Central Tibet Highlights
The Potala Palace was named after the mountain abode of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion. For centuries the palace served as the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas. Built in the 7th century and reconstructed by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century, it towers over the city of Lhasa. There are several palaces within the complex, designated by color—red, yellow and white. With thirteen levels containing over 51,000 rooms and 200,000 images, the Potala Palace is an invaluable monument of historical, cultural and spiritual significance. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Jokhang Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the heart of Lhasa and Tibetan Buddhism. The most sacred of all temples, it houses a Shakyamuni statue consecrated by the Buddha himself. Built by Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal in the early seventh century, the temple is built on an important geomantic site and has undergone continuous renovations. The Jokhang is widely celebrated because it's not controlled by one particular sect or school of Tibetan Buddhism. Because of this, the temple draws adherents from all the schools as well as followers of Bon, the religion that predates Buddhism in the region.
The sacred lake of Yamdrok Yutso sits at 4,408 m/14,461 ft and is believed to be the life-force of the Tibetan nation. Stretching over an area of 754 km, its teal blue waters create the largest lake in southern Tibet. Surrounded by snow capped mountain ranges, the lake is fed by icy streams and inlets that flow down from the higher elevations during the warm summer months. Its curved pincer shape boasts nine islands, numerous bays and is home to several monasteries. At Gampa Pass, on the winding road that leads to Yamdrok Yutso Lake, you'll see an unforgettable vista of shimmering turquoise beneath a backdrop of glaciers.
In 1865, Mount Everest was so-named by the Royal Geographical Society of England. Tibetans honor the mountain as Jomolangma or Queen of the Universe. Often pictured with a plume of condensation streaming from its pyramidal summit, the mountain peaks at 8,848 m/29,029 ft. Tibet is home to Everest’s stunning North Face. From Everest Base Camp at 5,100 m/17,000 ft., the mountain face soars another 3,648 m/11,969 ft overhead. For open, sweeping views of the mountain, stunning sunrises and sunsets, Road to Tibet offers challenging trekking opportunities as well as scenic driving tours.
Namtso "Sky" Lake lies at an elevation of 4,718 m/15,479 ft, approximately 70 miles from Lhasa. Bordered by the snowy peaks of the Nyenchen Tanglha, Namtso Lake is the second largest salt water lake in Tibet. Namtso has five, uninhabited islands. Tashi Dor Gompa, a small monastery located on a southeastern peninsula, is home to a number of ancient retreat caves including the hermitage of the famous Indian master Padmasambhava and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal. Surrounded by snow capped mountains and vast grasslands, the crystal clear lake is a bird sanctuary and a sacred pilgrimage site.
Samye Monastery is the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Founded in the 8th century by Padmasambhava and King Trisong Detsen, Samye began the centuries-long tradition of Tibetan Buddhist monasticism that continues today. Encircled by a stone wall with a large central temple and smaller ancillary temples, the mandala lay-out of the Monastery complex represents the Buddhist cosmos. Renowned for its architecture, gilded statues, vivid murals and an unparalleled collection of ancient relics, Samye Monastery is the most important pilgrimage destination and the heart of Buddhism in Tibet.
Located in western Tibet, Mount Kailash is sacred to almost one-fifth of humankind. Serving as the watershed of South Asia, its magnificent peak lies near the source of the Indus, the Brahmaputra and the Ganges Rivers. Mount Kailash is an interfaith pilgrimage site shared by Buddhists, Hindus, Bonpos, and Jains. Following traditions that span a millennium, every year thousands of pilgrims travel to the region to circumambulate Mount Kailash on foot. Starting at 4,600 m/15,000 ft and going as high a 5,500 m/18,200 ft. trekking or pilgrimage around Kailash takes about three days.
Kubum Stupa, a unqiue octagonal stupa of one hundred thousand deities, is one of Tibet's most outstanding artistic achievements. Built in the 15th century, the Kumbum or gomang—many doored—Stupa is 35 m tall, with nine gates and nine stories and contains a total of 75 chapels. Built as a three-dimensional mandala that represents the universe, its circle within a square design is meant to aid an individual on the path to enlightenment Many of the statues were damaged during the Cultural Revolution but the main temple survives intact and contains important 14th century murals and images.
Drigung Til was founded by Jigten Sumgon, the father of the Drigung Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Built in 1179, near the hermitage of an illiterate acetic, for centuries the monastery has served as the seat of the Drigung Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Perched high on a mountainside cliff, the monastery offers stupendous views of the valley. To the west of Drikung Til, lies Drikung Durto, a renowned sky burial ground. A little further into the valley, not far from the Shambala Hotel, you'll find Terdrom Nunnery and the sacred hot springs of Padmasambhava.