuit is considered to be the holiest of all Hindu as well as Buddhist pilgrimages and is believed that a single circuit erases the accumulated sins of a lifetime while 108 circumbulation will achieve salvation or nirvana.
2. Explore the Potala Palace
The majestic white and red building complex, set against grey/green mountains and blue sky, is an iconic image of the Roof of the World. The magnificent Potala Palace, once the seat of the Tibetan government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas, is Lhasa’s cardinal landmark. It is a huge treasure house of Tibetan history, religion, culture, and art. The palace is widely known for precious sculptures, Buddha statues, murals, antiques, and religious jewelry housed within. It is the must-see attraction which is included on almost all Tibet tour itineraries.
3. See the pilgrims at Jokhang Temple
The Jokhang also known in Tibetan as the Tsuglhakhang, is the most revered religious structure in Tibet. Thick with the smell of yak butter, echoing with the murmur of mantras and bustling with awed pilgrims, the Jokhang is an unrivalled Tibetan experience. The chapels can be very busy, with long lines of pilgrims, so try to view the most popular ones just after the temple opens or just before it closes around noon.
4. Make a circuit of Barkhor Bazaar
Barkhor Street is Lhasa’s pilgrimage circuit around Jokhang Temple. The street is also a busy shopping hub, selling a mind-blogging array of souvenirs from Tibet and Nepal. Join the pilgrims as they circle clockwise around Jokhang Temple to roll the prayer wheels, or join the locals or travelers haggling hard over souvenirs. Take plenty of time to explore the local shops.
5. Debate with the monks in Sera Monastery
Sera Monastery was one of Lhasa’s two great Gelugpa monasteries, second only to Drepung. The monastery is worth a visit particularly in the morning when the monastery is at its most active, but also between 3pm and 5pm (not Sundays), when debating is usually held in the monastery’s debating courtyard.
6. Visit Samye Monastery: The birthplace of Tibetan Bhutan
About 170km southeast of Lhasa, on the north bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) River is Samye Monastery, the first monastery in Tibet. Founded by King Trisong Detsen, Samye is famed not just for its pivotal history, but its unique mandala design: the main hall, or Ütse, represents Mt Meru, the centre of the universe, while the outer temples represent the oceans, continents, subcontinents and other features of the Buddhist cosmology.
7. Pack a picnic to Lake Yamdrok-Tso
Pack a picnic for Yamdrok Lake, at almost 4,500 meters one of the highest altitude lakes in the world with water an incredible hue of turquoise and teal. The views from above the lake are stunning, and with almost nobody around, you are sure to experience a very unique and tranquil picnic.
8. Set foot on the world’s tallest mountain- Everest
Follow a river conduit breaching the Himalaya to the spectacular forested east flank of Mt. Everest. Viewed from Tibet, unobscured by other mountains, it’s hard not to feel awed by one of nature’s boldest achievements. You can enjoy stunning views of the Everest as well as Makalu and Shishapangma from the northern Everest Base Camp.