Lhasa and Shigatse: The Heart of Tibetan

Lhasa and Shigatse
Lhasa and Shigatse

Lhasa and Shigatse are two of the most main cities of the Tibet autonomous region with a lot of historical background, cultural heritage, and beautiful sceneries. It presents the tourists with a different world from the tight streets of Lhasa to the peaceful monasteries of Shigatse. This article explores more about these cities giving details on places to visit, cultural activities to do and other important information.

Lhasa: The Place of the Gods

The city of Lhasa means “The Place of the Gods” is the political capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the religious center of Tibetan Buddhism. Located at an altitude of approximately 3,650 meters or 11,975 feet above sea level, it is one of the highest cities in the world and perched amongst the mountains it has an almost other worldly feel.

Lhasa and Shigatse

Key Attractions in Lhasa

1. Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is the most famous building and a world heritage site located in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. This massive palace which was the winter retreat of the Dalai Lama is located on Red Hill with a commanding view of the town. The palace is architectural wonder which has more than 1000 rooms and it displays Tibetan culture, art and history. One can visit many chapels, shrines, and halls that hold many beautiful paintings and sculptures.

2. Jokhang Temple

The Jokhang Temple is the most important temple of the Tibetan Buddhist, situated in the middle of Lhasa. It was established in the 7th century by the King Songtsen Gampo and holds a precious statue of Buddha obtained from Nepal by the queen named Bhrikuti. The temple is a focal point for the people of Tibet and especially the pilgrims who walk around the temple – the kora, in the process of which they may lie down on the ground, almost like crawling.

3. Norbulingka

Norbulingka means ‘Treasure Park’, was the seasonal palace of the Dalai Lamas before they fled Tibet. This vast garden and palace will be a beautiful and quiet place with flowers, trees, and lakes. It is a perfect place for walking and representing a kind of a secret courtyard of the Dalai Lamas.

4. Barkhor Street

Barkhor Street is a busy market and the holy path around the Jokhang Temple. Here people can get a taste of the Tibetan way of life buying local products such as handicrafts, prayer flags, incense and many other things. Local Tibetan food is also easily available in the street.

Lhasa and Shigatse

Cultural Highlights in Lhasa

1. Monastic Debates

Another characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism is the debating which is more of a philosophical exercise done by monks. It is possible to observe these debates at monasteries like Sera and Drepung, where monks engage in debates in open courtyards and use clapping to make their points and question the other person’s knowledge of Buddhist scriptures.

2. Festivals

Lhasa has a number of significant festivals that help to reveal the essence of Tibetan traditions. Tibetans New Year is known as Losar which is adorned with dances, feasts and other religious ceremonies. One of the other important celebrations is Shoton Festival or the Yogurt Festival where Tibetan operas and the opening of the giant thangka paintings at the Drepung Monastery is held.

Lhasa and Shigatse

Shigatse: The Seat of the Panchen Lama

Shigatse, also known as Xigazê, second largest city and it is also known as the traditional capital of the Panchen Lama, the second highest authority in Tibetan Buddhism. Shigatse is a cultural and historical city located at the height of 3,800 meters or 12,467 feet above the sea level.

Key Attractions in Shigatse

1. Tashilhunpo Monastery

It was established in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama and is the birth place of the Panchen Lama and the monastery of Gelugpa. It is one of the six great Gelugpa monasteries of Tibet and a important place of worship. It is a monastery that contains the largest seated Maitreya statue and numerous shrines with beautiful paintings and relics.

2. Mount Everest Base Camp

Shigatse Prefecture has the northern base camp of Mount Everest and therefore, is a favorite destination for mountaineers. The trek to the Everest Base Camp is quite strenuous but it is worth the effort as one gets to see some of the most beautiful views of the Himalayas and feels a great sense of achievement when one gets to the base camp.

3. Sakya Monastery

The Sakya Monastery is one of the biggest monasteries affiliated to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism and is set about 160 kilometers away from Shigatse. This monastery is easily recognized by its gray walls and red and white stripes; it also contains a library of over 21 volumes of the Kangyur.

4. Rongbuk Monastery

Rongbuk Monastery which is at the Mount Everest Base Camp is the highest monastery of the world standing at an altitude of 4980 meters or 16340 feet. The monastery gives a spectacular view of Mount Everest and is a pilgrimage center for climbers and trekkers for meditation purposes.

Cultural Highlights in Shigatse

1. Tibetan Festivals

Shigatse has several festivals whereby the culture of the region is well depicted to the people of the region and the world at large. The Tashilhunpo Thangka Painting Exhibition held in July includes the unveiling of large thangkas and Tibetan dances and songs. Tourists can also enjoy the Tibetan opera which is a form of opera that incorporates singing, dancing, and acting to tell stories of history and religion.

2. Traditional Tibetan Crafts

Shigatse also has many traditional craft products such as thangka paintings, carpets, and Tibetan knives. These crafts are usually produced with traditional methods which have been handed down from one generation to another, thus depicting the culture of the region.

Travel Tips for Lhasa and Shigatse

1. Acclimatization

Lhasa and Shigatse are cities situated at high altitude thus one has to prepare for the altitude sickness. It is advisable to take some time in Lhasa before moving to higher altitudes of Tibet. Ensure you take a lot of water, do not engage in any strenuous activities and if you are experiencing some of the symptoms, it is advisable to take altitude sickness medication.

2. Permits

For instance, one has to get special permits to travel to Tibet. Besides Chinese visa, one is required to have Tibet Travel Permit which can only be acquired from a registered tour operator. It is possible that there will be additional permit needed in some special places like Mount Everest Base Camp and some monasteries.

3. Best Time to Visit

The most appropriate season to travel to Lhasa and Shigatse is during the months of May to October as the climate is relatively better for traveling and other forms of activities. These are the months when the temperature is comparatively low and the skies are mostly clear making it ideal to go out and about or trekking.

4. Local Etiquette

It is advisable to be polite when in religious places and with the locals and ensure that one does not offend any of the Tibetan cultural beliefs. Avoid exposing too much skin, take off your hats when going to temples, and when going round shrines or other sacred places, do it in anti-clockwise direction. snapping photos may not be allowed in some sections, so one should check if permission can be granted to do so.

5. Language

While Tibetan is the primary language spoken in Lhasa and Shigatse, many locals also understand Mandarin Chinese. Learning a few basic phrases in Tibetan or Mandarin can enhance your travel experience and help you connect with the local people.


Lhasa and Shigatse offer a profound journey into the heart of Tibetan culture and spirituality. From the grandeur of the Potala Palace and the sacred Jokhang Temple in Lhasa to the historical Tashilhunpo Monastery and the awe-inspiring Mount Everest Base Camp in Shigatse, these cities are rich with experiences that leave a lasting impression.

Travelers are drawn to Lhasa and Shigatse not only for their stunning landscapes and architectural marvels but also for the deep sense of spirituality and cultural heritage that permeates every corner of these cities. Whether you are a pilgrim seeking spiritual enlightenment or an adventurer looking to explore the Himalayas, Lhasa and Shigatse offer a unique and unforgettable journey.

By respecting local customs, acclimatizing to the high altitudes, and immersing yourself in the rich cultural tapestry of these cities, you can experience the true essence of Tibet. From the vibrant festivals and monastic debates to the serene monasteries and bustling market streets, Lhasa and Shigatse are destinations that captivate the heart and soul.

Embark on a journey to Lhasa and Shigatse withe yellowbirdtour and discover the timeless beauty and spiritual depth of Tibet, a land where tradition and modernity coexist harmoniously, and where the echoes of ancient chants resonate in the majestic mountains.

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