Lhasa, Tibet: see for yourself.


High-end shops where Tibetans neither work nor shop.

My spring tour of China included going to Lhasa.

Though fascinated by Tibet, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go given the political situation. Tibet has been ruled by the Chinese for over fifty years.

Fifty years. It doesn’t look like the Chinese will be relinquishing Tibet to Tibetans any time soon. Yet still, Tibetan exiles continue to agitate to have their homeland for their own nation.  I have sympathy for their cause so I had to think carefully about a decision to go.

The Free Tibet website agrees that the decision of whether to travel to Tibet is not an easy one. They lay out the pros and cons of doing so. These include:

  • PRO: “The Dalai Lama encourages foreigners to visit Tibet and to inform others of their experiences on their return.”
  • CON: Tourism provides legitimacy for Chinese rule..

In the end, my choice was to go. I wanted to see the country for myself. Though there is much to learn about Tibet online, seeing for oneself can be vital to understanding the contemporary situation. This post makes no argument about either Tibet’s history or future. There are people far more knowledgeable than I on the subject and I provide links to a number of articles at the end of this post. What I present here simply seeks to give you an idea of what Lhasa looks like today.

Here are images of the Lhasa I expected.

Potala Palace

The Potala Palace was the main residence of the Dalai Lama until the current Dalai Lama fled to India during the 1959 Chinese takeover.

Potala Palace

Prayer wheels at the base of the Potala Palace.

Beautiful people.

Beautiful people


People walking around the Jokhang Temple. This ritual circumambulation of temples and shrines is a type of Tibetan Buddhist meditation and pilgrimage.


Prostrating in prayer outside the Jokhang Temple.


A mural inside the beautiful Jokhang Temple.


Here are images that overwhelm my memory of Lhasa.

I was invited into a store front to see what a new luxury hotel that was soon to open in Lhasa would look like.

I was invited into a store front to see what a new luxury hotel that was soon to open in Lhasa would look like.


Construction was everywhere. This is why I don’t have a great photo of the Jokhang Temple that is mentioned above.


Reports say that the streets are being torn up to build a major shopping mall in downtown Lhasa.

Fancy shops.

Fancy shops.

Tibetan handicrafts are more-or-less restricted to a tourist market and, I think I can say with confidence, that not all are made in Tibet.

Tibetan handicrafts are more-or-less restricted to a tourist market and, I think I can say with confidence, that not all are made in Tibet.

Resources on Tibet

His Holiness, The 14th Dali Lama of Tibet

The Middle Way: A Highway for Solving Tibet Agony

Tibet Through Chinese Eyes

Q&A: The Dalai Lama, Tibet and China

Tibetan Studies Resources Blog

Protests and uprisings in Tibet since 1950

New Dawn on the Lost Horizon


My thanks to Overseas Adventure Travel for making my tip to Lhasa possible. While they supplied the trip, all opinions are my own.

  • Alpine Eco Trek Expedition

    Wow, what a nice story, great and beautiful pictures, I really liked your efforts. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful content for Solo traveler to Tibet Tour Trek http://www.tibettourtrek.com I really appreciate it!

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    The rules for entry to Tibet can change with very little notice. Please research your trip carefully.

  • Tammy

    Hi im going to Shanghai Xian and Chendu and then 10 days in Tibet with a guy friend. Some sites say that you must travel Tibet in an organized tour. Is this true or no? Can we g to Llhasa and Gyantse and Base camp ourselved or need an expensive tour. Is their good public buses or no? thanks for your thoughts!

  • http://www.onebagtraveler.com D Z

    When traveling to totalitarian states I try to stay at family owned hotels and guesthouses, same with restaurants. There are a lot of state owned “businesses” like tour companies – check them out before doing business.

  • YoungHope

    I don’t like people that treat Tibet like it’s a history zoo that you come and expect to sight-see our ancient life frozen in 1900. It’s a modern world, and we want the same thing other people want. We want central heat, we want SUVs, we want iPhones, we want wifi, we want expressway, we want credit card, most of all, we want modernity that doesn’t center around religion. We are late to the game, but we want to be enlightened on science and progress not ancient rituals for your enjoyment and amusement. Please don’t come here to search for that. You are more welcome if you come here to spread new ideas and promote new technologies.

  • Django

    Re: Tibetan Buddhism. No interest in the ‘silent mind’?!

  • Scott

    Wow. What a difference 28 years makes. Was there in ’85. A Chinese presence was there at that time, but nothing like this. The Chinese were, if memory serves, still a numerical minority then. The stares between the Tibetans and Chinese were sharp. I had eleven days, in Lhasa only (the rest of Tibet was closed) and it was remarkable. But I do side with those who say that another/better?/kinder/gentler take on Tibetan life might be found in Dharamsala. And yes, a two-edged sword, the pro’s and con’s for going or not. And as for ‘Tibetan’ goods in the market, maybe being Chinese made rather than by Tibetans, in Varanasi, India – one of the silk centers in India – much of the silk is Chinese as well.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Yes, that’s Nancy in the prayer wheel photo. I struggled with how to present Lhasa. It’s such a complex issue. So I opted just to show the range of what we saw. So nice to hear from you. Hope you’re well.

  • Sandy M

    Thanks, Janice – great reminder of the sights we shared. I’m thinking that is Nancy in the prayer wheel photo. Tibet was the one place where I felt the “tug” of politics most in China.

  • Allan

    Thanks for your frank posting. I was there just a couple of months after the Bejing Olympics and I totally agree with your assessment. I had the same expectations as you and I was totally shocked with the reality. Thank God Nepal and India treat Tibetans with respect and offer them their hospitality and opportunity.

  • http://www.tripsthatwork.com/ Irina

    Since I just got back from China, this doesn’t surprise me at all. It seems like every destination in China with a bit of history is overtaken by local tourism and exploited by businesses. Your pictures make me really sad though because I’ve been fantasizing about Tibet being pristine like Hollywood portrayed it in 7 years in Tibet….

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Thanks! I haven’t been to either place but research suggests that you are absolutely right!

  • HTC Rhyme CDMA GPS

    Never thought Tibet is a modern city with a first class taste of fashion. It makes me think of visiting the place and experience for myself the culture and lifestyle of the country. http://www.backcountrynavigator.com/

  • VWGal

    My experience is there is more Tibetan and Buddhist culture to be found in Ladakh and Dharmasala/Mcleod Ganj, both in northern India, than remains in Tibet. I chose to travel there over Tibet, and can highly recommend it for anyone serious about exploring Tibetan culture. Tibetans are lovely welcoming people, and it’s immensely sad what is happening to their culture in their homeland.

  • leelaurino

    i have considered the ‘tour’ you took since I can not travel to China alone. and will never visit Tibet, if not NOW.
    such an interesting insight.

  • ColoradoClaire

    I’ve wrestled with the to-go or not-to-go dilemma too. I appreciate your images, because my expectations will be more realistic if I do decide to visit. Perhaps next spring.