Best Things To Do in Tibet
Tibet's two biggest points of interests are its religious culture and its natural wonders, which are surprisingly linked. Tibetans consider some of their most beautiful lakes and mountains to be holy, including Lake Manasarovar. Though Mount Everest, which straddles the border of Tibet and Nepal, is in a league all its own. If you can stomach the high altitude, consider a sleepover at Mount Everest Base Camp. But if you'd rather keep your cultural experiences closer to sea level, visit one of the many holy monasteries and temples that dot the region. The sky-high Potala Palace is where the Dalai Lama used to reside, while Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is where his second in command, Panchen Lama, held power. But one of the best ways to soak up Tibet's intriguing spirituality is to watch pilgrimaging Tibetans at the Jokhang Temple. And while there, don't forget to pick up a souvenir or butter tea at Barkhor Street.
Updated November 30, 2017
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Alongside Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple is one of the most important sites in Tibet. The Jokhang Temple was built in the seventh century to promote Buddhism in Tibet, and as such earned the distinction of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Jokhang translates to "house of Buddha," or more specifically "chapel of the Jowo." And it lives up to its name. The temple houses more than 3,000 images of Buddha, deities and other historical figures in the religion, including the Jowo Shakyamuni.
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After days of visiting temples, palaces and monasteries, treat yourself to some souvenirs on Barkhor Street. Barkhor Street is one big circular street that goes around Jokhang Temple and is filled to the brim with shops and stalls catering to those who want to take a little piece of Tibet home. Here, you can find tons of jewelry, including silver and colorful stone jewelry, traditional Tibetan wooden masks, Tibetan knives and even yak wool blankets. There are also religious articles for sale too, including Buddha statues, prayer beads, prayer wheels and beautiful Thangka, or Tibetan scroll paintings.
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It's hard to miss Potala Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This grand, imposing structure stands more than 12,000 feet above sea level on Marpo-ri, or Red Hill, in the middle of central Lhasa. Potala's larger-than-life presence physically embodies the great historical, cultural and religious significance it holds for the Tibetan people. Not only does the palace serve as the winter home of the Dalai Lama but it also houses the remains of many other Dalai Lamas throughout history. At one point, Potala also acted as the seat of the Tibetan government.
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One of the best places to immerse yourself in Tibetan Buddhism is the Sera Monastery. Situated about 5 miles north of central Lhasa, this monastery is one of the most important in Lhasa. It focuses on Gelugpa, a sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and houses monks in training. As a part of the monks' training, every afternoon at 3 p.m. (except Sundays), young monks are required to gather in the monastery's courtyard to debate important Buddhist doctrines with their superiors. The gathering is quite lively, with young monks sitting and waiting to be called on by older monks. But instead of raising their hand when they know the answer, older monks aggressively slap their hands together to signal a younger monk's participation in the lesson. And thus, the spirited debate begins.
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Tibet's mountain ranges get a lot of love, but the region's many alpine lakes are just as noteworthy. In fact, the Tibetan people consider these lakes to be holy and take pilgrimages to them. The most popular (and the most sacred) are Yamdrok Lake, Lake Namtso and Manasarovar Lake.
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A trip to Tibet would not be complete without getting an eyeful of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Everest sits on the border of Nepal and Tibet and each area has its own base camp. The base camp serves as a place for climbers, scientists and tourists. Tibet's base camp sits at a lower elevation and offers better accessibility (think: driving instead of hiking) than the one in Nepal. Another benefit to visiting Tibet's base camp is that it offers unobstructed views of Everest. In Nepal, Everest's surrounding mountains obscure the full view.
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Like the Potala Palace, the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery holds a lot of significance in Tibetan Buddhism. Not only was the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery founded by the first Dalai Lama, but later it became the seat of power for the Panchen Lama, the most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama. The monastery comprises multiple gold-trimmed buildings that feature chapels, accommodations for monks, colleges, the stupas, or tombs, of past Panchen Lamas and one of the largest gilded statues in the world, Future Buddha (found in the Chapel of Jampa).
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