Tibet, the Roof of the World
sangye.jpg - 12808 Bytes Located on the southwest frontier of China, on the Qinghai - Tibetan Plateau proper, Tibet Autonomous Region has an average altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level. Tibet covers a land area of 1.2 million square km, which is about 1/8 of that of the whole China. Among the population of 2.26 million, 95% are Tibetan. Tibet borders Sichuan province on the east, Shinjiang and Qinghai on the north, Yunnan on the Southeast, Kashimir on the west and India, Nepal, Burma, Sikkim, Bhutan on the South. The current Chinese name of Xizang came from Qing Government. For centuries, Tibetan people called themselves Bo.

Lhasa is Tibet's political, cultural, economic and religious center. Sitting on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, Tibet owns 11 of the world's tallest mountain peaks that are above 8,000 meters above sea level. The world's summit, Himalaya, which strides across the boarders between China and Nepal, claims a height of 8,848.13 meters above sea level. Lhasa is also called "the Third Pole of the Globe".

Tibet is characterized with its unique plateau climate because of its altitude: Thin air, 60-70% that of the sea level; Less oxygen, 35-40% less than that of the sea level; lower air pressure, only half of that of the sea level.
Tibet City Ratings
** The following ratings are based on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.
History(8) Art(7) Local Culture/Unique Tour(8)
Nature/Scenic(9)     Food/Shopping(2) Night Life(1)
Religion(10)    Adventure/Sports(4) Reasonable Cost(4)
Recommended Days of Stay: 7 Lhasa City Map

 
Quick Facts
Area - 1,200,000 square km
Population - 2.26 million
People - Tibetan, Han, Menba, Hui
When to go
Tourist Season - April to October
Coldest Months - December to February with temperature as low as - 15C;
Hottest Months - July and August, with temperature as high as 27C;
Annual Precipitation - 500 millimeters (mainly in June and July)
Getting In and Out
By Air - Lhasa is reached by two daily flights from Chengdu , and two flights a week from Beijing, Kathmandu and Chongqing. It also has one flight a week from Xi'an. The airport, Gonggar Airport, is 100 km from Lhasa;

By Bus - Lhasa is 30 hours away by bus from Golmud (1,100 km);

Permit - You will need to get authorization sent from the Tibet Tourism Bureau. Note, when applying for a Chinese visa from overseas, do not put Tibet in the application form. If you do, the Chinese consulate will need to see your permit from the Tibet Tourism Bureau first.
Customs
- Name, Clothing and Food

Tibetan people bear no family names. Their names always make references to Buddhism, nature, important events, etc. The robes Tibetans wear are typically traditionally made from woolen materials and are decorated with precious metals and stones. The design is large and loose. The robes are usually longer then people's height. Tibetans usually tighten the robe with red, green or gray belts. Thus, they can carry many daily usage items in the robe. During summer and fall, they usually tie the right sleeves to their belts instead of wearing them.

Tibetans' main diet consists of barley cakes, butter tea, barley liquor and wind-dried beef and mutton. Ball shaped barley cakes are made from barley flour and butter tea. They play the same role as bread does in western diet. Tibetan butter is also used as donation to temples. Barley liquor is a kind of home made low-proof liquor that has a sweet and sour taste. When winter comes, Tibetans cut Yak meat and mutton into strips and hang them in cold and dry places. This wind-dried meat can be eaten raw or cooked on fire. The taste is quite different but delicious.

- Marriage

Before the communists took over Tibet, Tibetans were quite class conscious. Butchers, hunters and undertakers were considered as untouchables. They were restricted from marrying common people. All monks, except for Gelu Sect ones, were allowed to marry.

Despite the local differences, men and women must first consult a living Buddha to see if their marriages are suitable according to holy scripts. During engagement, men and women are supposed to exchange hadas. After engagement, couples will pick their lucky dates and sign their marriage certificates. Traditional Tibetan marriage ceremonies usually last three days. Dowry must contain three very important things regardless of the wealth of the parties: a small gold Buddha statue, a set of holy scripts and a small Buddhist Pagoda.

- Funerals

Many tourists are very intrigued by Tibetan burial practices. In Tibet, the kind of funeral one deserves depends upon the social and economic status of the dead.

Heaven funeral is most common among Tibet. As Tibetan people believe that their ancestors came from heaven, they must join their ancestors after death. The family must pray for the dead for several days with the help of Buddhist monks before it can be carried away to the Heaven Funeral Altar. The body will then be dismembered and left to be swallowed up by vultures.

Fire funeral is respectfully reserved for the dead Lamas and the nobles.

Pagoda burial can only be for Banchen Lama and Dalai Lama. After burial, the pagodas will then be decorated with gold and precious stones.

Water burial is for beggars and widowers. Undertakers usually carry the bodies to the riverside. The corpses will then either be dismembered and thrown in the river or wrapped in pieces of white cloth and dropped in the river.

Earth burial is for people who died of contagious diseases or criminals.

- Etiquette

One needs to present Hada when visiting or being visited, paying respect to elders or to the Buddhist statues and celebrating weddings or holidays. Hada is a long and white piece of silk representing traditional purity, loyalty, respect, blessings and happiness.

One needs to bow with his hat in hand when meeting respectful elders. He only needs to nod to friends or ordinary people with smile.

- Holidays

Tibetan New Year is as important as the Spring Festival is to the Han people. At the beginning of the 12th month by Tibetan Calendar, New Year Celebration stages on. When New Year's Day breaks, Tibetans carry barley wine with them to greet each other "Tashideld" (Good luck and happiness to you). One is not allowed to clean the house on this day. People sing and dance and visit relatives or friends for several days to follow.

Butter Lamp Festival is the 15th of the first month by Tibetan calendar. Lamas from every temple and craftsmen make butter flowers with colored butter and hang them on the shafts in front of Jokhong Temple. When night comes, the butter flowers are lit. Legendary figures, birds and animals painted on the lamps are vivid and colorful. People sing and dance under the lamps until day breaks.

Buddha's Anniversary Day is the 15th day of the fourth month according to Tibetan calendar. It is a day to celebrate Sakyamuni's birth.

Lingka Day is the 15th day of the fifth month according to Tibetan calendar. It is also called "Happiness to the World Day." During this holiday, Tibetans devote the entire time to enjoy the beauty of nature.

The Sholdon Festival takes place on the 30th day of the sixth month. Sholdon means Tibetan Opera. During this holiday, Tibetan drama troupes perform Tibetan operas and dramas in Potala Palace and Norbulingka. A giant "Tangka" Budda is spread on the hill slope for the homage paying of the people.

Ongkor Festival is a holiday of Tibetan people looking forward to a harvest. It is usually celebrated when crops are ripe. It will usually last for three days. Sports competitions such as horse racing, weight listing will be held. Tibetan people start the intense autumn harvest right after the festival.

History


The Potala Palace * * * * *
Located on the Moburi Mountain northwest of Lhasa city, the Palace is well-known as a palace and fortress. It is the essence of Tibetan architecture. It was built in the seventh century by King Songtsan Gambo for his bride, the Han nationality Princess Wencheng. The Potala Palace was the official residence of the Dalai Lama, the religious and secular head of Tibet. Covering an area of 41 hectares, its stone-and-wood main building has 13 stories, measuring 110 meters high. The fine palace roofs are covered with gilded tiles of bronze. The Potala had 999 rooms, plus the original read tower, one thousand rooms in all.

The palace is divided into Red Palace and White Palace. The former holds Dalai Lamas' Saint Ashes Pagodas and different temples, while the latter is the place where Dalai Lamas lived and worked. Potala Palace is the largest museum of cultural relics in Tibet.

The Potala Palace has been repaired and renovated many times to get to its present scale.


Tibetan Royal Tombs * * *
These are the tombs of Tibetan royal families. The Yumbulakang Palace was built in 228 B.C. by the first Tibetan King. Lake Yamdrok Yamsto is a one-day excursion from Lhasa. It's a large undeveloped lake, meant for the adventurous to enjoy the stark countryside.

Local Culture/Unique Tour
School of Tibetan Performing Arts * *
Founded in 1980, School of Tibetan Performing Arts allows foreign visitors to attend music and opera rehearsals.

Tibetan Traditional Medicine Hospital * * *
Tibetan traditional medicine has always been a mystery to the outside world. The practice of using precious stone, metals and animal parts has fascinated many people. Take a trip to the Tibetan Traditional Medicine Hospital and feed your curiosity.

Nature/Scenic
Holy Mountain and Holy Lake * * * *
Holy Mountain and Holy Lake are located in the boundary of Pulan county. It is one of the holiest places for Tibetan Buddhists. Many legendary monks and lamas spent time here meditating and preaching the truth of Buddhism. There are many historic monasteries with invaluable treasures around the Holy Mountain. The Holy Lake is believed to be able to help people wash away their sins. As long as the believers circle the lake once and wash themselves at each of the four sides of the lake, they can get rid of all the sins they committed.

Himalayas* * * * *
Himalayas Peak strides across the boarder between China and Nepal. It is 88848.13 meters above sea level. It is the tallest mountain on earth. Mountaineers call it the "Third Pole on earth". Within 5,000 square meters around Himalayas, there are 4 peaks over 8,000 meters and 38 over 7,000 meters. The Rongbu Temple at the peak's foot claims to be the world's highest temple. It is only 40 km to the peak. Many climbers use it as the headquarters before their final assault to the "Third Pole".

Stroll Along the Lhasa River * * * *
Because of Lhasa's altitude, 3,500 meters (12,000 feet) above sea level, most visitors need to take it easy the first few days in order to get acclimatized to the thin air. The best way to do this is to start your itinerary with a few short outings, taking rests in between. Strolls around the city and out along the banks of the Lhasa River are an excellent and not taxing introduction to life in Tibet. It will make you feel less like a visitor, but more like a local.

Quangtang Grasslands * * * *
Quangtang grasslands is a 200,000 square km nature reserve with 60 kinds of rare wild animals such as yak, argali, bear, and wild donkeys. It is approximately 850 km from Lhasa.

Shigatse * * * *
On the new highway, Shigatse is about a five-hour journey 260 km west of Lhasa. Most tourists come to Shigatse for Tashilumbu Monastery, the biggest Yellow Sect Monastery in Tibet. Founded in 1447 Tashilumbu was the home of the Panchen Lamas, the reincarnations of the Eternal Light Buddha. This monastery consists of Palace hall, Gambu Conference Hall, Panchan Maita and the Scripture Hall. In the 5-story Scripture Hall, a 26.2-meter sitting Maitreya statue is enshrined. According to historical records, 6.700 ounces of gold and over 115.000 kg of copper were used for the casting. It's the biggest copper Buddhist statue in the world. Pictures of British Prime Minister Major and US President George Bush are also displayed here on a stupa.

Tashilumbu is a beautiful monastery, for it rises in stately terraces to a central gilded roof with decorated eaves and finials. Its distinctive rose-colored walls are inset with dark wooden widows that are brightened with whitewashed borders. The monastery still practices the art of making mandalas (abstract meditation pictures) of colored sands. It courtyard has a high thangka wall, on which the huge colored pictures are unfurled in the sun during the festivals.


Gyantse * * * *
If you are looking for an isolated town to visit, Gyantse is the place to go. It is about 205 km from the airport outside Lhasa.

Built in the 15th century, the Baiju Monastery is located in the city proper of Gyantse County. It is a monastery that embraces all sects of Buddhism, which is rare in Tibet. Standing in the monastery, Wanfo (Ten-thousand Buddhas) Tower was built in 1414 in 10 years and took 1 million work days. Reputed as the best of Tibetan towers, the 11-story tower has 108 doors and 77 Buddhist halls, shrines and scripture halls. On the walls in the tower are tens of thousands of murals and scriptures with unique artistic features combining traditional Tibetan art and that of India and other foreign countries.

Food/ Shopping
Barkhor * * * *
Around the Hokhang Temple, there is Barkhor street. Tibetan boots, blankets, rugs, jewelry, temple bells, prayer wheels, and all sorts of Tibetan style items are for sale here. You can also buy Tibetan tangkas here.

Potala Arts and Crafts * * * *
It is at the foot of the Potala Palace selling Tibetan arts.

Khawachen Carpet Factory * * *
Tibetan carpets, with their Buddhist motifs, are extremely attractive. You can watch them being made at the Carpet Factory.

Snow Land Restaurants * * *
4 Yiyuan Road
Great place for pizza


Hard Yak Caf¨¦
Lhasa Hotel
The place for yak burgers and spaghetti

Religion
Religions are an integral part of Tibet's politics, economics, literature, art and customs through out its history regardless of the origin of the religions. Among the peoples of China, Tibetan people's religion beliefs are the most deep-rooted. Therefore, one has to study Tibet's religions in order to understand its unique culture.

The indigenous primitive religion was called Beno before the 7th century, whose believers believed in the being in everything of the holy spirit. The high ministers of that religion presided over almost everything on earth. Therefore, they were the most powerful men in Tibet, even more important than the kings. Buddhism was introduced into Tibet after the 7th century. After centuries of ups and downs, it flourished throughout Tibet from the 10th century on. Gelu Sect, founded by Chonghaba, became the most influential in Tibet since then.

Tibetan Buddhism is characterized with its overall involvement in political, economic and everyday life in Tibet. It was influenced by Buddhism from Nepal, India, China and Beno Ministers.

Two influential Buddhists are especially memorable in Tibetan Buddhism: one is the Indian Shamanist Lianhuasheng who established the first temple-Samye in Tibet and organized the translation of holy script; The other is Chongkhaba whose religious reform made Gelu Sect's the most influential sect.

Jokhang Monastery * * * * *
Jokhang Temple is the most important Buddhist temple in Tibet. Standing at the center of Lhasa city, the Monastery was built in 647 by King Songtsan Gambo to commemorate Princess Wen Cheng's arrival in Tibet. Through several renovations it became a large building group, with an area of over 25,000 sq. meters. The monastery has four stories. Its roofs are covered with gilded tiles of bronze. It was built in the style of Tang Dynasty structures and adopted the characteristics of architecture from Nepal and India In the center of the main hall, gilded statue of young Sakyamuni brought to Tibet by Princess Wen Cheng from Chang'an (present Xi'an) is enshrined. In the side halls, statues of King Songtsan Gambo, Princess Wen Cheng and Nepalese Princess Chizun are also enshrined.

The Great Prayer Festival is held annually here from the third to 25th of the first month by Tibetan calendar.

Sera Monastery * * * *
The Sera Monastery was built in 1419 and extended in the early 18th century. It is one of the four major monasteries in Tibet, housing as many as 10,000 lamas and monks at one time. The most impressive relic in the monetary is a gold statue of an 11-faced Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.

Drepung Monastery * * * *
Built in 1416 and located at the northwest suburb 5 km from Lhasa, it is the largest of the six shamanist monasteries in China. It occupies a land area of 250,000 square meters and had once housed 10,000 monks, among whom many became top Buddhist talent. The 5th Dalai Lama lived here before he moved to Potala Palace. There are abundance of historic relics and Buddhist scriptures in Drepung Monastery.

Samye Monastery * * * *
Built in 779 by the second king of Tibet, the Samye Monastery is the first monastery in Tibet for monks to dwell in. It mixed different constructive styles, with the first floor in Tibetan style, the middle in Han style while the top in Indian style.

Adventure/Sports
Norbulingka * * * * *
Situated in the western suburbs of Lhasa city, Norbulingka (Treasure Garden) was built in the 1740s during the reign of the 7th Dalai Lama. Later it was renovated and enlarged and became the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas. Each year from April to September the Dalai Lama would handle political affairs and hold festivals in the park. Covering an area of 36,000 sq. meters, the park consists of three parts, the palace district, district in front of the palace, and the forest district. About half of the park is covered with forests.

The New Palace for the 14th Dalai Lama was built in 1954 and 1956. It is full of statues and murals. The bedroom is kept the way it was when the current Dalai Lama left it before fleeing to India. In the 1940s, the German mountain climber Heinrich Harrer lived in Tibet for seven years and set up a movie theatre for the Dalai Lama here. His stories and experiences were recorded in his book and later the movie "Seven Years in Tibet".


Yak-skin Raft * * * *
For the more adventure minded people, Tibet can also give you the thrill of your life. Yak-skin raft can be such a treat. Get on it and experience how Tibetan people have ridden the rough waters on the "Roof of the world".

 

 

 
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