Tibet - The Roof of the World

By Chen Jun, Congress Director ISPRS Council 2004 - 2008

Tibet Autonomous Region is located in the southwest part of China, with an area of 1.22 million square kilometers and a population of 2.7 million. Its average altitude is 4,000 meters above sea level. Tibet has 38 mountains higher than 7,000 meters and 47 lakes covering more than 100 square kilometers each. There are many holy mountains and lakes, historic sites, beautiful scenery spots, unique culture and folk custom. I recommend you to visit some of the following places to understand the mysterious Tibet.


Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, has a history of more than 1,300 years. It is the political, economic, cultural and transport center of Tibet. Lhasa covers an area of about 30,000 square km. with a population of 400,000. Its downtown area occupies 523 square km and 130,000 people live in the downtown. The elevation of Lhasa is 3,650 meters. Lhasa also enjoys the name of sunshine city for its annual sunshine hours of 3,000. In Lhasa, you can visit:

1. Potala Palace

imageThe Potala Palace is an architectural wonder and the Lhasa' s cardinal landmark. It was set up in the seventh century AD during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo and rebuilt by the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1645. The Potala Palace covers an area of more than 138,000 sq. meters. It mainly comprises of the White Palace for administration and the Red Palace for religious service. It has 13 stories with more than 1000 rooms. The Potala Palace is famous for its grand buildings, complicated structures and holy atmosphere, splendid Tibetan artworks inside.

2. Barkhorimage

Barkhor refers to Lhasa's pilgrimage circuit, a quadrangle of street surrounding the Jokhang Temple. It is an area unrivalled in Tibet for its fascinating combination of deep religiosity and push-and-shove market economics. Barkhor is both the spiritual heart of the holy city and the main commercial district for Tibetans.

3. Jokhang Temple

imageJokhangthe oldest temple of Tibet which lies at the center of the old Lhasa.is the spiritual center of Tibet and the destination of millions of Tibetan pilgrims. The temple is usually filled with pilgrims. Inside the temple, the statue of 12-year-old Shakyamuni Buddha coated by gold is the oldest and the most precious.

4. Drepung Monastery

imageDrepung Monastery, the largest and richest monastery ever in Tibet, was founded in 1416 by a disciple of Tsong Khapa under the patron of a noble family and enlarged by the Fifth Dalai Lama later. It was the residence of the fifth Dalai. The monastery covers an area of 250,000 square meters. In its heyday, it held 7,700 monks in total. Its grand, white construction gives the monastery the appearance of a heap of rice. As such, it was given the name 'Drepung Monastery' which, in the Tibetan language, means Monastery of Collecting-Rice.


imageShigatse is the second largest city in Tibet, with 600 years history. It occupies an area of 3,875 square kilometers, and has population of 93,900. The elevation of downtown area is about 3,840 m. In Shigatse, a must-see place is Tashilunpo Monastery.

Tashilunpo Monastery


Tashilunpo Monastery is one of the Six Big Monasteries of Gelugpa (or Yellow Hat Sect) in Tibet. It was founded by the First Dailai Lama in 1447. The monastery's structure was expanded by the Fourth and successive Panchen Lamas. The Monastery covers an area of nearly 300,000 square meters. It has been the seat of the Panchen Lama since the Fourth Panchen Lama took charge of the monastery. There are now nearly 800 lamas in it.

Tashilunpo holds the giant Future Buddha statue, 26.2 m high, 11.5 m wide, with numerous jewelry inlaid in the body.

Besides the grand palace and gigantic statues, the Monastery also treasures unique frescos, considered to be the masterpiece of Buddhist art.

In Tibet, you may enjoy the picturesque landscape such as Yarlong Tsangpo River, snow-capped mountains, vast grassland with the background of crystal clear heaven, be part of the holy religious atmosphere, understand the Tibetan history from many local historic sites. But because of the high elevation of Tibet, some visitors may feel uncomfortable. To meet the challenge, you need more preparation. I will provide you travel tips for Tibet if you decide to go.

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