The 25 best places to visit in Tibet Autonomous Region
Located throughout Kham, a historical region divided between todya's Tibet Autonomous Region and Sichuan Province are a set of stone star shaped towers that have come to be known as the Himalaya Towers. Described for the first time during the Ming Dynasty, some of these towers exceed 60 metres (197 ft) high, with carbon dating showing they were built approximately 500 to 1,800 years ago. Many theories surround the age and purpose of these ancient structures, though with no definitive records their true reason might never be known.
25. Himalaya Towers
North east from the city of Yadong, in the Chumbi Valley near the China, India and Bhutanese border is the Doungkar Monastery, one of many to be given the name. With a history that involves being the refuge for the 14th Dalai Lama in the early 1950's, this traditional Tibetan style monastery stands in the beautiful surrounds of the central Himalayas.
24. Doungkar Monastery
First built during the 7th century in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, is the Jokhang Temple, considered the spiritual heart of the city it lies at the centre of an ancient network of Buddhist temples around a maze of streets close to the cities Barkhor market square. Inside this huge temple is a sizable collection of cultural artifacts and finely sculpted figures from the Tang and Ming Dynasties. Part of the Historic Ensemble Of The Potala Palace, the entire complex has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
23. Jokhang Temple
Completed in 1783 AD in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, is the Norbulingka Palace, literally 'Jeweled Park', a palace and park complex that served as the traditional summer residence of successive Dalai Lama's. During the invasion of Tibet in 1950, a number of buildings were damaged, with rebuilding work beginning in 2003. Considered to be the largest man made garden in Tibet and the site of traditional and historical festivals, the Norbulingka Palace is part of the Historic Ensemble Of The Potala Palace all of which have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
22. Norbulingka Palace
First constructed around 775 AD, in the city of Shannan south east from the capital, Lhasa, is the famous Samye Monastery, built under the patronage of King Trisong Detsen of Tibet who sought to revitalize Buddhism after its decline in the 7th century. Badly damaged by war, earthquakes and revolutions several times throughout its long history, what stands today mostly dates from the late 20th century. Despite this, it remains one of Tibet's most well known and most visited Buddhist monasteries.
21. Samye Monastery
First constructed in the early 15th century, just east of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, is the Ganden Monastery, meaning 'Joyful' it is the Tibetan name for Tuṣita, the heaven where the Bodhisattva Maitreya is said to reside. Completely destroyed by the People's Liberation Army during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, it was then severely shelled by the Red Guard artillery in 1966. The buildings were then reduced to rubble using dynamite during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. Located at the top of Wangbur Mountain at an altitude of 4,300 metres (1,4108 ft) above sea level it offers dramatic views over the valleys that surround it. Despite being a modern restoration, it remains one of the 'Great Three' Gelug monasteries of Tibet.
20. Ganden Monastery
Connecting the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, with the Chinese/Nepalese border is the China-Nepal Highway, also known as the Friendship Highway. Running for approximately 800 kilometres (497 miles) the scenery along the highway features important cultural monuments, the upper valley of the Yarlung Tsangpo River, vast grasslands and huge meadows. As well as crossing three passes over 5,000 metres (16,404 ft), highlights include incredible mountain vistas featuring five of the worlds highest peaks, including the worlds single highest, Mount Everest.
19. Friendship Highway
Between the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and the city of Nyingchi, hidden in the high mountains at an altitude of 5,300 metres (17,388 ft) above sea level is the Lhamo La-Tso, also known as the 'Spiritual Lake Of The Goddess', an oracle lake that is considered the most sacred in Tibet. One of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the Autonomous Region, the Dalai Lamas have traditionally been obliged to visit the lake at least once in their lifetime, seeking visions that are said to appear on its surface. Secluded and rarely visited, the hike to Lhamo La-Tso is regarded among the best and most important spiritual hikes in Tibet.
18. Lhamo La-Tso
In the south east of Tibet Autonomous Region is the prefecture level city of Nyingchi, where from mid March to mid April the Nyingchi Peach Blossom Festival is held. Surrounded by snow covered peaks, the rolling green hills of Nyingchi become covered in rosy peach blossoms, creating what has come to be known as the 'Most Beautiful Spring In China'. Top locations to celebrate this grandeur of nature are Bome County, Zayu County, Mainling County and the beautiful Bayi District.
Pictured in Bayi District.
17. Nyingchi Peach Blossom Festival
North from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, is Lake Namtso, meaning 'Heavenly Lake', a mountain lake located at an altitude of 4,718 metres (15,479 ft) above sea level. Renowned as one of the most beautiful places in the Nyainqêntanglha Mountain range, its cave hermitages have for centuries been the destination of Tibetan pilgrims. Accessible via the Laken Pass, a paved road that reaches 5,186 metres (17,014 ft) above sea level, it offers visitors a great view of Mount Nyenchen Tanglha, the highest peak of the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains in the Transhimalayan range. An important and mythological mountain for Tibetans, it reaches a whopping 7,162 metres (23,497 ft) above sea level.
16. Lake Namtso & Mount Nyenchen Tanglha
South of Xigaze, just north of the small stretch of Indian border between Nepal & Bhutan is the remote town of Gamba, extended to Gambazong it means 'Village Near The Snow Capped Mountains'. Within this absolutely breathtaking terrain are the ruins of the 15th century Gamba Castle, similar in style to a medieval European castle, its partial ruins still stand majestically on a barren hillside.
In the extreme west of Tibet, shared between the Autonomous Region and the Jammu & Kashmir Region in India is the Pangong Lake, situated 4,250 metres (13,944 ft) above sea level in the Himalaya Mountains. Surrounded by the steep peaks of the worlds highest mountain range, it is a destination of spectacular scenery.
14. Pangong Lake
Discovered as recently as 2009 in the far northern centre of Tibet, close to the border with Qinghai Province is the 442 square kilometre (163 square mile) Purog Kangri Glacier, the third largest glacier on the planet. Situated at the heart of the remote Changtang Nature Reserve, the landscape is one of enormous ice sheets forking out in many directions, glaciers, lakes and even deserts. Remote and less travelled, visitors looking to visit the Purog Kangri Glacier require a permit from a local police station in advance, and are required to hire a guide.
13. Purog Kangri Glacier
In the south west of the Autonomous Region, just north from the border where Tibet, Nepal and India meet is Lake Manasarovar, also called Mapam Yumtso, a high altitude lake situated 4,590 metres (1,5059 ft) above sea level. Fed by the Kailash Glaciers near Mount Kailash, this 6,638 metre (21,778 ft) high mountain is regarded sacred in four religions; Bon, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Both the lake and the sacred mountain can be viewed easily from the G219 National Road that cuts through this incredible terrain.
12. Lake Manasarovar & Mount Kailash
South east from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in the Yarlung Valley is the Yungbulakang Palace, which according to legend was the first building in Tibet and the palace of the first Tibetan king, Nyatri Tsenpo. Though legend suggests it was built in 1623 AD, scholars believe it was more likely built sometime during the 7th century. Heavily damaged and reduced to a single storey during the Cultural revolution in 1966, what stands today is a reconstruction that began in 1983.
11. Yungbulakang Palace
South west from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in the Nyang Chu Valley is the town of Gyantse, historically one of the largest and most prominent towns of ancient Tibet, it was once surrounded by a wall over 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) long. Among the towns landmark structures is the Kumbum, or '1,000 Images' of the Palcho Monastery, dating from 1427 AD it is the largest chorten in the Autonomous Region. Undoubtedly though, the single most important and striking feature is the Gyantse Dzong or Gyantse Fortress, one of the best preserved dzongs in Tibet. Dating from 1390 AD, this incredible fortress remains perched high above the town on a huge spur of brown rock.
In the far east of the Autonomous Region, close to the border with India's Arunachal Pradesh State is the Lhegu Glacier, named after the nearby village whose name literally means, 'A Hidden Village Of Idyllic Beauty'. Lhegu Glacier consists of six major parts; the Meixi Glacier, the Yalong Glacier, the Ruojiao Glacier, the Dongga Glacier, the Xiongjia Glacier and the Niuma Glacier, creating what is a breathtaking glacier landscape. Visitors to this region should seek out Rawok Lake, also known as Ranwu Lake, regarded to be one of the most beautiful in Tibet.
9. Lhegu Glacier
Between Gyantse and the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, situated at an altitude of 4,441 metres (14,570 ft) above sea level is the freshwater Yamdrok Lake, one of the three largest sacred lakes in the Autonomous Region. Easily accessible from the S307 Highway between Lhasa and Gyantse, one of the most brilliant and encompassing views of the lake can be had from the Gampa Pass.
8. Yamdrok Lake
In the extreme south west of the Autonomous Region, covering an area of some 2,464 square kilometres (951 square miles) between the Himalayas and the Transhimalaya Mountains is the Zanda Earth Forest National Geopark, a fantastic landscape of eroded mountains and amazing rock formations. Created by the movement of mountains, water erosion and dried lake beds, the exposed sediment layers among steep cliffs and craggy colourful slopes make for a truly spectacular and unusual terrain.
7. Zanda Earth Forest National Geopark
In the far east of the Autonomous Region, close to the border with India's Arunachal Pradesh State is the Midui Glacier, regarded to be one of the six most beautiful glaciers in China. Famous for the grant ice basin, its also known for its frequent avalanches, and for its giant ice cascade that measures up to 800 metres (2,625 ft) in length. Easily accessible from the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, the surrounding landscape is a place of snowy mountains, large canyons, forests, lakes, traditional sloped villages and ancient temples.
6. Midui Glacier
Running for approximately 505 kilometres (313 miles) across the Tibet Autonomous Region is the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, sometimes referred to as the Tsangpo Canyon, Brahmaputra Canyon or the Tsangpo Gorge. Where the gorge bends around Mount Namcha Barwa and the Gyala Peri Mountains in the eastern Himalayan range, it reaches a depth of 6,009 metres (19,714 ft) making it the deepest gorge on land in the world.
5. Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon
West from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in the historical Tsang Province is the city of Shigatse, officially known as Xigazê, the second largest city of the Autonomous Region. Among the sprawling streets, ancient monasteries and incredible landscape of rugged barren hills and steep mountains, one landmark stands out more than any other, the Shigatze Dzong. Originally built in the early 17th century as a smaller prototype of the famous Potala Palace, this hilltop fortress had a long and interesting history until its complete destruction in the 1959 Tibetan Uprising. Rebuilt in 2007 in the same location but on a smaller scale, it is today a museum on Tibetan culture and a superb giant structure of Tibetan style architecture.
Located downstream from PumQu, on the eastern slope of Mount Everest is the famed Gama Valley, regarded by many to be the most beautiful valley in the world. Surrounded by the steep mountains of Everest, Makurlah, Gosanthain, Zhuoyo and Shishabanma, each reaching higher than 8,000 metres (26,247 ft) above sea level, there are an additional 14 peaks above 7,000 metres (22,966 ft). Difficult to get to, visitors who wish to make the difficult journey into the valley will require a guide, a special Tibetan Travel Permit to enter the region and expect around 10 days of hard trekking at oxygen sapping altitudes. With some of the most astonishing natural scenery in the world and views of the worlds tallest mountains, there is nowhere else on Earth to offer the grandeur of the Gama Valley.
3. Gama Valley
Constructed in 1645 AD at the behest of the 5th Dalai Lama in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, is the Potala Palace, named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical abode of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. Situated between Drepung and Sera monasteries and the old city of Lhasa, it is thought to have been built over the remains of an earlier fortress. Measuring 400 metres (1,312 ft) by 350 metres (3,773 ft) it stands thirteen storeys high and contains over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues on top of the Marpo Ri, meaning 'Red Hill'. The residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Lama fled to India during the 1959 Chinese invasion, it now operates primarily as a museum. The most well known man made structure in Tibet with a wealth of history behind it, the Potala Palace has been inscribed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Potala Palace
In the extreme south of the Autonomous Region, straddling the border with Nepal is the 33,800 square kilometre (13,050 square mile) Qomolangma National Nature Reserve, Qomolangma being the Tibetan name for Mount Everest. Situated at the roof of the world, the reserve contains four of the world's six highest mountains, including Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu and Mount Everest, standing a whopping 9,334 metres (29,029 ft) above sea.
One of the nature reserves best locations is the Rongbuk Monastery in the Dzakar Chu Valley, situated at an elevation of 4,980 metres (16,340 ft) above sea level it is thought to be the highest monastery in the world. Today, accessible by road, the three hour drive from the Friendship Highway offers dramatic views of the north face of Everest. From the monastery itself visitors can see the whole of Everest, from the base at the end of the valley to the very top, arguably the best view without climbing. From here visitors can easily witness the Rongbuk Glacier, the largest glacier in the region, and also trek to the Tibetan side of Everest Base Camp.