Tibet Touring Area
Lhasa: Lhasa rose to prominence as an administrative center in the 7th century, when Songtsen Gampo moved his capital there and built a palace on the site now occupied by the Potala. The temples of Ramoche and the Jokhang were also established at this time to house the Buddha images brought as dowries by Songtsen Gampo’s Nepalese and Chinese wives. As the lake was filled to create the site for the Jokhang, the town was known as Rasa, ‘place of the goat’. Following the consecration of the Jokhang and the installation of the Jowo Shakyamuni image the name was changed to Lhasa, ‘place of the deity’. The rule of the Yarlung kings from their new capital lasted some 250 years, but Buddhism did not really take hold until the rule of Trisong Detsen (755-97) when Samye was established. Following the breakup of the Lhasa regime the city became peripheral to Tibetan history until Dalai Lama V (1617-82) defeated the Shigatse Tsang kings (with Mongol support).
The Potala Palace: The Potala towers over Lhasa and is an enduring landmark of Tibet. Little remains of the original structure built by Songtsen Gampo apart from its foundations. After Lhasa was reinstated as the capital of Tibet in the 17th century the Great 5th Dalai Lama began construction of the White Palace (built 1645-53) employing 7000 workers and 1500 artisans. It functioned as the traditional seat of the Tibetan government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas. The Red Palace is attributed to the regent Desi Sangye Gyatso and was completed in 1693. Dalai Lama V died in 1682, his death concealed by the regent, enabling completion of the construction without the distraction of political upheaval. Within this palace are numerous outstanding temples and the reliquary tombs of eight past Dalai Lamas. Altogether the palace is 13 stores (among the world’s tallest buildings until the 20th century skyscraper) and contains approximately 200,000 images in 1,000 rooms.
Sera Monastery: About five kilometers north of Lhasa is the monastery Sera. It was founded in 1419 by a disciple of Tsongkhapa on a site where the teacher and his foremost students had established hermitages. In 1959 Sera housed 5000-6000 monks, today there are only a few hundred. Much of the original complex was destroyed, however the chief colleges and Lhakhangs along with their images and relics were preserved – amongst them a vajra believed to have arrived from India in a miraculous flight. One of the highlights of a visit to Sera is the mid–afternoon debating session attended by monks of the philosophical college and takes place in an area specifically assigned for that purpose. The noise and fervor is exciting even if you can’t understand a word they are saying.
Gyantse monastery: The Royal Summit’ is named after a crag rising suddenly from the plane, which has been fortified since early antiquity – the fort (dzong) which crowns the crag dates from the 14th. Century. Gyantse was once Tibet’s third largest town, but nowadays its status is considerably diminished. It has, however, preserved much of its original atmosphere and is one of the least Chinese-influenced towns in Tibet. There is no record of Gyantse prior to the 14th century, but it quickly emerged as the center of a fiefdom with powerful connections to the Sakyapa order and dominated the wool and timber trade routes from Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan for centuries. By 1440 Gyantse’s most impressive architectural achievements had been completed the Kumbum, the dzong and Pelkor Chode monastery.
Shigatse (Xigatse): The town of Shigatse (Xigaze) sits at the confluence of Nyangchu and Yarlung Tsangpo Rivers about 250 kilometers to the west of Lhasa. The second largest city in Tibet at an elevation of 3,900 meters it has a long history as a political, business, cultural and religious center. The residence for all the Panchen Lamas has been traditionally in the town.
Tashilhunpo Monastery: The Tashilhunpo Monastery in the west can be seen in the distance by travelers approaching the town, with its gilded pinnacle glinting in the sunshine, an exhilarating sight to the arriving wayfarers and pilgrims. The construction of Tashilhunpo (meaning "imminent bless") began in 1447. The Monastery is the largest of its kind in central Tibet. The Great Prayer Hall, the oldest building in the monastery, can accommodate over 2,000 praying monks. The lavish throne of the Panchen, a myriad of Buddhist sculptures and ancient murals are rare treasures of the monastery. Jamkhang, the chapel of Maitreya with a height of 30 meters and a total of seven stories, is one of the most important buildings in the monastery. Enshrined inside the chapel is a 26.5-meter-high sculpture of Maitreya. Other buildings contain the magnificent funerary stupas of the Panchen Lamas.
Tsetang (Zetang): Tsetang (Zetang), the birthplace of earliest Tibetans, sits on the south bank in the middle section of the Yarlung Tsangpo River Traduk Monastery is one of the earliest Buddhist temples in Tibetan history. Built in 641 A.D., it is said that King Songtsan Gampo established the temple to suppress the ogress in order to prosper his kingdom. And later it became the winter palace of King Songtsan Gampo and Princess Wencheng in Shannan. Of all the treasures and relics kept in this monastery, the pearled Tangka "Avalokitesvara at his rest" is the most remarkable.
Mt. Kailas: means 'Treasure or Saint of Snow Mountain' in Tibetan. The name originates from the year-round snow on its peak and its historical religious connections. The mountain is sometimes called 'Mother of Iceberg'. It appears to be gazing at another mountain, Namcha Barwa, or 'Father of Iceberg' in the far distance. Mt Kailash is the highest peak in the massive Gangdise mountain range with an altitude over 6,600 meters (21654 ft.). The peak is very pointed and looks like a pyramid piercing the sky. Seen from the south the vertical ice trough and horizontal rock formation combine as the Buddhist symbol Swastika '?', which represents the eternal power of Buddha. More often that not, clouds will gather above the peak, so clear days are thought to be a blessing because local residents can get an unimpeded view. Legend has it that a high lama named Milarepa competed with Naro Bonchung, the leader of Bon, for supernatural power. Milarepa was triumphant and thus the mountain came under the guidance of Buddhism. However, the mountain is also said to be the gathering place of masses of gods, among which are the highest gods of Hinduism. So it is no surprise that many pilgrims of different faiths visit here. Walking around the mountain is a popular ceremony despite the length and difficult terrain. According to the sayings of Buddhism, one circle around the mountain can atone for all the sins committed throughout one's lifetime. Completing ten circles around the mountain will prevent eternal damnation of hell tribulation in one's reincarnations for 500 years. Completing one hundred circles will make a person one with Buddha. While walking, Buddhists follow clockwise while Bonists proceed in a counter-clockwise direction. In the horse year when Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, is said to be born, worshipers get credit for thirteen circles for every one completed. Naturally, these years draw the largest number of tourists. Mt Kailas lies at the center of an area that is the key to the drainage system of the Tibetan plateau, and from which issues four of the great rivers of the Indian subcontinent: the Karnali, which feeds into the Ganges( south ), the Indus( north ), the Sutlej ( west ) and the Brahmaputra ( Yarlung Tsangpo, east ). Mt Kailash, at 6714m, is not the mightiest of the mountains in the region but, with its hulking shape - like the handle of a millstone, according to Tibetans - and its year-long snow-capped peak, it stands apart from the pack. The mountain is known in Tibetan as Kang Rinpoche, or "Precious Jewel of Snow". Kailas has long been an object of worship for four major religions. For the Hindus, Kailash is regarded as the center of the universe and the domain of Shiva, the Destroyer and Transformer. To the faithful Buddhist, Kailash is the abode of Demchok, a wrathful manifestation of Sakyamuni thought to be an equivalent of Hinduism's Shiva. The Jains of India also revere the mountain as the site at which the first of their saints was emancipated. And in the ancient Bon religion of Tibet, Kailash was the sacred nine stories Swastika Mountain, upon which the Bonpo founder Shenrab alighted from heaven.
Manasarovar Lake: Mansarovar lies about 20 km (12.43 mi.) southeast of Mt. Kailash. It means 'Invincible Jade Lake' in Tibetan. The name originates from a story that Buddhism wins a victory against Bon in a religious match beside the lake. The lake is the same 'Jade Pool of the Western Kingdom' described by the high monk Xuanzang of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in his Westward Diary. The altitude of the lake is about 4,588 meters (15,052.49 ft.), making it one of the highest fresh water lakes in the world. The water is very limpid and bright. The Hindu legend has that it is the Amrita designed by the great god Brahma that can wash away all one's sins as well as any anxiety or improper thoughts. Many pilgrims bathe in the lake and take some water back as a gift to their relatives and friends. The surrounding area is the point of origin for India's two most famous rivers, the Indus and the Ganges. Walking around the lake also has ceremonial value for the Tibetans. There are many temples along the way, the two most notable being the Jiwu and the Chugu.