We took a trip to Tibet late last year.
Our Trip to Tibet
Tibet is stunningly beautiful with natural mountains and lakes that you can not find elsewhere. However, it is not an easy place to get into and you must be flexible with your plans and willing to absorb the risk that you may not be let in at the last minute. However, when you make it there you will surely have an eye-opening experience.
To help you plan, today we’ll share our itinerary for Tibet. In the upcoming posts on the remaining Mondays in July, we’ll give you some tips on how to get into Tibet, and provide highlights of our trip so keep watch for that if you’re interested in Tibet at all!
Six Days in Lhasa
We spent six days in Tibet last year and we spent all of it in Lhasa for several reasons. There is so much to see in and around Lhasa that you need a full six days in Lhasa to see it all. Furthermore, unless you’re going on a trek to climb Mount Everest, everything you would want to experience about Tibet, you can find in Lhasa. And lastly, there may be different permit requirements if you wish to travel far outside of Lhasa. So make sure you coordinate with your travel agency in advance.
If you would like a more authentic tour experience, consider requesting the service of a tour guide who is a Tibetan. This way, your tour money contribute to the well-being of the Tibetans directly.
Our trip to Tibet consisted of visiting the major monasteries that taught us a great deal about Buddhism and the Tibetan culture. We walked around town to get a sense of modern Lhasa and we traveled just outside of town to view the natural beauty of Yamdrok lake.
Detailed Tibetan Itinerary
Before Arrival in Lhasa:
Get a prescription for Diamox before leaving your home country and start your treatment two days before arrival in Lhasa. It worked for us as we had no problem acclimatizing to the altitude. Diamox does make your finger and toes tingle though!
Day 1: Fly into Lhasa and Acclimatize!
Fly into Lhasa airport (LXA) and take it easy today. Lhasa is at a high elevation of 11,450 ft., so you will need at least a day to get used to the thin air. Do not plan any strenuous walking or physical activity even if you’re feeling well.
Get to Potala Palace by 5pm and register for your admission ticket for use on the following day. Present your passport and make sure to get a receipt. Tickets are limited, this is why you must get your tickets the day before.
Walk around town, be polite, stay low key, and observe life. Take pictures of the exterior of the Potala Palace.
For dinner, catch an authentic Tibetian dinner in the Barkhor Circuit. Try some momos and yak butter tea if you are adventurous!
Day 2 Potala Palace, Drepung Monastery, Nechung Monastery
Get to Potala Palace (布達拉宮) by 9am. Potala Palace was the chief residence of Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India in 1959. The most stunning chapels of the Red Palace house the jewel-bedecked chorten tombs of previous Dalai Lamas. The quarters of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas in the White Palace offer a more personal insight into life in palace. Leave at ~12pm.
Next take minibus 301 or 302 to Drepung Monastery (哲蚌寺). This is the largest monastery in the world, with more than 7,000 monks living there. Leave by 3pm.
Take a 10min walk downhill to Nechung Monastery (乃穹寺). The Monastery closes at 4pm so hurry. You might have the chance see the monks debating in Tibetan! If not you may be able to see a debate at Sera Monastery the following day.
To return to Lhasa, take bus no. 302 from Nechung Monastery, or bus no. 301 from the bottom of the hill. Arrive back to Lhasa by 5pm.
In the evening, try shopping for souvenirs & have dinner at Barkhor (八廓) – a Kora pilgrim circuit that proceeds clockwise around the periphery of the Jokhang Temple. The Barkhor is one of the best places to pick up Tibetan souvenirs such as knives, prayer wheels, Buddhist statues, jade jewelry and the latest music from India.
Day 3: Ganden Monastery and walk the High Kora; Monk Debate at Sera Monestary
Be transported to Ganden Monastery via 4×4 SUV. Arrive at Ganden ~9am. Tour for ~2hrs. Ganden is a photography heaven – lots of colors, lines, textures and all in service for the monks in their red robes.
The three main sights of Ganden Monastery are:
- The Serdung, which contains the golden tomb of Tsongkhapa
- The Tsokchen Assembly Hall
- The Ngam Cho Khang Chapel where Tsongkhapa traditionally taught his students. You must walk the High Kora (~1hr). The path is signposted by a rich array of colorful prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. Ask your tour guide to teach you about sky burials.
Take SUV back to Lhasa, arrive ~2pm. Be dropped off at Sera Monestary to see the monks debating.
* Note: Be prepared to visit Sera Monestary again just in case the monks are not debating. On our first day there, a wealthy Tibetan had made a significant donation to the Monastery in order for the monks to read and pray for the donor at the donor’s request! Although watching a full courtyard of monks reading and reciting scripture was interesting, it is not nearly as exciting as a debate. =)
Free time in the afternoon/evening. You may want to drop by Spinn Cafe to have a delicious hot lemonade, get some free wi-fi, and socialize with other visitors!
Day 4: Jokhang Temple and Monk Debate at Sera Monestary (take two!)
Walk to Jokhang Temple (大昭寺) in the morning. Arrive by 7:30am for 8am entry. See the pilgrims prostrate on the ground outside the temple (best in morning).
One of the main attractions is the main cloister with a ring of large prayer wheels, kept spinning throughout the day by pilgrims. However the cloister that leads to the central hall, contains Jokhang Temple’s star attraction, the Jowo Rinpoche (or Jowo Shakyamuni). This life-sized (5 foot/1.5m) statue of the Buddha at age 12 is the holiest object in Tibet. Probably originating in India, it was brought to Lhasa as part of the Chinese Princess Wencheng’s dowry in 641.
Go up to the roof for a fantastic view of Lhasa and the snow capped mountains.
Leave by 10am. Take a cab ride to Norbulingka, former sumer residence of Dalai Lama. The highlight here is the New Summer Palace (Takten Migyu Potrang) within. Stay till 1pm (when it closes). Plan for a quick lunch.
Then take a 15 min taxi ride to Sera Monastery (色拉寺). Arrive by 1:45pm. Your objective is to see the monks debate in Tibetan, usually in a garden next to the assembly hall in the center of the monastery. The debate usually takes place between 3:30-5pm (or 2-4pm) daily except Sunday.
Take a bus or taxi back to Lhasa.
Day 5: Venture out of Lhasa to Nam-Tso or Yamdrok Lake
Hotel pick up at 8am. Drive 4 hrs via Land Cruiser to Nam-Tso (纳木错) Lake. Arrive by 12noon. Leave at 2pm. Then head to Yangpachen Hotspring. Back to Lhasa by 6pm or stay at Nam-Tso Lake overnight.
If Nam-Tso Lake is closed due to bad weather, arrange a day trip to Yamdrok Lake instead.
Both lakes are considered sacred in Tibet, and the water there is so pure and blue that we dare not to touch them. We don’t want to pollute such a sacred and beautiful lake just by touching it with our bare hands.
Day 6: Day of departure. Early morning flight out of LXA.
Wear a coat and keep some gloves with you. The airport doesn’t always turn on the heat!
Now that you know our itinerary, next week we will share with you a few things that surprise us about Tibet.
Interested in Tibet? Then check out our other stories:
- Trip to Tibet – Why Tibet Must Be On Your Travel List
- Top Tibet Travel Questions Answered – Part 1
- Top Tibet Travel Questions Answered – Part 2
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