The landing in Lhasa was absolutely gorgeous. The endless green gave us a glimpse of nature’s bounty that was to follow on the road trip. Well there was more to that as we discovered. As there’s blue, red, yellow…and all of that not just in the prayer flags.
IN LHASA, RELAX. YOU’RE IN THE ROOF OF THE WORLD
The first day in Lhasa was just about getting used to the weather. Because your body has to get acclimatized to being approx. 11,000 Ft above sea level, we had to literally loosen up. I was specifically told not to wash my hair as it can lead to a headache. Headaches can come suddenly and once they do they don’t leave you. So listen to the local advice at all times. They are great with anything to do with the earth & Mother Nature.
Lhasa is delightfully colorful. The monasteries, the clothes & even the houses. Which is why you must choose a stay which feels & looks like home. We decided to stay at the Shambala Palace
(Reflection of the sky as a roof with prayers flags as blessings. At Shambala Palace)
CHOOSE THE VIEW & LIVING EXPERIENCE
I was clear from the start that I wanted a view of the Potala Palace (seat to every Dalai Lama for centuries) and an ethnic feel to the place I stay in. If you like red, then Shambala Palace will shock and awe you with this color. It’s red inside the rooms & done up in Tibetan aesthetics with beautiful art painted outside and inside. A lovely courtyard in the middle with the sky as a roof makes it look like a small countryside home. We took the top floor with a view and were lucky to wake up to an awesome sunrise with the morning light slowly enveloping Potala Palace. For a better view there is the terrace and for the hungry stomach a small kitchen cooking up fresh food just like home.
We also chose to stay near the Barkhor Market. Shopping, restaurants are all nearby. So you can stay out till late and get back to your hotel pretty easy. Sure there were other 5 star hotels but nothing beats the hospitality and attention you get at home you’d agree.
(Main Barkhor Street. It’s beautiful when the monks walk by. The colors are unmissable)
(An older part of the Jokhang Temple was founded during the reign of Emperor Songtsen Gampo creator of the Tibetan Empire, in the 7th Century. Its architecture uses a mix of Tibetan, Nepalese & Indian styles)
VEGGIE DELIGHTS FOR THE STAUNCH ONES
My trips have made me settle for many things that I’d usually make a fuss about back home. I’ve even survived on just boiled potatoes, bread and salad for 7 days on one of my trips to Central Asia. Veggies usually have a tough time getting food of their choice and I thought I’d lose tons of weight at the end of the Tibet journey. But Lhasa had a few 100% Vegetarian restaurants…it was unbelievable. On last count 4 of them. No fish oil used either. I gorged.
(Good ol’ Veg Noodle Soup & Jasmine Tea)
WALK AROUND TO FEEL LHASA
Each sight forces you to walk. Even climb. The markets are large. There are discoveries along the way. You don’t do justice to this city if you can’t immerse in it. Lhasa meaning the ‘Place of the Gods’, (I’d say that for all of Tibet) can be experienced in its cultural quarters & traditions that people publicly practice. It was made the capital during the time of Emperor Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century & stayed an important city for over 200 years. Presently it’s the administrative capital of TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region).
I have to admit walking through the streets transported me to another era as the colors, clothes, rituals, symbols are there aplenty in many a corner. I fell in love with the fabric and patterns. Yes there are many monasteries too. Not just in Lhasa but all across Tibet. And the stories that came to create them are like chapters of a long and deeply spiritual journey. The most sacred of them all, the Jokhang Temple, sees several faithful ones surrender before it in absolute abandon. Its purity comes from the many ancient statues, but especially one of the oldest statues of the Sakyamuni Buddha that was enshrined here. This statue was brought by the 2nd bride of the 7th century Emperor Songtsen Gampo from China, Princess Wencheng.
Even if the streets were crowded it seemed like walking just made you feel like one of the residents. Many with a prayer wheel in hand reach their morning place of work with little fuss. I needed tons of exercise anyway. This was a perfect place to begin.
Lhasa has lots to give a traveler. Potala Palace, Jokhang Monastery, Norbulingka Palace, Barkhor Street Market, an hours’ drive to watch debating monks at Sera Monastery & so much more. At least spend 4 nights there. It would be a great start.
Yummy Vegetarian Eats in Tibet at:
Zong Lian Tibetan Vegetarian: At the entrance of Barkhor St., Near Jokhang Temple, Lhasa (I ate here and the dishes were terrific)
Father Vegetarian Restaurant: Behind Tsomoling Monastery, Beijing Middle Road, Lhasa