Lhasa 拉萨

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Tibet offers fabulous monastery sights, breathtaking high-altitude treks, stunning views of the world's highest mountains, and one of the world's most intriguing people and culture. Located at the bottom of a small basin surrounded by mountains, Lhasa sits 3,650 meters above sea level at the center of the Tibetan Plateau. Known as the Roof of the World, Tibet has long been a favorite destination for tourists both in China and abroad. The mysterious Buddhist holy place was hidden from the outside world for thousands of years and for adventurers and traders it was a legendary land of treasure and riches.

Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, covers an area of 544 square kilometers and is "The Land of Gods" in Tibetan, sits on the north bank of River Lhasa, a tributary of the Yarlung Tsangbo River, at an altitude of 3,700 meters. It has a history of over 13 centuries. With more than 3,000 hours of sunshine annually, Lhasa is famed as " the City of Sunshine". It is the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region and the center of Tibet's political, economic, cultural and religious activities. There are many historic sites and famous relics in the city proper and its suburbs, among which the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Ramoche Temple, Norbulingka Palace, and three great monasteries of Ganden, Drepung and Sera are world famous.

Before the mid-seventh century when Lhasa, later a central town of Tibetan region, was yet to come into being, the area called Wotang was a marshy land of wildness, frequented by antelopes. On one bright summer day, Songtsan Gampo, leader of the Tubo tribe that had risen to power in the Yarlung River Valley, was struck by the perilous position of an area flanked by two steep mountains, while bathing in the Lhasa River, and decided that this was to be the home of his kingdom. This ambitious Tibetan king moved the center of his rule to Wotang and ordered the construction of his residence on the hilltop of Potala. In 641 A.D., Songtsan Gampo who by this time had conquered the whole Tibetan region wedded Princess Wencheng of the Imperial Tang Court. When the princess arrived, she became convinced that Lake Wotang was a devil's heart to be overpowered by the construction of a grand temple after filling up the lake with earth. The princess further suggested that the earth be carried by white goats. This imposing grand temple became a symbol of the kingdom. The temple, later known as Jokhang, was initially named Lhasa, "the Sacred Land" in Tibetan. Over the centuries, Lhasa became a political and religious center of Tibet. Administrative orders were issued from the myriad of imposing palaces; the great temples and monasteries were home to omnipotent liturgical establishment and witnessed the rise of many religious leaders and endless religious ceremonies. The faithful composed the population of the town and Lhasa became a true "Mecca" of Tibet.

Lhasa is rightly one of the most featured and dreamt-about cities in the world. This is not only because of its remoteness, its high altitude at 3,650 meters (11,975 feet) means limited accessibility, but also because of its impressive heritage of over a thousand years of cultural and spiritual history that has helped to create the romantic and mysterious Tibetan religion.

Must-see Attractions:
Potala Palace
Lhasa means sacred land in Tibetan, and Potala Palace, the architectural wonder in the center of Lhasa, is the symbol of that sacred land. When the thirty-third King of Tibet, Soongtsan Gampo, was married in 641 to Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty, he had 999 houses built on Hongshan Hill for his bride, as well as the red building at the top of the hill. The Buddhists later named it Potala Palace, meaning the sacred land of Buddhism.

Ravaged by lightning, fire, and war, the original palace was severely damaged. In the restored palace we see today, the white buildings on either side, called the White Palace, were built three hundred years ago by the fifth Dalai Lama as living quarters. The central building, called the Red Palace, was built by the disciple of the fifth Dalai Lama and contains mourning halls and libraries.

Potala Palace was constructed on the hill site. Surrounded by a wall three meters high, the thirteen-story palace is 110 meters tall and has over ten thousand pillars; its 90,000 square meters of floor space was built on an area of 102, 880 square meters.

Sunlight Hall in Potala Palace is flooded with sunlight throughout the year. Eastern Sunlight Hall was the residence of the Thirteen Dalai Lama, and Western Sunlight Hall was lived in by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Now these luxurious halls house valuable peals, jewels, and antiques.

Mural art is an intrinsic part of the architecture of Potala Palace. Every room, no matter how small, is decorated with colorful, vivid murals. The 698 murals along the painted second-floor corridor are the

Jokhang Monastery
There are a few interesting legends surrounding the construction of Jokhang Monastery. The legend goes that Princess Wencheng, the wife of the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo, had the monastery built by filling up Lake Wothang with the help of a sacred goat.

Dreprung Monastery
Drepung Monastery, built in 1416, it the largest monastery in Tibet. The monastery used to be the palace of the Dalai Lamas before the reconstruction of Potala palace.

Norbulingka Palace is the biggest man made garden in Tibet, covering 360,000 sq. m. and is situated in the west side of Lhasa, just a quick walk from Potala Palace.

Sera Monastery
The three Gelug monasteries, Sera, Drepung, and Ganden, were known collectively as the Pillars of the State, and there was actually some political rivalry between them, which is even reflected in the name Sera.
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