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Lhasa

Lhasa, and sometimes spelled Lasa, is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China. It is located at the foot of Mount Gephel. Traditionally, Lhasa is the seat of the Dalai Lama and the capital city of Tibet, and is one of the highest cities in the world. It is the location of the Potala and Norbulingka palaces (both are included as World Heritage Sites, and in Tibetan Buddhism. The Jokhang in Lhasa is regarded as the holiest centre in Tibet.

Tourist Attractions
Potala Palace
Namtso Lake
Jokhang Temple
Mt. Everest Base Camps
Barkhor Street
Ramoche Temple
Norbulingka
Sakya Monastery
Yangpachen
Yarlung Zangbo River Canyon
Lake Yamzho Yumco

Tibetan Opera
Tibetan Folk Songs
Tibet Drums

Lhasa literally means "place of the gods", although ancient Tibetan documents and inscriptions demonstrate that the place was called Rasa, which means "goat's place", until the early 7th century.

Lhasa is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China. The city is home to 1,100,123 people (2009 census estimate). Its altitude is 3,490 metres (11,450 feet) and the air only contains 68% of the oxygen compared to sea level. It is part of a township-level prefecture, the Lhasa Prefecture, consisting of 7 small counties: Lhünzhub County, Damxung County, Nyêmo County, Qüxü County, Doilungdêqên County, Dagzê County and Maizhokunggar County.

History
By the mid 7th century, Songtsän Gampo became the leader of the Tibetan Empire that had risen to power in the Brahmaputra River (locally known as the Yarlung River) Valley. After conquering the kingdom of Zhangzhung in the west, he moved the capital from the Chingwa Taktse castle in Chongye county (pinyin: Qonggai), southwest of Yarlung, to Rasa (modern Lhasa) where in 637 he founded the first buildings of the Potala Palace on Mount Marpori. In 641 he founded the Rasa Trulnang or Jokhang. Lhasa soon became not only the religious, but the political centre. Lhasa remained the capital throughout the development of the Tibetan Empire until the reign of Langdarma in the 9th century, when the sacred sites were destroyed and desecrated and the empire fragmented.

In CE 641, Songtsän Gampo, who by this time had conquered the whole Tibetan region, wedded Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal and Princess Wen Cheng of the Imperial Tang court. Through these marriages, he converted to Buddhism and proceeded to build the Jokhang Ramoche Temple in Lhasa in order to house two Buddha statues brought to his court by the princesses. Other building constructed about this time included the nine-storey Pabonka (Pha bong kha) tower and Pabonka Hermitage, and the gompas (temples) of Meru Nyingba, Tsamkhung and Drak Lhaluphuk.

Tang dynasty records noted that Songtsän Gampo's empire was still largely nomadic and he held court in large movable resplendent tents, at least when his court moved about the country. The report by a Chinese ambassador in 672 that the Tibetan Emperor did "not live beneath a roof," was doubtless an exaggeration, and probably intended to belittle the country.However, this was probably based on a simple misunderstanding. We learn from a somewhat later ambassador, who arrived in Tibet in 822 CE, that the Tibetan Emperor had his summer headquarters in a large tent just to the north of Lhasa. It is quite clear that this was just a summer encampment and one can only assume that he spent the freezing winters in one of the many building in Lhasa itself. The description of this royal summer camp, as the Chinese Ambassador saw it, is recorded in the Xin Tangshu 216A :

"The valley to the north of the Tsang River (Kyi-chu or Kyi River) is the princely summer camp of the bcan-po. It is surrounded with posts attached together. At an average distance of ten paces [from each other] 100 lances have been set up; in the middle of which is planted a great standard. There are three gates a hundred paces from each other. Armour clad soldiers guard the gates. Sorcerers with caps of bird [feathers] and a girdle of tiger [skins] thumped on drums. Anyone who entered was searched before they were allowed to proceed. In the middle [of the camp] was a high terrace, surrounded with a rich balustrade. The bcan-po was seated in his tent. [There were] dragons with and without horns, tigers, and panthers, all made of gold. [The bcan-po] was dressed in white linen with a rose-coloured muslin cloth tied around his head. He carried a sword encrusted with gold. The Prime Minister was standing on his right, while the Ministers of State were arranged at the foot of the terrace."  

From the fall of the monarchy in the 9th century to the accession of the 5th Dalai Lama, the centre of political power in the Tibetan region was not situated in Lhasa. However, the importance of Lhasa as a religious site became increasingly significant as the centuries progressed.  It was known as the centre of Tibet where Padmasambhava magically pinned down the earth demonness and built the foundation of the Jokhang Temple over her heart.

By the 15th century, the city of Lhasa had risen to prominence following the founding of three large Gelugpa monasteries by Je Tsongkhapa and his disciples. The three monasteries are Ganden, Sera and Drepung which were built as part of the puritanical Buddhist revival in Tibet. The scholarly achievements and political know-how of this sect eventually pushed Lhasa once more to centre stage.

The fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682), conquered Tibet and, in 1642, moved the centre of his administration to Lhasa, which again became both the religious and political capital. In 1645, the reconstruction of the Potala Palace began on Red Hill. In 1648, the Potrang Karpo (White Palace) of the Potala was completed, and the Potala was used as a winter palace by the Dalai Lama from that time onwards. The Potrang Marpo (Red Palace) was added between 1690 and 1694.

The name Potala is possibly derived from Mount Potalaka, the mythological abode of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. The Jokhang Temple was also greatly expanded around this time. Although some wooden carvings and lintels of the Jokhang Temple date to the 7th century, the oldest of Lhasa's extant buildings, such as within the Potala Palace, the Jokhang and some of the monasteries and properties in the Old Quarter date to this second flowering in Lhasa's history.

The Norbulingka summer palace and gardens to the southwest of the city were constructed in the 18th century under the 7th Dalai Lama.

The 11th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica published between 1910 - 1911 noted the total population of Lhasa, including the lamas in the city and vicinity was about 30,000; a census in 1854 made the figure 42,000, but it is known to have greatly decreased since. Britannica noted that within Lhasa, there were about a total of 1,500 resident Tibetan laymen and about 5,500 Tibetan women. The permanent population also included Chinese families (about 2,000). The city's residents included people from Nepal and Ladak (about 800), and a few from Bhutan, Mongolia and other places.

In the first half of the 20th century, several Western explorers made celebrated journeys to the city, including William Montgomery McGovern, Francis Younghusband, Alexandra David-Néel and Heinrich Harrer. As Lhasa was the centre of Tibetan Buddhism nearly half of its population were monks.


Geography and Climate
Lhasa sits in a flat river valley in the Himalaya Mountains.Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world, covering a flat river valley in the Himalaya Mountains.

Lhasa and the prefecture covers an area of close to 30,000 km2 (12,000 sq mi). It has a central area of 544 km2 (210 sq mi) and a total population of 500,000; 250,000 of its people live in the urban area. Lhasa is home to the Tibetan, Han, and Hui peoples, as well as several other ethnic groups, but overall the Tibetan ethnic group makes up a majority of the total population.

Located at the bottom of a small basin surrounded by mountains, Lhasa has an elevation of about 3,600 metres (11,812 ft)and lies in the centre of the Tibetan Plateau with the surrounding mountains rising to 5,500 metres (18,000 ft). The Kyi River (or Kyi Chu), a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo River), runs through the city. This river, known to local Tibetans as the "merry blue waves,", flows through the snow-covered peaks and gullies of the Nyainqêntanglha mountains, extending 315 km (196 mi), and emptying into the Yarlung Zangbo River at Qüxü, forms an area of great scenic beauty.

Lhasa features a cold steppe climate. Due to its very high altitude, Lhasa has a cool, dry climate with frosty winters. It enjoys 3,000 hours of sunlight annually and is sometimes called the "sunlit city" by Tibetans.

Lhasa has an annual precipitation of 400 millimetres (16 in) with rain falling mainly in July, August and September. The rainy season is widely regarded the "best" of the year as rains come mostly at night and Lhasa is sunny during the daytime.

Temperature; Daily average (January) -1.2oC, 29.8oF; (July) 16.4oC, 61.5oF
Precipitation; Daily average (January) 0.5 mm, 0.02 inches; (July) 129.7 mm, 5.11 inches

Culture
Lhasa has many sites of historic interest, including the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery, Zhefeng Temple, Drepung Monastery and Norbulingka. However, many important sites were damaged or destroyed mostly, but not solely, during the Cultural Revolution.

The city of Lhasa contains three concentric paths used by pilgrims to circumambulate (walk around) the sacred Johkhang Temple, many of whom make full or partial prostrations along these routes in order to gain spiritual merit. The innermost, the Nangkor (Nang-skor), is contained within the Jokhang Temple, and surrounds the sanctuary of the Jowo Shakyamuni, the most sacred statue in Tibetan Buddhism. The middle circumambulatory, the Barkor (Bar-skor), passes through the Old Town and surrounds the Jokhang Temple and various other buildings in its vicinity. The outer Lingkor (Gling-skor) encircles the entire traditional city of Lhasa. Due to the construction of a large new street, Beijing Lam, the Lingkor is not usually used by pilgrims.

Every August the Shoton Festival, one of Tibet's biggest traditional festivals, is held in Lhasa; it was first held in the 7th century.

Food in Lhasa can also be seen as part of the culture. Usually, Tibetans live on mutton and beef. Especially for the herdsmen, who dry the mutton and beef before winter comes so that there are supplies during the cold months. Wine is indispensable to Tibetans, who brew it with Qingke, a kind of crop which grows on Qingzang Plateau.


Lhasa in Entertainment
Life in Lhasa was covered by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer in his book Seven Years In Tibet and the film of that same name which starred Brad Pitt and David Thewlis. The book in particular relates the story of his life in Lhasa during the 1940s. His autobiography, Beyond Seven Years in Tibet, published in English in 2007 also gives a perspective on his time in Lhasa.

There are some night spots which feature cabaret acts in which performers sing in English, Chinese, Tibetan, and Nepalese songs and dancers wear traditional Tibetan costume with long flowing cloth extending from their arms. There are a number of small bars which feature live music, although they typically have limited drink menus and cater mostly to foreign tourists.

In 1995 a British electronic music act Banco de Gaia released the album Last Train to Lhasa. The Chinese rock artist Zheng Jun has recorded a hit song titled "Back to Lhasa" (Hui Dao Lasa). The song is filled with swirling Tibetan influences and rapidly took on the status of a cult classic.

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