This time of year, we usually recommend destinations in warmer climates. But, you’d be surprised to learn that the “Rooftop of the World” is an excellent place to visit in the winter. Sort out your travel permit, pack some warm clothes, and you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous mountain scenery, clear azure skies, and a fascinating culture.
And if those three factors alone don’t convince you, perhaps deep discounts will. In October of this year, Tibet’s provincial government launched a series of policy initiatives to boost the tourism industry this time of year. Some of the initiatives include free visits to key attractions, like the Potala Palace in Lhasa, discounts of 50 percent or more on flights into the region, and comparable discounts on stays in hotels rated three stars and above. All of this is going on until March 15, 2020.
There is a lot of ground to cover in Lhasa, but there are a few things that you absolutely cannot miss on a visit there. The Potala Palace is a good place to start. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, this massive structure cuts a striking figure in the skyline of Lhasa. Built in the seventh century, it served for 317 years as the seat of the Tibetan government and was the palace of the Dalai Lamas. About a kilometer due east of the Potala is the Jokhang Temple. This pilgrimage site is the spiritual heart of Lhasa. It was built in the seventh century by King Songtsen Gampo to house Buddhist relics brought to him by his two wives, Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty and Princess Burikuti of present-day Nepal. Its unique architecture is a combination of Han, Indian, Nepalese, and Tibetan styles.In the northern outskirts of Lhasa, you’ll find Sera Monastery, a key religious center for the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Sera is famed for its unique and lively debate sessions, in which the monks test their mastery of Buddhist doctrine. Debates are open to the public, and while you are there, you can view a collection of precious relics, scriptures, and works of art. Outside of Lhasa, the surrounding areas offer an abundance of breathtaking scenery. Roughly 240km north of the city, Namtso Lake is not to be missed. The still waters of this salt lake (Tibet’s second largest) reflect the surrounding mountainous terrain and hilly grasslands like a mirror. That means endless opportunities for beautiful snapshots.Roughly the same distance away to the southwest of Lhasa is the charming town of Gyantse in the heart of Tibet’s fertile farmland. Here you’ll find some stunning specimens of Tibetan Buddhist architecture, like the Gyantse Kumbun, Tibet’s largest Chorten, or reliquary tower. It resides in Palcho Monastery, a center for the three sects of Sakya, Kadam, and Gelug sects. Gyantse Dzong is also not to be missed. This well-preserved fortress juts out over the town and offers stunning views.