THINGS TO DO IN TIBET: EXPLORING POTALA PALACE AND BARKHOR STREET

Tibet is just as amazing as you imagined and there are plenty of things to do in Tibet. On the afternoon of the third day of a grueling journey, we finally drove into Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, ready to explore Potala Palace and Barkhor Street and the city itself. You imagine Lhasa is going to be strictly monasteries and monks. There is plenty of that but parts of the city are surprisingly modern.

Tibetan prayer flags waving in the wind in Lhasa, Tibet.

Prayer flags fluttering over the mountains of Tibet

THINGS TO DO IN TIBET: EXPLORE POTALA PALACE

Entering the city my first sight of Potala Palace was one of those “Oh, I’ll never forget this” moments you experience while traveling.

Things to do in Tibet. Lhasa, Tibet Potala Palace at the end of the journey to Tibet across central China

At the end of the journey to Tibet across central China lies the Potala Palace

The sheer size and scope of Potala Palace dominate the city and it can be seen from virtually everywhere.  At night the Palace is even more impressive.

Potala Palace at night in Lhasa, Tibet

Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

The Potala Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the home of the Dalai Lama until he fled to India in 1959 after the Tibetan uprising. Construction started in 1645 reportedly over an already existing structure from 637AD. It’s actually two separate palaces. The White Palace houses previous Dalai Lama tombs, the traditional home of the Dalai Lama and monks quarters. The Red Palace is strictly used for religious purposes.  Today it is a fascinating museum. Since the Palace has 1000 rooms and over 200,000 statues, it would take weeks to see in its entirety but there are many other things to do in Tibet.

Getting to the Palace is almost as arduous as getting to Tibet. The 2,564 steps to the Palace are very steep but the views are magnificent.

Things to do in Tibet. Climbing Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

Climbing Potala Palace

THINGS TO DO IN TIBET: WALKING CLOCKWISE ON BARKHOR STREET

Besides Potala Palace, the must-see in Lhasa, Tibet is Barkhor Street.  This street is remarkable in many ways and is exactly what you imagine Lhasa would look like. First of all, it’s a circular street.   Tradition dictates that people walk on the street in a clockwise direction circling the Jokhang Temple, another must-see religious site.  Walking in the opposite direction is not prohibited but it’s like fighting a commuter crowd during rush hour. The people watching here is rivaled only by what you see on a New York City subway train.  Since this is a holy site for Tibetans, devotions are performed on the street in public view.  They bow and drag themselves on the street in the direction of the temple with padding attached to their knees and wood slabs protecting their hands. Exploring this street and walking it in a clockwise direction is one of the most interesting things to do in Tibet.

The shops on Barkhor Street sell the same souvenirs you see throughout Asia with one exception; true, beautiful Tibetan jewelry which is unique to the area. The problem is there are so many degrees of quality at so many different prices that you need a degree in Tibetan jewelry before you feel comfortable enough to buy.

THINGS TO DO IN TIBET: SAMPLE THE CUISINE

Tibetan food is delicious with Chinese and Indian influences. Meat dishes tend to be heavy consisting of yak and goat served in a spicy stew with vegetables. Yak yogurt, butter, and cheese are pretty common and considered a specialty of the area. The one ubiquitous drink is yak butter tea. I couldn’t imagine what yak butter tea would taste like and I was surprised to find it tasted as nothing more exotic than common every- day English tea with milk. Sampling Tibetan cuisine is a delightful experience you cannot miss as you explore things to do in Tibet.

With the advent of tourism Lhasa, Tibet has opened many excellent restaurants to accommodate international visitors; Thai, Nepalese, Indian, and of course, Chinese. There are even a couple of hamburger joints. Most Tibetans, however, congregate in large food halls where two or three daily specials are served accompanied by yak butter tea.

Things to do in Tibet: Eat yak meat dish with vegetables on Barkhor Street in Lhasa, Tibet.

Yak ribs. Yummy

Getting to Lhasa, Tibet and exploring Potala Palace and Barkhor Street was well worth the effort. The people we met on the journey and in Tibet itself were kind and gracious.  What I loved the most were the unique sights, traditions and food.   Lhasa, Tibet is as magical and mystical as the name implies.

I hope this post can help you explore the many things to do in Tibet. What’s the most unique place you have ever visited?  What are your thoughts on visiting Lhasa, Tibet and exploring Potala Palace and Barkhor Street?

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