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The city of Lhasa is located at an altitude of 3,648m above sea level, in a valley formed by the river Kyichu, a tributary of the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra). The dominant surrounding peaks range between 4400m and 5300m above sea level. The Lhasa valley is sheltered from the harsh winds that roam much of the Tibetan plateau, and benefits from a microclimate that can be termed moderate. It is also characteristically dry. Remains of the earliest settlement identified so far, dating back to about 1500–2000BC, have been excavated three kilometers to the north of the present-day city, at the base of the mountains. The city is built on a plain of marshy ground in the center of the valley. Our knowledge of early Lhasa is sketchy at best. The 33rd Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, founded Lhasa during the first half of the 7th century. Two of his five queens fulfilled an ancient prophecy by bringing Buddhist images and ritual knowledge to Tibet. In the late 630s, the first Buddhist temple in Tibet was built at the behest of princess Bhrikuti, the Nepali bride of king Songtsen. This was the Rasa Trul-nang (miraculous self-manifest temple of Rasa), later commonly called the Lhaden Tsukla-khang (Lhasa Cathedral) or simply Jo-khang (house of the Jowo, precious Buddha image).

The Trul-nang temple’s importance was recognized by Songtsen’s successors (in the form of documented stone edicts), and the temple became an important national focus. Its existence eventually gave Rasa the status of a holy city, and a new name: ‘Lhasa,’ the ‘place of the gods.’ In Tibetan historic sources as well as in popular parlance, the name Lhasa only referred to the Tsuklakhang and its immediate surroundings. Until the 1950s, Ramoché was considered to be outside of Lhasa. Public mini-buses driving from the Potala towards the new square in front of the Tsukla-khang still announce their destination as ‘Lhasa.’

The Lhasa valley became an important seat of monastic learning, attracting students from as far away as Mongolia and Ladakh. In the 17th century, Lhasa was reestablished as national capital, and much of the city’s historic urban fabric as we know it dates from that time. The city’s importance as a center of monastic learning increased further. Being on the crossroads for trading caravans from Nepal, India, Ladakh, Central Asia and China, Lhasa was also a major trading center.

Early 20th century efforts under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dalai Lama-s to combine modernization of Tibet with preservation of the ancient way of life were continuously thwarted by the conservative religious establishment and the aristocracy. China’s People’s Liberation Army overwhelmed a society distinctly unprepared for modern political or military challenges. After the exodus of Tibet’s ruling classes, property was nationalized and agricultural production reorganized under a commune system. Monasteries were destroyed and Tibetan customs and traditions branded as feudal, and forbidden. After the political reforms of the post 1978 period, Tibetan religion and customs underwent a process of limited rehabilitation. By the mid-1990s, the economic reforms that had already transformed most of China also reached Lhasa, resulting in rapid modernization of the city. Today, Lhasa has modern roads and several high-rise buildings, and there is very visible evidence that the city is still rapidly expanding.The 7th century Tsukla-khang temple is still the spiritual and physical heart of the city (if not of Tibet). In harmony with the Buddhist traditions, several circumambulation routes lead clockwise around the temple, enabling pilgrims to venerate Tibet’s most holy shrine and to gain merit by doing so.

The ‘inner circle,’ the Nangkor, leads around the Tsukla-khang (the central building). The ‘intermediate circle,’ the Barkor is also Lhasa’s main bazaar street. Even today, in the early hours of the morning, and at sunset, a visitor can ascertain that the Barkor is still a religious circumambulation of major importance for Lhasa citizens and pilgrims. Most Lhasa Buddhists perform kor-ra (circumambulation) daily. The outer circle or ‘continental circle,’ called Lingkor, leads around the pre-1950 limits of the city, encompassing all of the 40 odd temples, monasteries and shrines that once existed in greater Lhasa. In 1948, according to Peter Aufschnaiter’s survey, the central area of Lhasa consisted of 600-odd buildings (900 if other districts such as Shöl are included), populated by some 30,000 people. Today’s old city is an area of 1.3 square kilometers, officially defined by the Lingkor North, Lingkor East and Lingkor South Roads, and the Do Sengé Road to the west. Far fewer than 100 of the historic buildings recorded in 1948 still stand (see THF Web site for database of remaining buildings). Despite the recent construction boom, the old city has kept its separate physical character. The urban structure is different, much denser than in the rest of the city. According to available information, 50,000 people (mostly ethnic Tibetans) live in the old city area, whereas the entire city population is estimated to be around 400,000 people. The present publication includes only Buddhist sites within the old city, which means a number of important sites are not included, like the temples at Marpo-ri, Chakpo-ri, Kundeling and the Norbulingka.

The earliest Buddhist shrines built in India contained only abstract symbols for veneration. Under the influence of the evolution of the Mahayana school, these symbols were substituted from the first century AD onwards by images of the Enlightened One himself, scenes of his life and images of a developing pantheon of deities. Two major types of devotional buildings have developed: shrines with a single devotional center (often a chaitya hall) and the vihara cloister-hall surrounded by shrines and residential cells. A number of common structural elements can be defined—the entrance portico (providing a symbolic gateway into the sacred space), the assembly hall ( mandapa) and the sanctum area ( garbagriha), usually with a passage for pilgrims to perform merit-bringing circumambulation (pradakshi-napatha).

These correspond to the basic components identified in Tibetan temples, respectively the portico known as go-ling (sgo gling, also sgo khang), the assembly hall known as du-khang (‘du khang) and the sanctum known as dri-tsang-khang ( dri gtsang khang ). The internal ambulatory or kor-lam ( skor lam ) occurs only in early sites, after the 15th century it disappears, often replaced by external passages. Tibetan monastic architecture reached its maturity after the Indian prototypes were abandoned, and the design of assembly halls, ambulatories and Sanctum spaces was remodelled to suit indigenous preferences. Prominent architectural components added as a result include the rabsel(rab gsal) bay window sitting room for senior monks, the skylight (mthongs), sometimes in the form of a balustrade (seng g.yab ), and external service rooms and buildings attached to the temple rooms. All sites investigated were designed for the standard Tibetan forms of religious practice and service. Monks are seated on long rows of cushions between the pillars, with elevated thrones reserved for important lama-s. Pilgrims can perform prostrations (phyag-‘tshal) and ritual circumambulation (skor ra), make prayers and offerings to individual shrines or deities (by lighting butter lamps, offering Khata scarves and symbolic gifts). The assembly hall is also the space where they can consult with individual monks and lama-s, listen to teachings and watch rituals being performed. The basic method of construction and the materials used are essentially identical for all sites surveyed, unless mentioned otherwise.

The construction is based on an internal timber frame, with juniper Juniperus tibetica the preferred wood for inner chapels. The majority of timber elements identified during the investigation were made from poplar Populus sp. Walls in Lhasa are generally built in rubble masonry, with nonbinding mud mortar. Upper floors are often built with sun-baked mud bricks. Rammed earth walls, common in other parts of Tibet, have only been found in a handful of cases in Lhasa. The basic module consists of pillar and beam. Average distance between two pillars found among Lhasa buildings is 2.2 meters. Tibetans describe room size by the number of pillars or pillar-beam modules, and we adopt this method in the site descriptions. The pillar-beam module also includes two brackets, the smaller bracket (be lo) and the larger bracket (gzhulit. bow); these are also sometimes referred to as pillar capitals. Only rarely is there a separate detached capital between pillar and bracket.

The design of the brackets varies and can be an indicator to the period of construction, but only a handful of distinct styles have been identified so far. The interior of monastic assembly spaces is usually illuminated by a central skylight (mthongs), supported by raised pillars (byar ka or in classical literature gnam yang ka ba ) of greater height.

The roofs are flat, built by layers of rafters, pebbles and mud. They are often waterproofed using a technique and material known summarily as arga (ar ka), tamped and polished earth with high lime content. The outer walls if built from stone are left plain; only mud brick walls are plastered. The interior walls are plastered with various qualities of earth and polished for optimum smoothness. Murals are applied on a dry mud surface coated with lime. Until 1959 high-quality pigments made from semiprecious stones were used, with animal glue as binder.For further components and Tibetan architectural terms occurring in the text, refer to the glossary.

Decorative elements

Distinct color schemes and a number of decorative elements distinguish a religious site from other buildings, and also for zoning within monastic compounds. The walls of the sanctum area of temple buildings and the protector chapel are generally colored maroon red. Monastic residences, assembly halls and other utilitarian parts of monastic complexes are usually whitewashed. Rooms in which either a Dalai Lama or someone of comparable status have once spent the night, as well as homes of particular oracular deities, are colored ochre. Red and ochre are considered sacred colors. Many additional color schemes exist outside of Lhasa, such as the bluish grey of Sakya monastery and the red-white-blue stripes symbolizing the three bodhisattva-s known as Rigsum Gonpo.

Among the structural monastic decorations, the most obvious is the Chinese-style pagoda roof (rgya phib, spelling variations incl. phubs), built of gilded copper or glazed tiles over a timber structure. More peculiar is the maroon frieze called penbey (span bad), the ‘band of the shrubby cinquefoil’ Potentilla fruticosa.

This has no structural function, but is purely decorative and marks monastic and government buildings. The width of such a frieze reflects the status of the building’s occupant. Imitation penbey friezes have become popular in modern times as decorations for restaurants and hotels. Nonpermanent decorations have been only briefly included in the conservation inventory; most of the originals were lost during the 1960s. These include banners, cylinders and sculptures erected along roof parapets, and the symbolic depiction of the eight spoked dharma wheel flanked by two deer commonly placed above the main entrance. The architectural structures described are but the setting, and only the placing of images completes their purpose. However, in the case of Lhasa, most of the original objects of veneration—clay sculptures, metal images and paintings—have not survived the post-1959 period, with some notable exceptions. New images have since been substituted, usually based on oral transmission and memory. Their recreation has often been limited by financial restraints, a 20-year gap in artistic transmission and lack of photographic records.

Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, is a unique and spiritual city on a snow plateau. Lhasa is also known as “the City of Sunlight” for it enjoys much more sunshine than most places in the world. As the holy land of Tibetan Buddhism, Lhasa boasts numerous well-preserved Buddhist constructions, most of which are mysterious palaces and monasteries. All the holy sites are well protected and carefully maintained by a devout population. Therefore, after a thousand years of vicissitudes, the ancient palaces, temples, relics and streets thick with religious history can still keep pace with the modern society.

Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is included in the first important national cultural relics protection list. It is the world’s largest and most intact ancient castle-style complex located on the highest altitude. A grand stele and commemorating the architectural achievements of ancient Tibetans, the Potala Palace is truly a cultural treasure of the Chinese nation. In Dec. 1994, the UNESCO put the Potala Palace onto the World Cultural Heritage List. In 2001, the State Tourism Administration rated it as 4A tourism spot on the national level.

Potala Palace is a landmark of Lhasa and Tibet. With its base on the southern slope of the Red Hill, the Potala Palace was built along the hill. Its crimson and white wall and its golden roof shine in glory in Lhasa, the “sun city”. The top of Potala Palace is 119 meters above the ground, and is about 360,000 square meters. Its history dates back to 630s. According the documents of Tibet, Songtsan Gambo, the King of Tubo moved the capital to Lhasa. He ordered the establishment of Potala Palace for marrying Princess Wencheng in Tang Dynasty.

The Potala Palace that visitors see today was gradually built on the base of the ancient palace ruins since the seventh century. After the fifth Dalai Lama Lobsang Gyaico established the Ganden Phodrang Regime, he ordered the reconstruction of the Potala Palace in the spring of 1645. In 1653, the fifth Dalai Lama journeyed to the nation’s capital in today’s Beijing and met with Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty. In the following year, the emperor granted the fifth Dalai Lama official supremacy in both administration and religion in Tibet. After the fifth Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa, he moved his residence from Ganden Phodrang in the Drepung Monastery to the White Palace already completed in the Potala Palace. In 1690, 8 years after the fifth Dalai Lama, started dismantling some of the old buildings to give away to the Red Palace and the holy stupa. The project involved some 7,000 craftsmen and cost 66,154 kilogrammes of gold. Emperor Kangxi dispatched 114 skilled craftsmen of the Han and Manchu nationalities to join the construction. Nepal also helped.

In 1693, the Red Palace was completed. The grand inauguration ceremony was held on the 20th day of the 4th month on the Tibetan calendar. A monument without words was erected to mark the event. Since then, the main structure of the Potala Palace has remained unchanged. The Potala Palace is divided into the White Palace as the wings and the Red Palace as the center. The White Palace was secular in nature (used for offices, a printing house and so on), while the Red Palace fulfilled a religious function (comprising the tombs of the Dalai Lama, scores of chapels and shrines, and libraries of sacred texts). Most of the White Palace is inaccessible, yet you can see a fair number of rooms in the Red Palace. Entering the Red Palace from the rooftop area, you spiral downward through 4 levels, eventually exiting at the North Tower. The upper levels of the Red Palace enclose an open skylight space, with chapels arrayed in a gallery-like rectangle around it. Interspersed through the many chapels and shrines of the Red Palace are the 8 gold-plated stupas, each containing the salt-dried body of a past Dalai Lama–from the 5th to the 13th, with the exception of the 6th, who disappeared. 4 of the reliquary stupas are on the upper level, and 4 are on the ground level. The construction of the Potala Palace was actually started by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso in 1645. It is really a distinguishing building with continuing effort of generations of Tibetans.

Upon request by the monastic bloc of the Yellow Sect, Gushri Khan, head of the Hoshod Mongols in Xinjiang and Qinghai of Northwest China, invaded Tibet and toppled the Tsangpa Desi regime in Xigaze in the early 1640’s. With support from Gushri Khan, the 5th Dalai Lama established the Gandain Phodrang regime in Lhasa, thus turning Lhasa once again into Tibet’s political, cultural, and religious center.

In 1652, when the 5th Dalai Lama went to pay homage to the Qing Emperor Shunzhi in Beijing, he was given a red-carpet welcome and the Qing (1644-1911) emperor granted him the honorific title of “the Dalai Lama,” as well as a golden seal of authority and a golden sheet of confirmation. From then on, the title of the Dalai Lama as well as the Dalai Lama’s temporal and religious position in Tibet were established, contributing to the closer ties between the Central Government and the local government of Tibet. The 5th Dalai Lama pressed ahead with urban construction in Lhasa. A major project was the renovation of the Potala Palace. Exposed to thunderbolts, fire, wars, wind, and rain, the Potala Palace was a tattered sweep of ruins. The only remaining buildings were the Hall of the Goddess of Mercy and the Cave for the Prince of Dharma. In 1645, the 5th Dalai Lama ordered the rebuilding of the Potala Palace for the Gandain Phodrang regime. Desi Soinam Raodain was put in charge of the project, and thousands of builders and artisans were recruited from all over Tibet. The main part of the Palace was renovated in 1647, and efforts began to fix the interior, re-paint the frescos, and re-make statues of Buddha. In 1653, when the 5th Dalai Lama returned from Beijing, a grand ceremony was held for the consecration of the Palace. The 5th Dalai Lama moved from the Zhaibung Monastery to the White Palace in the Potala Palace.

Barkhor shopping center.

Barkhor shoping center

Barkhor Street is a lively combination of marketplace, pilgrim circuit and ethnic melting pot. The 20-minute hexagonal circuit, running clockwise around the Jokhang Temple and other structures, is always busy, especially at dawn and dusk. Join the pilgrims for a few circuits–it’s good for exercise. The Barkhor Street has been remodeled to suit Chinese whims: it was completely repaved in 2003 with flatter stones (hence easier to drive over), and a series of Tian’anmen-style lamp posts were put up around the circuit, matching those at the Potala Palace. At the front of the Jokhang Temple, just inside the temple, you can see some of the original stones. The flagstones are worn smooth, polished from many years of pilgrims performing prostrations. 2-meter-high conical incense burners billow clouds of smoke, and the smell of juniper fills the air. Vendors–mostly Chinese making a buck off Buddhism–sell kata scarves, prayer-flags and prayer-wheels to the pilgrims. Arriving on pilgrimage from far-flung regions, such as the Kham or Golok areas, pilgrims mutter mantras as they circumambulate. You might see nomad women from eastern Tibet, their long tresses smeared in yak butter; or an old woman leading her favourite sheep around the circuit; or a proud Khampa from eastern Tibet with tassels of red yarn braided through his hair, and a dagger on his belt.

The Barkhor Street is a magnet for beggars seeking alms, and for pilgrims seeking funds for their return home (and to support themselves in Lhasa in the meantime). More sophisticated are sutra chanters: for a small sum, they will recite from sacred texts. And finally, there is the bazaar itself–shops and businesses line the entire circuit. Barkhor Street, often called the “Window of Tibet” is famous for its shopping. Competing with these are open–air stalls laden with souvenirs and household goods; and there are roving vendors with bags of Tibetan music cassettes or other items. The Barkhor Street is a real delight for strays and alley cats, with small markets and temples tucked away, and Tibetans playing billiards. You can explore on foot or bicycle. Around here, you step into a time warp, catching glimpses of what life must have been like centuries or even a millennium ago.

Restaurant and Accommodation

There are lots of snack bars and sweet tea houses along Barkhor Street. You can drink tea, eat local yogurt, potato and beef rice. The most famous Magyia Ngami Restaurant is located at the southeastern corner of Barkor Street. It is a place that visitors cannot miss. If you want to take more pictures about Tibetan humanities, you can stay at inn on Barkhor Street, such as Eight Gallery Inn.

Shoot Location

Barkhor Street is a lively combination of marketplace, pilgrim circuit and ethnic melting pot. You can take pictures of details of a variety of Tibetan jewelry as much as possible on the shops and stalls along the street. Buddhist pilgrims can be seen throughout the day and night walking, or prostrating themselves clockwise along Barkhor Street, spinning their prayer wheels and chanting sutras. And you will see Tibetan compatriots with different clothes from different districts. It is a very good place to take photos of different kind of people like local citizens, tourists, pilgrims, monks which forms a beautiful picture. In a word, just believe your eyes, and you will get more than expect.

Photography Plan

Walking clockwise around the Jokhang Temple and other structures will cost you at least an hour. In general, photographers will spend half day to explore Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street. It will be longer if you want to select some souvenirs.

Chakpori Hill

Rising up beside the Potala Palace, the Chakpori Hill, or literally speaking, the Hill of Medicine King is 3,725 meters above sea level. Ascending the winding path to the top, one can get a panoramic view of the ancient city and its surrounding landscapes. The Chakpori Hill is also the ideal location for taking photographs of the Potala Palace. In the early morning, dense crowds of photographers and photography aficionados come here to shoot a rare view of the Potala Palace irradiated by the first rays of the sun. Lengend said that Princess Wencheng of theTang Dynasty often prayed on the hill facing the southeast, where her imperial home was. Near the hill are many families who engrave or decorate mani stones, that Tibetans decorate to show their religion. Every year, at Sakadawa festival, crowds of pilgrims will come here to put mani stones by the hill. It is said that once atemplewas erected on the top of the mountain. Within this temple was placed a sapphire figure of a certain Tibetan Medicine King. Legend said that the King was the avatar incarnation of Sakyamuni, who was able to treat patients of any kind of diseases. During the period of the 5th Dalai Lama, lamas from all over the country were brought here to study the knowledge of traditional Tibetan medicine. In late 17th century, Desi Sangye Gyatso established the Tibetan Medical School on this hill.

Ramoche Monastery

ramoche manastery

The sister temple to the Jokhang Temple Ramoche Temple was constructed around the same time. It was originally built to house the Jowo Sakyamuni image brought to Tibet by Princess Wencheng but sometime in the 8th century the image was swapped for an image of Akshobhya, brought to Tibet in the 7th century as part of the dowry of King Songtsen Gampo’s Nepali wife, Princess Bhrikuti. By the mid-15th century the temple had become Lhasa’s Upper Tantric College. As you enter the temple, past pilgrims doing full-body prostrations and the 1st of 2 inner koras, you’ll see a protector chapel to the left, featuring masks and puppets on the ancient pillars and an encased image of the divination deity Dorje Yudronma covered in beads on a horse. The main chapel is full of fearsome protector deities in YABYUM pose, as befitting a Tantric temple. The fabulously ornate Akshobhya image can be seen in the inner Tsangkhang, protected bu the 4 guardian kings and a curtain of chain mail, which pilgrims rub for good luck. The image represents Sakyamuni at the age of 8. The lower half of the statue was discovered in 1983 in a Lhasa rubbish tip and the head was discovered in Beijing’s Forbidden City and brought back to Lhasa by the 10th Panchen Lama. As you exit the Ramoche Temple, look for a doorway just to the right by a collection of yak-butter and incense stalls, leading to a delightful chapel, the Tsepak Lhakhang. The central image is Tsepame, flanked by Jampa and Sakyamuni. There are smaller statues of Dorje Chang and Marmedze, and a protector chapel next door. This hidden corner is very popular with pilgrims.


Lying at the western suburbs of Lhasa, Norbulingka is 2 km to the east of the Potala Palace. In 1988, the State Council authorized it to become a national important cultural relic protection unit. On Dec. 14, 2001, the UNESCO included Norbulingka into the extension subjects of the Potala Palace which is enlisted as a World Cultural Heritage site. In 2001, the State Tourism Administration appraised Norbulingka as 4A on the national tourism region level. Norbulingka means “Treasure Garden” in the Tibetan language. It was 1st built in the mid-18th century and assumed today’s scale through many expansions. Norbulingka has 3 parts: the courtyard in front of the palace, the palace and forest. With over 400 sets of rooms, the garden takes up 3.6 square kilometers, among which 3.4 square km are green meadows or woods. It is the world’s highest-located garden, or the “Plateau Oxygen Bar” as some tourists said. After Tibet’s democratic reform in 1959, the Norbulingka has become a public park. According to Tibetan records, there used to be a spring here that could cure disease. Kalsang Gyatso, the 7th Dalai Lama, often fell ill and came here to take bath every summer. The Imperial Minister of the Qing Dynasty stationed in Tibet asked for the central government’s permission to build a special place for the 7th Dalai Lama to rest after taking the bath. Thus came the 1st construction of Norbulingka the Pavilion Palace. Since then, all Dalai Lama stayed here to study before they were formally enthroned. After they assumed real power, they would still come here every summer. Thus Norbulingka is called the Summer Palace of Dalai Lama.

As the world’s highest, largest and best-preserved ancient artificial horticultural garden, Norbulingk combines gardening with architecture and sculpture arts in Tibetan, Han and many other ethnic groups. The treasure of Tibetan history and culture now houses over 30,000 cultural relics, 7,000among which are on State level. Through the long history, Norbulingka also suffered from destruction. In Jun. 2001, the 4th Tibetan Work Session of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party made a decision to include the protection and renovation of Norbulingka into pivot projects of aiding Tibet.

Sera Monastery

Sera monastery

Sera Monastery is 1 of 3 famous monasteries in Lhasa along with the Drepung Monastery and the Ganden Monastery. It is located at he souther slope of the Serawoze Mountain in the northern suburbs of Lhasa. One legend for the monastery’s name is that Sera means “Hailstone”. It was built by Sagya Yeshes, one of the 8 disciples of Zongkapa, founder of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1414, Zongkapa sent Sagya Yeshes to pay homage to Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty in today’s Nanjing of East China’s Jiangsu Province. The Emperor granted him the title of the Great Mercy Prince of Dharma. After he returned to Tibet, he followed Zongkapa’s instruction to build the Sera Monastery in 1419. The monastery was centered around the Meba Zhacang and the Ngaba Zhacang at first. Through expansion projects it reached today’s grand scale, consisting of the Coqen Hall, the Meba, Gyi and Ngaba Zhacangs, as well as 30 Kamcuns. Although there was no overall planning for the complex, the various buildings together form a grandeur seldom seen. The Coqen Hall is the largest hall and the religious and administrative center of the monastery. Standing 4 storeys, the hall is composed of the Hall Square, the Sutra Hall and 5 Lakangs. Converting nearly 2,000 square meters, it lies in the northeastern part of the entire construction. The hall enshrines the statue of Sagya Yeshes.

Behind the main hall are 3 smaller halls. The central one treasures the “Ganggrur” granted by Emperor Yongle which were printed with red ink in 1410 and are treasured in tall shelves along the southern wall. The western hall houses 16 clay Arhat statues which were made on the base of wooden statue brought back from Central China by Sagya Yeshes. The statues have all kept the Ming Dynasty style. The hall has a complicated wooden structure supporting the roof. The ridge is decorated with the holy wheel, holy ball, bird with human body, banner of victory, as well as the monster fish on the 4 flying corners. The Sera Monastery has a rich collection of cultural relics. The “Ganggyur” enshrined in the Coqen Hall is the most precious. Each great volume is protected by wooden boards in ted lacquer and golden thread. The great sutra has a long article written by the Emperor Yongle, explaining that the emperor dispatched envoys to fetch the texts of this great sutra from Tibet for printing. The texts are written in Tibetan, with their Chinese titles on the ridge of the wooden board. With clear-written words and refined decoration, they are very valuable on the study of Chinese printing history.

The monastery also treasures a silk Thangka painting Sagya Yeshes. Made with colorful silk thread in complicated embroidery techniques, the painting still looks bright as it was the first made although 500 years have lapsed. The painting depicts Sagya Yeshes as wearing a kasaya and pentagon-shaped Buddha hat. Sitting on a throne under a canopy, the great master puts the hands together, with the face both solemn and benevolent.
Best Time to Go

Actually, you can visit Sera Monastery all year round, especially during the Shoton Festival, which is one of the most important traditional festivals in Tibet, the grand ceremony of sunning the Buddha is held at Sera Monastery. There is a big festival known as the Sera Bengqin Festival in Sera Monastery which is held on the 27th day of the twelfth month of the Tibetan calendar.

Every day (except on Sunday) at 3pm, there is a debating session on Buddhist doctrines among the monks at the debate courtyard of Sera Monastery, and you should not miss.
Restaurant and Accommodation

There are some sweet teahouses and Tibetan restaurants around the entrance of Sera Monastery. But it is advisable to have meals in Lhasa city after your shooting and stay overnight in Lhasa.
Shooting Location

Shoot monks debating in the debate courtyard, which is surrounded by walls and towering old trees. You can take photos in the monastery for a reasonable fee. A wall for Sunning the Buddha is situated on the mountain behind Sera Monastery. There are also some cliff paintings on the rocks.
Photography Plan

You just need to spend half day to visit Sera Monastery. The most interesting thing is monks debating at 3pm. A monk will slap his hands together loudly and point to another monk to debate or argue. After the debate, you can also visit Cuoqin Hall and several monastic houses.

Ganden Monastery

Ganden Monastery is the 1st and primary monastery of the Gelug Sect in Tibetan Buddhism. Its Tibetan name refers to a grand site in the Western Heaven of Buddhism. Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty granted another name “Yong Tai” to the monastery. Sitting on the Wangbori Mountain which resembles a reclining elephant to the northeast of the Dagze County, the monastery facing east commands an elevation of 3,800 meters above sea level. Major construction in the monastery include the Lagyi Hall, Yangbagyain Hall, Chitokang, Angyiukang, Xaze and Jamze Zhacang Buddhist colleges, and dozens of Kamcuns and Myicuns. The Ganden Monastery was built in the early 15th century. Upon the Tibetan New Year in 1409, Zongkapa, founder of Gelug or Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, gathered over 8,000 Lamas to hold a Grand Summons Ceremony at the Jokhang Temple of Lhasa to commemorate Sakymuni. Since then, the ceremony has become a traditional annual event. In Feb. 1410, the Ganden Monastery was set up with over 500 Lamas and Zongkapa himself presided over a grand ceremony to enshrine the monastery. Zongkapa also became the 1st Ganden Khripa (or Abbot) of the Ganden Monastery.

The creation of the Ganden Summons Ceremony and the establishment of the Ganden Monastery symbolized the formation of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Together with the Sera Monastery and Drepung Monastery which were set up later, they became known as the “3 Large Monasteries of Lhasa”. As Zongkapa himself initiated the Ganden Monastery, acted as its 1st abbot and passed away in the monastery, Ganden Monastery commands indisputable status among all the Gelug Sect Monasteries. The Lagyi Hall is the largest gathering ground in the monastery. With 3 storeys, the hall takes up 2,000 square meters and can hold 3,000 people at the same time. The 4-storey Yangbagyain Hall stands to the west of the Lagyi Hall and the Holy Stupa Hall which hosts silver stupas for various generations of Ganden Khripa abbots. The Chitokang Hall was one of the earliest buildings in the Ganden Monastery. It had been the bed chamber of Zongkapa. After the great master passed away in 1419, the hall enshrined his sacred stupa with some of his personal items. To the west locate the Xaze and Jamze Zhacang Buddhist colleges, as well as the Kamcuns and Myicuns under the 2 Zhacangs’ jurisdiction.

The Lamas in the monastery are administrated through the Xaze and Jamze Zhacangs. In the Qing Dynasty, the monastery had a quota of 3,300 people, while at its peak, the monastery accommodated 5,000 people. The Xaze Prince of Dharma and Jamze Prince of Dharma took turns to become the Ganden Khripa abbot. Since Zongkapa’s time, 97 generations of Ganden Khripas have ruled the monastery. In 1961, the Ganden Monastery became a State important cultural relic protection unit. The monastery suffered destruction during the Cultural Revolution but renovations are carried in recent years.
Drepung Monastery.

Lying in the southern part of the Gebeiwoze Mountain at the western suburbs of Lhasa, the Drepung Monastery is the largest monastery in Tibet and the home monastery of all Dalai Lamas. Together with the Sera Monastery and the Ganden Monastery, they are known as the “3 Largest Monasteries of Lhasa”. The Drepung Monastery, which in Tibetan language is called Duimi or Gyimi, means “an auspicious land”. At its peak, over 10,000 people lived in the monastery. The grand monastery was built along the mountains and covers over 200,000 square meters. With numerous mansions and zigzagging alleys, the monastery looks like an impressive city. The monastery was founded in 1416 of the Ming Dynasty by Jamyang Qoigyi Zhaxi Bendain, a famous disciple of Zongkapa, founder of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is formed with the Coqen Hall, the 4 Zhacang colleges, the Gandain Phodrang, over 50 Kamcuns and hundreds of Myicuns under their administration.

The Coqen Hall is also known as the Sutra Hall. It is at the center of the entire monastery and all the important activities are conducted here. Measuring 50 meters long and 36 meters broad, the hall has 4 storeys and takes up 4,500 square meters. In front of the hall is a 2,000-square-meter plaza laid with stone boards. On the first floor of the Coqen Hall is the Ganggyur Lakang which houses 2 versions of the “Tripitaka” printed in Ming and Qing dynasties. It also treasures a “Ganggyur” written with golden liquid during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty. Coqen is also the name of the top administration in the monastery. Heading the administration is the Khripa Khanpo abbot, who was a weighty figure in the old Tibetan local government. Below the abbot are 2 Grand Lamas with Iron Sticks. They not only held the power of supreme discipline at the Drepung Monastery, but also took responsibility of municipal administration when Lhasa held the Grand Summons Ceremony during the Tibetan New Year. The monastery used to have 7 Zhacang colleges which later converged into 4: Losailing, Gomang, Deyang and Ngaba. Zhacang is both the college where monks study the Gelug Sect and also the management organ which functioned under Coqen. The 4 Zhacang all have their own sutra halls and Buddhist halls, as well as the Lama groups called Kamcun and Myicun.

Located in the southwestern part of the monastery, Ganden Phodrang is a completely independent architecture encircled with tall walls. While the rear courtyard serves as the sutra hall, the front courtyard was where the Dalai Lamas lived and dealt with official matters. The second Dalai Lama ordered the construction of the architecture, which grew into the political and religious center of Tibet by the time of the fifth Dalai Lama, who was able to establish supremacy by defeating all rivals. Even though Dalai Lama’s residence later moved out of Ganden Phodrang into the Potala Palce, Tibetan annals traditionally call the regime as “Ganden Phodrang” which ended in 1959 when the local Tibetan Kashak Cabinet was dismissed.

Best Time to Go

You can actually visit Drepung Monastery all year around, but the best time is during Shoton Festival in midsummer, which is held on July 1st of Tibetan calendar. At that day, a large thangka is unveiled under the sun on the mountainside, and hundreds of thousand people gather there to worship the big Buddha Thangka. Most chapels will close in the afternoon, so you may need to schedule your time in the morning. You’d better get to Drepung Monastery before dawn, as the time of Sunning the Buddha is normally around 8:30am. Just keep away from the direct sunlight at noon at ordinary times, and then you can gain an ideal light. In addition, the monks will gather outside in the shade of the trees and start their debate at 15:00pm, which is a wonderful Tibetan cultural subject.
Restaurant and Accommodation

There are some street pedlars at the foot of the Drepung Monastery, which sell a variety of snacks. It is advisable to have meals in Lhasa city.You’d better stay in the hotels or guesthouses in Lhasa city, which will be more convenient for you.

Shooting Location

On the first day of Shoton Festival, people get up early and gather in front of the stairs on the hillside. It is the busiest day around the monastery with crowded people and heavy traffic. The platform of sunning the Buddha is the perfect place to shoot the lively scene. You can capture some Lamas and pilgrims praying under the thangka and circling it in a long queue.You can only follow some regular routes to explore the Monastery, such as some grand halls, rock paintings, construction details, Lamas and pilgrims. Find beauty with your eyes in details.
Photography Plan

Drepung Monastery is located in the suburbs of Lhasa city, and it is very convenient to get there. You can spend half day to visit the Monastery at ordinary times. On Shoton Festival, you need to set out from Lhasa at 4am or camp in Drepung Monastery overnight to grab advantageous location for your shooting. It is worthwhile to spend the whole day in the Monastery to photograph colorful religious subjects.

Special Attention

Tibetan calendar is different from Chinese lunar. The date of annual Shoton Festival is not fixed. If you plan to take pictures of giant Buddha thangka, you must calculate the exact date in advance.Furthermore, it is the busiest day around the monastery with crowded people and heavy traffic. You should pay attention to the crowded road and take care of yourself. Protect your photographic equipment from the crowd.Respect the pilgrims and monks.Do not take close-up shots of them without their permission.
Lhasa River

The Lhasa River originates from Mt. Nyanchen Thanglha Gangri. It is one of the main tributaries of the YarlungTsangpo, running through Nagqu, Damxung, Lhundrup, Medrogungkar, Taktse, Chenguan, Tohlung Dechen to Chushur County. The Lhasa River is 495 kilometers long with a watershed area of 31,760 square kilometers. As a tributary of the YarlungTsangpo, Lhasa River is also a place for Tibetan to have bathes and wash their clothes in the seventh month of the Tibetan calendar. During this Bathing Festival from Garmagun in the east to Sahu in the south and Rainbow Spring at the foot of the Sera Monastery, people are enjoying their bathing and washing. A legend says during the festival the Lhasa River water is as good as the holy water. If you like, you can join the local people to have a bath in this holy water. In addition, on the southern bank of the river you can see a reflection of the Potala Palace in the river. Some photographers and fans wait here for this wonderful scene. The Tablet to mark the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway stands on the bank in front of the Long Distance Bus Station in city proper. Also visitors can hire a canoe sewn up with pieces of cattle to cross the river here.

The sacred lake Namtso

Namtso lake

Namtso Lake is the largest lake in Tibet, the 2nd largest salt water lake in China(the 1st largest is Qinghai Lake), and the world’s highest lake. It is located between the Damxung County of Lhasa and the Bango County of Nagqu region. In the Tibetan language, “Namtso Lake” means “Heavenly Lake”. The lake surface is at 4,740 meters above sea level, measuring about 70 kilometers long and 30 kilometers broad, with a surface area of 1,920 square kilometers. Because of the high altitude, you’ll need to acclimatise in and around Lhasa for a few days before heading this way. It is not unusual for visitors to ge altitude sickness on an overnight stay ou at the lake. The melted snow and ice of the Nyenchen Tangula Mountains from the main water supply of Namtso Lake. It was these mountains that Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter crossed on their incredible journey to Lhasa. With lush grass growing on the vast land near the lake, the place is the best pasture land of northern Tibet. Wildlife creatures, especially precious birds, find the place to be an ideal habitat. Besides the 5 islands in the lake, there are 5 peninsulas reaching into the lake. The Zaxi Peninsula is the largest among the 5. On the peninsula of 10 square kilometers are the Zaxi Monastery, karst caves, stone forest, naturally formed bridges and other special scenery. When the ice melts in late April, the lake is a miraculous shade of turquoise and there are magnificent views of the nearby mountains. The wide open spaces, dotted with the tents of local drokpas, are intoxicating.

Every year, many pilgrims from Tibet and nearby regions will come here. The pilgrimage, which takes about 20 to 30 days to circle the whole lake, peaks in the Year of Goat on the Tibetan Calendar.
Ideal photography time

The prime photography time is before and after sunrise or sunset within half an hour. Shoot south bay of Tashi peninsula and golden snow mountains of Nyainqentanglha Range at sunrise and north lakeshore of Tashi peninsula at sunset.
Restaurant and Accommodation

There are many tent eateries in Tashi peninsula in peak season, and most accommodations can provide Sichuan cuisine and Tibetan meal. The price is higher than that in Damxung and Lhasa. There are more eateries along the state road 190, and they have more kinds of dishes than that in Tashi peninsula. The hotels in Tashi peninsula can provide simple tent guesthouses, and costs you CNY30 each bed. The power failure often occurs at midnight. Or you can choose to stay overnight at the lake shore by camping.

Shoot Location

1.Yingbin stone

Yinbin stone is also called as Gods of Gate or couple stone of Namtso. The two huge rocks are hung with pentachromic prayer flags all year round, and surrounded by Marnyi Stones and Yak skulls, which is the perfect foreground for your photography.

2.Gassho stone

It is also called parents stone. Gassho stone is the incarnation of Nyainqentanglha Range and Namtso Lake according to a legend, which symbolizes their faithful love.

3.Good and evil hole

Tibetan Buddhism deems that god will know whatever you do, good or evil. It is just a warning bell by Buddha. This place is very close to Gassho stone and the only way to circumambulate Tashi peninsula in clockwise direction.

4.Hilltop on Tashi peninsula

The way to the hilltop is paved road. It is the commanding height to shoot Nyainqentanglha Range and Namtso Lake. Sunrise and sunset is the perfect time that you should not miss. In addition, the altitude of hilltop is at 5,000m above sea level and the wind is very strong. So it will be a strenuous climb.

Yangpachen hot springs.

The famous Yangpachen Hot Spring lies on the southern slope of the Nyenchen Tangula Mountains some 90 km to the northwest of Lhasa. It is close by the Qinghai-Tibet Highway in the Damxung County. Yangpachen is famous with its geothermal scenery. Every year, Yangpachen Hot Spring emits heat every equal to that 4.7 million tons of standard coal. Lying in a plateau basin, Yangpachen Hot Spring’s geothermal field covers 40 square km. Throughout the year, hot water at 70℃ boils and bubbles amid a thick fog. The grandest sight appears when the throttle valve is turned on, boiling water and steam will burst straight into the sky. On the background of the great Nyenchen Tangula Mountains and the vast green pasture, the white steam dragon is clearly visible several kilometers away. The area is the 1st geothermal spot developed in Tibet. It is the country’s largest high-temperature steam geothermal ground and one of the world’s major geothermal grounds already developed. Since preliminary experiments carried out in the 1970s, great achievements have been made at the geothermal power station here. For many year before the Yamdroktso Hydropower Station was completed, he electricity generated from Yangpachen Hot Spring had been the major power source for Lhasa and nearby regions.

By the end of 2000, the Yangpachen Geothermal Station had been equipped with 8 generators, each with 3,000 kilowatts of capacity, totaling 25,000 kilometers of power. The station has supplied nearly 1.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to the Lhasa power network, taking up 30 per cent of the network’s total volume. The steam turbo engines are entirely driven by geothermal energy with great advantages. In 1998, the regional Geology and Mineral Bureau and other governmental agencies in Tibet invested in a resort featuring hot spring baths that can cure diseases or strengthen the body. The Holy Medical Spring Resort now has 2 indoor warm pools and 1 outdoor swimming pool. Tourists all love to take a bath or swim in the hot springs here, for around the world, this is about the only place where people can play in the warm water at 4,200 meters above the sea level, at the foot of grand snow mountains. In a word, no one has excuse of denying the attraction of Lhasa, and it is not strange that Lhasa is a dream place for so many travellers around the world.

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