Top 5 Incredible Attractions To Visit When On Your Magnificent Private Tibet Tour This Fall

Located on the southwestern frontier of China, the phenomenal Tibet is a land full of awe-inspiring beauty and mystique. Within its borders are some of the holiest sites in Buddhism, not to mention awe-inspiring landscapes and a wholly unique culture unlike anything else found on Earth. Here are the top 5 incredible attractions to visit when on your magnificent private Tibet tour.

Potala Palace

Situated in the capital, Lhasa, Potala Palace is one of the most iconic attractions of Tibet. Once a temple and residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959, the complex is now a religious site and tourist attraction. The site got its name from the mystical mountain known as Mount Potalaka. It consists of the Red Palace, the White Palace, and holy stupas. Today, the majority of the White Palace is inaccessible to the public, being reserved for religious purposes only.

The earliest construction commenced in the 7th century CE, by King Songtsen Gampo who built his palace in the area on the site. In 1645, the fifth Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso, was the first to build the structure known today as Potala Palace. The complex at that time was far less expansive than the current 130,000 square meters. Today, the majority of the palace consists of renovations that occurred during the Qing Dynasty, as recently as 1922.

In 1994, Potala Palace was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of its religious and cultural significance, the site had already acted as a museum, containing numerous priceless religious artifacts. Because of its tremendous religious and cultural importance, only 1,600 admission tickets are sold to visitors each day to control the amount of foot traffic in the structure.

Barkor Street

 Located in downtown Lhasa, Barkhor Street is the oldest street in Tibet and a place of immense pride for locals. Referred to by Tibetans as “Holy Way”, this ancient, circular street is a popular circuit for pilgrims and likewise, is a thriving market area. The street is an incredible attraction for visitors to learn about Tibetan culture, religion, arts, and the economy.

Barkor Street is shaped like a polygon, with a perimeter of about 1,000 meters and roughly 35 alleyways. What for its proximity to Jokhang Temple, the area is revered as holy amongst Buddhist faithful. Many pilgrims can be seen walking the circuit with prayer wheels from dawn until dusk. In addition, more than 120 shops and over 200 stalls are situated on the street, selling an array of goods.

This attraction has a lengthy history of over 1,300 years, was constructed around the same time as the nearby Jokhang Temple (which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000). The temple dates from 647 AD, when the founder of the Tibetan Empire, Songtsen Gampo (circa. 557-617 to 649) ordered its construction. Upon completion, Jokhang was used to house revered relics within the complex. Pilgrims began gathering to behold the magnificence of the temple, and likewise, to pray. Eventually, a trodden path formed by foot-traffic of the faithful, thus, the origins of the street.

Norbulingka

 Situated west of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Norbulingka sits on the bank of the Lhasa River. Norbulingka is comprised of four palace complexes, pavilions, halls, and a large garden (considered largest garden in Tibet). The entirety of the site covers 36 hectares (89 acres), with the garden complex covering 3.4 square km.

It is situated at an elevation of 3,650 m (11,980 ft) and is the highest garden in the world. In Tibetan, Norbulingka translates into “Treasure Park”, or “Treasure Garden”. The palace complex is a fusion of many different Tibetan architectural and artistic styles from over the centuries.

In 1755, Kelzang Gyatso (the 7th Dalai Lama) began construction on Norbulingka. He was drawn to the area, because of the extraordinary scenery. The Norbulingka complex was completed in 1783 under the 8th Dalai Lama, Jampel Gyatso. Three temples were added and the park area was extended with plantations of conifers and fruit trees, acquired from various areas throughout Tibet.

In 1988, the State Council deemed Norbulingka a “National Important Cultural Relic Unit”. In 2001, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, being added as an extension to the Historic Ensemble of Potala Palace. Today, over 30,000 cultural relics are kept within the complex walls.

Ganden Monastery

Located on top of Wangbur Mountain 50 km from Lhasa, Ganden Monastery was the first monastery of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Together with Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery, it is known as on of the “Three Great Temples”. With incredible vistas of the surrounding Kyi-chu Valley, Ganden Monastery provides a fantastic kora (pilgrim) route and makes for an unforgettable experience.

Ganden Monastery sits at a staggering altitude of 3,800 m (12,467 ft), providing incredible views of the valley below. Ganden translates into “joyous” in Tibetan, and is the name for “Tushita”, one of the heavenly realms and home to the Future Buddha.

In 1409, Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug Sect, established the monastery. After its completion he became its first abbot, staying there until his death in 1419. Over the subsequent centuries, Ganden became increasingly prominent. Together with the Drepung Monastery and SeraMonastery, it became known as the “Three Great Temples” of Lhasa. By the mid-19th century, these three monasteries accommodated 20,000 monks combined. Each was supported by large fertile estates, which were tended to by laborers. At its peak, Ganden Monastery accommodated 5,000 monks.

Yamdrok Lake

 Located about 90km west of Gyantse and nestled amid snow-capped mountains, is one of the three largest sacred lakes in Tibet, Yamdrok Lake. Situated at a stunning elevation of 4,441 m (14,570 ft), It is one of the highest lakes on Earth. Numerous small streams, with a large outlet stream situated on its western end, feed this exceptional lake. Also located on the western end is Yamdrok Power Station, which is the highest hydroelectric station in the world.

Yamdrok Lake is considered one of the holiest lakes in all Tibet. Tibetan people believe that mountains and lakes are the dwelling places of protective deities. Yamdrok and the surrounding area have been closely associated with Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinoche). He was an Indian Buddhist master who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century AD. Little is known of the historical Padmasambhava, but he is credited with helping the construction of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, located at Samye. He is widely venerated as a “second Buddha” by Buddhists in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, amongst other locales.

According to legend, Yamdrok Lake is a transformed fairy goddess. The English translation literally means “jasper lake of the upper pasture”. Many Tibetans also refer to it as “scattered turquoise earrings by a fairy”, because of the incredible color of the water. With its exquisite crystal clear water, Yamdrok Lake is home to numerous species of migratory birds. In fact, it is the largest habitat for migratory birds in all of southern Tibet. During the spring and summer months, the lake and its islands are dotted with large colonies of birds and their offspring. Also during the summer, shoals of freshwater fish called “Gymnocypris Przewalskii” swim into the shallow waters to spawn. Because there are no natural predators in the region, local inhabitants take their yaks, sheep, and goats to grave on the rich summer pastures surrounding the lake.

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A once-in-a-lifetime experience to the great event of Tibetans in the South of Gansu Province: the Monlam Festival. The first Monlam Festival was held in 1409 by Tsong Khapa, the founder of Gelug School (Gelugpa), to worship Buddha Sakyamuni. Since then, it has become a common festival for all Tibetan monasteries.

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Some of the tour highlights include the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street, the Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery, Lhasa-Gyantse-Shigatse by private vehicle, Shigatse-Everest Base Camp by private vehicle, Everest Base Camp (5200m)-Shigatse (3900m) by private vehicle.

Want to see more tours? View our Tibet Tours page.

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Sarah Bauder

Sarah has been extensive experience as a scribe, from travel writer to screenwriter, to a writer short stories. When she’s not doing one of those three things, she enjoys traveling, cooking, adventuring, reading, and anything involved being in (or under) water.
Sarah Bauder