Top 6 Sights in Tibet
Welcome to the land of snow! The Tibetan Plateau is also referred to as the roof of the world because of the insane altitude in which it’s located. Most of the country is well above 4000m! Tibet’s combination of high altitude, vast land, and stunning landscapes have shaped its wonderful people to create one of the most fascinating cultures on the planet. Trying to name Tibet’s top sights is almost impossible due to the amount of ancient temples, bustling towns, and soaring glacier mountain peaks, but here are six sights that you should keep on your radar if you’re planning a trip to Tibet – the roof of the world.
JOKHANG TEMPLE, LHASA
Tibet’s most sacred temple, Jokhang is the spiritual heart and centre of Tibetan Buddhism in Lhasa. Visiting here in the early hours of the morning, you will follow in the footsteps of hundreds of pilgrims from every corner of Tibet. As you enter its smoky ancient corridors, you will find endless chapels filled with gold deities and fearsome gods. The walls are adorned in traditional thangka paintings that tell stories of Tibet’s deep and rich history. The center of the temple has a Buddha statue that is believed to have been created in front of Buddha himself! This is where the temple is at its liveliest and the air is thin with juniper incense, butter lamps, and the murmur of monks. Jokhang is a must for all visitors to the Tibetan Plateau.
Most visitors focus on Lhasa and surrounding areas, but Tibet’s most sacred mountain and pilgrimage is actually hundreds of kilometres away. In the far western corner of Ngari is Mount Kailash. For thousands of years, Buddhists and Hindus have been completing the Kora Pilgrimage (walking in a clockwise fashion around a sacred site or object) here. Joining the pilgrims and completing a Kora is a journey that you will never forget, but be warned this is not for the faint-hearted. The three to four day trek takes you through beautiful mountain valleys, ancient temples, and a 5700 m pass! If you are physically capable, then venturing to western Tibet to see the world’s holiest mountain is quite possibly one of Tibet’s greatest journeys.
EVEREST BASE CAMP (EBC)
The world’s tallest peak is surely on almost every traveler’s bucket list, but seeing Everest from the Tibet side is something that few can say. Everest basecamp (EBC) is much more accessible on the Tibet side, and you can see much more of the mountain itself compared to its Nepal counterpart. Since you are able to drive all the way to Tibet’s EBC, you can spend more time exploring and taking in the mountain views! EBC is also a sacred place for the Tibetan people. The highest monastery in the world, Rongphu, is located here. EBC also has great accommodations, whether you need a hotel or would like to stay in a traditional yak hair tent. Staying overnight gives you the chance to witness this mighty peak at sunrise, one of Tibet’s finest experiences. Be sure to spend plenty of time acclimating before you make the journey here, however, as basecamp sits at 5000m! Mild altitude sickness is something most travelers here experience. If you’re looking for the real Mount Everest experience, try out Tibet’s high altitude Everest Basecamp.
This historic monastery and Kumbum (a multi-storied aggregate of Buddhist chapels in Tibetan Buddhism) is located in one of the most traditional and atmospheric towns in Tibet, Gyantse. Unlike the rest of Tibet, Gyantse has largely stayed out of the mass Chinese development scene keeping its cobblestone streets and monasteries at its best! The Kumbum, is a large white Stupa located in the centre of the monastery complex. Circulating the monastery up to its top floor you will pass countless shrines each with its own deity and thangka paintings. From the top of the Kumbum you can peer out over the ancient sprawling city of Gyantse as pilgrims have done before you for centuries. The Kumbum is surrounded by several other monasteries that house sacred relics saved from the Cultural Revolution. Gyantse Kumbum is one of the best places in Tibet to get up close and personal with Tibet before the uprising. It’s also a great place to talk with locals and learn more about this incredible place!
Set at 4730 m, Namtso is one of the world’s highest altitude lakes, and definitely one of the most beautiful as well. With its close proximity to Lhasa, Namtso can technically be visited as a day trip from Lhasa, but to truly take in the holy lake you should stay the night, or even better complete the two week Kora around it! Namtso’s bright blue waters, and holy white yaks will shock even the well-traveled Tibetan overlanders. Completing the Tashi Dor Kora will only take you a few hours, but will give you a great insight to the spiritual side of Namtso. You will walk by ancient cliff side temples, holes in which you must crawl through to eliminate sin, and plenty of those hairy white yaks. Staying overnight you can climb one of the nearby hills to take in sunrise and sunset over the lake!
POTALA PALACE, LHASA
The previous residence of the Dalai Lama is probably the first thing you will see upon arrival to Tibet. This massive palace dominates the skyline of Lhasa, and you are guaranteed to spend much the time feeling giddy seeing it. To see Potala, your guide will have to prearrange tickets as they only allow a certain number of visitors in each day. After your guide has secured your ticket you can begin your walk up the hundreds of steps to arrive at the top of the entrance of Potala. The place has over a thousand rooms, but you will have to follow the main tourist route put out by the Chinese government. This, however, is an amazing route! You will pass by the lavish living quarters of the previous Dalai Lama, see stunning views from the palace roof top, and explore the tombs of Dalai Lama’s long ago in the deep center of the palace.