Fondly called the land of the snow lion, Tibet is undoubtedly breathtaking. With ancient monasteries, a fascinating culture, scenic mountain views, thrilling high-altitude climbs and some of the kindest and most hospitable people you will ever meet, a trip to Tibet is one that will linger in your memory for the rest of your life.
However, as the demands of modernisation encroach rapidly on the traditional way of life, it is likely that the landscape will soon look significantly different from its current rustic, rugged self. Here are some of Tibet’s top sights to catch sooner rather than later.
This magnificent 13-storey landmark is likely to be the first major sight you will see as you drive into Lhasa from the airport. The massive complex contains over 1,000 rooms – mind-boggling even by modern standards. It used to be the winter home of the Dalai Lama and the seat of the Tibetan government.
Only a fraction of the rooms are open to the public, but as you wander around the palace and stumble upon priceless treasures such as giant wall murals, elaborate prayer chambers and the jewel-encrusted tombs of some past Dalai Lamas, it won’t take much to imagine its previous grandeur.
Located in the heart of Lhasa, the spiritual centre of Tibetan Buddhism is a must-visit. Here, you’ll see hundreds of pilgrims walking, and sometime prostrating themselves, in a clockwise direction around the main Jokhang Temple – a sight to behold.
Don’t be shy to join in the walk. Even if you’re not Buddhist, it’s fascinating to take in the sights, sounds and smells (of butter lamps) of this historical site. Make sure you stop frequently to check out the other small temples and shops along the circuit.
The highlight of this monastery, located about 5km from Lhasa, are the daily debates that take place in the courtyard from 3pm to 5pm. Debating is a traditional teaching method for Tibetan Buddhist monks, and some 500 monks gather daily to have lively debates about philosophy and theories.
The debating process is particularly theatrical – as they talk, the monks will pace around, gesturing fiercely, clapping their hands and stamping their feet for emphasis. But take a closer look and you will notice them bursting into peals of laughter ever so often, a sure sign they’re having a great time. If only school was this lively!
At over 70km long and 30km wide, and at an elevation of 4,730m, this is the highest saltwater lake in the world, and the largest in Tibet. The crystal-clear, turquoise-blue waters are the perfect foil to the expansive mountain ranges beyond. Take some time to walk along the shore away from the busloads of tourists to find a quiet spot to sit and drink in the majestic view of the mountains.
Namtso is also where many of Tibet’s nomads set up their distinctive brown or black yak-hair tents and park their herds of yaks and sheep. Sometimes, curious nomad children will even come up to gawk at you. Don’t be offended: you’re just as strange to them as they are to you. If you have a small trinket like a pencil, notebook or some candy, they will gladly accept your gift.
Yes, you can get to Everest base camp on the other side of the mountain, via Nepal. But visiting Everest from Tibet has many advantages. For starters, on a clear day, you can get an unobstructed view of the mountain’s majestic summit, something those on the other side cannot see from base camp. Fret not if you aren’t the trekking sort – a road leads all the way there.
Plus, there are fewer tourists on the Tibet side, so you can gaze upon world’s highest peak without having to jostle for space. Now that’s something you can’t put a price tag on.
Feature Image: Mt Everest, by Sam Hawley
Image Credits: Images licensed under Creative Commons License