Lhasa, Tibet (PRWEB) June 14, 2012
Songtsan Travel, a locally-owned Tibetan travel agency, now offers multi-day tours of the Tibetan capital Lhasa. Lhasa is at an altitude of 3,490 meters (11,450 ft), making it one of the highest cities in the world. The city contains many culturally significant Tibetan Buddhist sites.
The Potala Palace in was the primary residence of the Dalai Lamas. Today it is a state museum, a popular tourist attraction, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was also recently named one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World" by the television show Good Morning America and the newspaper USA Today.
The palace is made of two main parts, easily distinguished by their color: the Red Palace and White Palace. The two are joined by a smaller, yellow-painted structure that houses the sacred banners hung on the exterior for the New Year festivals.
Construction of the present palace began in 1645 under the fifth Dalai Lama, an important figure in Tibetan history. Known as the "Great Fifth," he unified Tibet and made the Yellow Hat sect the state religion. The White Palace was completed in 1648, which was used as the winter quarters of the Dalai Lama.
Construction on the Red Palace was still underway when the Great Fifth died in 1682. Fearing the project would be abandoned, the monks kept his death a secret for 10 years until the Red Palace was completed.
Built on a rocky hill overlooking the city of Lhasa, the Potala Palace has a sturdy fortress-like appearance. It contains more than a thousand rooms spreading over an area of 1,300 feet by 1,000 feet. The stone walls are 16 feet thick at the base, but more finely constructed (without the use of nails) in the upper stories.
Jokhang Temple ("House of the Lord Buddha ") is the holiest site in Tibetan Buddhism, attracting crowds of prostrating Tibetan pilgrims and curious foreign tourists every year. It hosts the annual Great Prayer Festival, as well as all ceremonies of initiation for the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lamas.
Jokhang Temple was founded in 647 by King Songtsen Gampo the first ruler of a unified Tibet, and his two foreign wives who are credited with bringing Buddhism to Tibet.
The temple was constructed to house a sacred image of the Buddha, the Jowo Rinpoche, which Queen Wengcheng brought with her from China as a dowry. This statue is still enshrined within the temple and is the holiest object in Tibet.
Standing four stories tall and covering an area of about 25,000 square meters in the heart of Lhasa, Jokhang Temple combines local Tibetan elements with influences from Nepal, China and India. In the front is a large plaza and open porch, which is usually filled with prostrate Tibetan pilgrims.
The exterior of the temple is decorated with deer and wheel motifs, early symbols of Buddhism. Both represent the Buddha's first sermon, in which he "turned the wheel of the Dharma" in a deer park near Varanasi, India.
Surrounding the Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street serves as a trading and religious center. The market contains local folk art and crafts, Tibetan-style daily goods, and prayer wheels, as well as knives, thangka paintings, musical instruments, gold and silverware, masks and more.
Norbu Lingka Park is the biggest man-made garden in Tibet, having an area of about 360.000 square meters with 374 rooms. Norbu Lingka Palace was built in the 1740s by a Qing magistrate. Later it was used as the summer palace for Dalai Lamas, where they solved political problems and held festive celebrations. It is now a park open to the public.
Songtsan Travel is a Lhasa-based tour operator with more than 20 years of experience leading Tibet tours. The agency uses part of its proceeds to provide education to disadvantaged children. Songstan Travel seeks to promote Tibetan culture and help Tibetans improve their livelihood.
Note: The Tibet Tourism Bureau has closed entry to foreign travelers for the present time. The Bureau will open for permits again after June 20th.