The greatest thing Lhasa has going for it is its culture. The barren perch on which it sits is hardly a beacon to the jet set crowd. The local cuisine is hearty, but not much grows in this landscape, so true creativity needs to be at play for something delicious to spring forth. The nightlife is limited at best and you'll sooner see pigs fly than see a street lined with bars and clubs pop up in the midst of the city. It is Lhasa'a unique and mysterious culture that brings travelers in from around the world, whether it is the street bazaars and prayer circuits of the Barkhor area, the ancient palaces and isolated monasteries or the museums and other modern activities of the western and more Chinese Lhasa. You'll find no other place in the world like this, which makes it quite a tempting cultural excursion.
There are three world-heritage sites in Lhasa: the Potala Palace, the Norbulingka Summer Palace, and the Jokhang Temple. Prior to Chinese occupation, the Potala Palace was the expansive living quarters of the Dalai Lama, while today it is the most spectacular structure in the city, looking down from upon a hill. The Norbulingka Summer Palace is just south, representing another living complex for the excommunicated Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, and is worth a half day tour of its grounds and historical rooms. Finally, the Jokhang Temple is the fourteen century-old center of Tibetan Buddhist worship, anchoring the splendid antiquity that is the Barkhor district.
Speaking of the Barkhor district, it is your best chance to see Lhasa as it was prior to being absorbed by China, with markets that sell authentic Tibetan rugs, waft incense, and provide sightings of the devout walking or prostrating themselves clock-wise around Barkhor Square. Heading west into the greater city will introduce you to the city's museums and more modern cultural establishments, the most salient of which is the Tibet Museum, which is excellent despite its pro-China bias. Then again, just outside of the city are three other important Tibetan monasteries about seven centuries old, all three of which are beautifully set into the mountainous landscape: Ganden, Sera, and Drepung. Any and all of these are worth the time to see the monks pursuing their spiritual journeys in solitude.
For an opportunity to engage in a culture that is significantly different than most in an environment that is wholly unique, choose Lhasa. For more information on individual activities, consult our listings. Even better, engage with our community and start the planning that leads you to breaking the mold and experience a part of the world not many get to see.