Tibet: History & Culture

The history of the city of Lhasa dates back to more than 1,300 years, to the time before it was the capital of Tibet.  Before the discovery of the area known today as Lhasa by the Tibetan empire, it was a high altitude, marshy wilderness, in which antelopes were the main inhabitants.  The area was referred to by the name of Wotang during this time before civilization.

During the early 7th century, Songtsan Gampo (the leader of Tubu tribe) discovered the Wotang valley while bathing in the Wotang River.  He immediately fell in love with the area, being exceptionally impressed by the mountains that rose directly into the sky from both sides of the river. It was during this initial visit that he decided to move his Tibetan Kingdom to the Wotang valley.  His personal residence was constructed on the Potala hilltop, overlooking the valley.  The construction of the Jokhang (meaning sacred land) Temple was the direct result of Songtsan Gampo’s marriage to the Princess Wencheng.  Upon seeing her new home in the valley, she decided that the temple needed to be built, and so it was.

Tibet: Health & Safety

Lhasa is a fairly safe place to visit.  Having said this, there are certain precautions that should be taken in order to ensure a smooth trip through Tibet.  Like always, common sense is the most important tool to be used in staying safe.

 The city of Lhasa is located at an elevation of around 12,000 feet, which is higher than many visitors have ever been.  There are certain concerns that should be taken into consideration when traveling to places of such high elevation.  Make sure to read through this Altitude sickness page before visiting Lhasa.

Pickpockets are a problem in Lhasa and they have been known to hit unsuspecting tourists in certain areas, especially the Barkhor.  The prime spots for pickpockets are crowded, public areas.  In these areas, women should keep bags and purses close to their sides, and men should wear wallets in front instead of rear pockets.

Lhasa Weather and When to Go

 The climate in Lhasa is considered temperate, which means that the city experiences four, distinct season changes.  However, the rainy and dry seasons are the most easily identified, and many visitors plan trips around them.  Although travel to this Tibetan city is possible throughout the year, the winter months can get very cold and snowy.

On average, the hottest months of the year are June and July, during which time the daily high temperatures will generally hover in the upper 70’s and lower 80’s.  Being at an elevation of about 12,000 feet, Lhasa’s summer months are never very hot.  However, Lhasa is about the same latitude of Shanghai or Cairo, Egypt, so the sun is strong and bright.  Make sure to use lots of sunscreen, as the chances of getting sun burnt increase with altitude.  Sunglasses are essential for dealing with the bright sun, which is made brighter by the thin air.  The nighttime temperatures during these months will generally drop to the mid-50’s. 

The coldest months of the year on average are December and January, during which time the daily high temperatures will reach the low to mid 40’s.  The nighttime temperatures during these months will generally fall to the teens.  The winter months can be very cold, and most tourists choose to travel during times of warmer weather. The year is distinctly divided by the rainy season, which is from the end of May through the middle of September.  Visiting at the end of September is perhaps the most beautiful time of year to visit, as the surrounding hills/mountains are lush with color. 

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