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TIBET

Tibet is located in the south of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Qing Hai Province, to
the west of Sichuan and Yunnan province, and adjacent India and Nepal. The average height of the whole region is more than 4,000 meters above sea level, for which Tibet is known as "Roof of the World". The world highest Qomolanma peak, or the Everest Peak in Tibet, is as high as 8,848 meters above sea level. The population is 2.3 million including a variety of ethnic groups of Tibetan, Monba and Lhota with Lhasa as the capital city. Across the northern expanse of Tibet, you can see vast grasslands where horses, cattle and sheep roam freely. The world's lowest valley, the Grand Yarlun-tzanpo River Valley lies in east Tibet.

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Nearly all Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism, known as Lamaism, with the exception of approximately 2,000 followers of Islam and 600 of Catholicism. Tibetan Buddhism was greatly influenced by Indian Buddhism in its early time, but after years of evolution, Tibetan Buddhism has developed its own distinctive qualities and practices. One of the examples is the belief that there is a Living Buddha, who is the reincarnation of the first, a belief alien to Chinese Buddhism.

Lhasa

If Tibet is the "roof of the world," then its capital, Lhasa, is certainly the "city of the sun." Standing on a plain over 13,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by towering mountains, Lhasa is a town bathed in sunlight.
Tibet has suffered fluctuating fortunes over the centuries. Historical records reveal little about the region before the seventh century, when King Songzan Ganbu (617-650 A.D.) unified the area and introduced the Sanskrit alphabet. During the centuries that followed, Buddhism took root in Tibet, introduced from India into China by pilgrims traveling the "Silk Road" far to the north. Buddhism was influenced by the local religion, called Bon, and developed into a form called Lamaism. By the 10th century, the religious movement began to assert political leadership as well. In 1573, a reincarnation of Zongkaba, the founder of the "yellow hat" sect devoted to religious reform, became the first Dalai Lama.
Great changes have taken place in the past 20 years in Lhasa, where many roads have been built and completed, a lot of hotels and public welfare buildings were constructed. The standard of living of the local people has been improved tremendously. At present, the construction of the first railway leading from Germu of Qinghai province to Lhasa is underway and will be completed in 2008, by then, it will be more convenient for people to visit Tibet by train. Tourist attractions in Lhasa include the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, and a number of Buddhist sacred places.

Potala Palace

Potala Palace is a 41-hectare complex constructed during the reign of Songtsan Gambo, the King of Tibet in the 7th-century. Built on top of the Red Mountain, Potala Palace served as a fortress and as the residence of the Dalai Lamas with nearly 10,000 rooms, and so was the center of both political and religious power in Tibet, remaining today an immensely popular pilgrimage site. Divided into White and Red Palaces, the complex rises 110 m high and extends 360 m across, and was one of the world's tallest buildings. Rising thirteen stories and containing over a thousand rooms and some 200,000 images, the palace complex took the work of more than 7,000 laborers and 1,500 artists for more than fifty years to complete. Beneath the fortress are the dungeons where those who ran afoul of the Lamaist theocracy were imprisoned and tortured. Functioned now as a museum, this castle-like palace is housed with the wealth of Buddhist statues, murals, religious scriptures, and treasures. As a precious legacy of Tibetan culture, the Potala Palace is a UNESCO-endorsed world cultural heritage site.

Jokhang Temple

Jokhong Monastery, built in 647 as the earliest wood-masonry structure in Tibet, is dedicated to a statue of Sakyamuni. The magnificent Temple is situated in the center of Lhasa. In front of the gate stands a stone tablet from the Tang Dynasty, bearing both Chinese characters and Tibetan script. Nearby is the Tang willow tree planted by Princess Wen Cheng, one of the daughters of the second emperor Li Shimin in the Tang dynasty, who was married with the King of Tibet, Songtsan Gambo for the hope of building up the friendly relations between the regional Tibet and the central regime of the Tang dynasty. The Monastery has also possessed with a great collection of cultural relics dating back to the Tang dynasty, which include statues of Songtsan Gambo and princess Wen Cheng. The architectural elements in this monastery as the splendid four-floor building facing west under a gilded rooftop, are palpable of the building style of the Tang dynasty,

Drepung Monastery

Another famous building in Lhasa is the Drepung Monastery located six miles north of the city. Standing on a high cliff, its many tiers leaning into a steep mountain face, the monastery is built in traditional Tibetan style. Founded in 1416, it was one of the centers of the "yellow hat" sect, and in its time was the largest of the three great monasteries near Lhasa, housing 10,000 lamas. The temples of the monastery are lavishly decorated with statues of the Buddha, Zongkaba, and others of the Buddhist pantheon. The monastery is still open to worshippers.

Sera Monastery

Sera Monastery, one of the three largest monasteries of Tibet, sits at the foot of Hill Tatipu. It is as prestigious as Drepung and Ganden monasteries but had a longer history. Sera in Tibetan means Wild Rose Garden since opulent wild rose woods once grew around it. In 1414, Jamchen Chojey, one of Tsong Khapa's disciples, on behalf of Tsong Khapa, visited Emperor Chengzu of the Ming dynasty, who granted him a title of Dharma King of Great Mercy as well as sutras and a set of sandalwood Arhat. In order to preserve them, Tsong Khapa suggested Jamchen Chojey to build a monastery to house these treasures. Then Sera monastery was set up in 1419.
The center of Sera Monastery is the Main Assembly Hall, occupying a floor space of 1,000 square meters. The four-storied hall has four chapels in which Arhats, Manjushri, Tsong Khapa and Chenrezi are enshrined respectively. The Buddhist sutras Jamchen Chojey brought back from Beijing is kept in the sutra pigeonhole against the hall, which is now of great value. Sera Monastery keeps a collection of murals in perfect, original condition. Its statues of Maitreya, Bodhisattvas, and Arhats are very noteworthy. Scriptures written in gold powder, scroll paintings, tapestry portrait of Jamchen Chojey, thangkas are typical characteristics of Sera.

Norbulingka Palace (the Summer Palace)

Norbulingka, meaning Treasure Park, was first built in the forties of the 18th century, covering a space of 40 hectares after continuous expansion by the Dalai Lamas. The Qing magistrate dispatched to Tibet originally built a palace for the Seventh Dalai Lama since His Holiness often visited the place. In 1751, the Seventh Dalai Lama started to build Kelsang Potrang as his palace where he ruled and received officials and high ranked lamas. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama lived in the palace before his new one was completed. Construction seldom stopped under the reigns of different Dalai Lamas.
In 1956 the Fourteenth Dalai Lama finished his own palace - Takten Migyur Potrang, usually called New Summer Palace. One of the hall called Khamsum Zilnon was originally a Han style pavilion and later changed into a theater where the Dalai Lamas watched Tibetan opera. Tsokyil Potrang is a group of buildings on water. Dalai Lamas used to read in the palace. The palaces of Golden Lingka and Chensel Potrang, built in 1920s for the 13th Dalai Lama, are located at the back of the woods and planted with various flowers, grasses and trees.

Barkhor Street

Barkhor is an old and traditional shopping street in the center of Lhasa. It is also a place where Tibetan culture, economy, religion and arts assemble and a place to which a visit must be paid. Barkhor is the road on which pilgrims tramped out around Jokhang Temple through centuries. Buddhist pilgrims walk by body-length kowtow along the street clockwise every day into deep night. Barkhor Street is also a marketplace where shaggy nomads, traders, robed monks and chanting pilgrims join together. Shops and stalls sell printed scriptures, cloth prayer flags and other religious vessels, jewelry, Tibetan knives and ancient coins etc..
Gyantse, is the other major urban center here, most famous for its stunning KumBum, a place of great religious and artistic reverence and importance. The summer is a particularly lively time to visit here when a horse racing and archery festival takes place in June and July. Gyantse was an important wool trading post between Tibet and India in mediaeval times. At the beginning of the 20th Century Gyantse rose to prominence again when Younghusband's British expedition took the fort before marching on to Lhasa. The two things to see here are the old fort, dating from the mid 1300s, and the Pelkor Monastery, which contains the Kumbum, a remarkable building crowned with a golden dome and umbrella, with chapels radiating outwards from each of its eight levels. It's the best-preserved building in Tibet of this style unique to Tibetan architecture. The Monastery was closed for refurbishment when last heard, but the Kumbum is certainly a must-see. They are within the same compound.

Baijusi Monastery & Kubum

The Kubum Monastery was built in early 15th century. It is situated in the west of Gyantse Town with mountains flanking the east, west and north. The unique feature is that three sects of Buddhism - shaja, Ningma and Guolu are living harmoniously together under one roof with each sect possessing 6-7 courtyards in the monastery. There are various kinds of Thangkas, and a huge bronze statue of jiangba, the Buddha of thousand hands and thousand eyes set in the monastery. There is a hall of arhats made during the Ming Dynasty and they are looked so vivid and alive. The monastery is the world famous Buddhist architecture with 9-stories of chapels and over 10,000 Buddhist sculptures. It stands 32 meters high with 108 doors, 77 chambers and countless shrines. The Pagoda opens 8 doors, which are decorated with relief sculptures of flying dragons, running lions and walking elephants. The entire monastery is a spectacular masterpiece of the ancient Buddhist architecture in Tibetan style.

Shigartse

A 500-year-old cultural city and 3,800-metres above the sea level, Shigartse is the place where Benchen Lamas' residence of Tashilunpo Monastery is located. The world-famed Mount Qomolanma (8,848 meters) stands to the south of the city. The emblem of the city is the Tashilunpo Monastery, established in 1477, where the fourth Benchen Lama and his successors resided and conduct administrative activities. Covering a floor space of 300,000 square meters, the monastery is enshrined with the world's largest gilded bronze Buddhist statue, the 26.2-meter-high statue of Maitreya.

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Tashilhunpo lies 2 kilometer west of Shigatse, is the most influential monastery in Tibet. It was built in 1477 by Gendun Drubpa, the first Dalai Lama and a most outstanding disciple of Tsong Khapa. In 1600, the Fourth Banchen Lama started a large-scale expansion on this building with a space of 300 thousand square meters. In 1713, the Fifth Banchen Lama's title and status was finally ascertained by order of the emperor in Qing dynasty and the monastery became the seat of Banchen Lama up to present.

The construction of the Main Chanting Hall took 12 years to complete. It is the earliest building in the monastery. Before the hall, there is a flagstone as debating courtyard, where Banchen Lamas used to make religious speeches to lamas. The courtyard has walls covered by a thousand Sakyamunis, which were enshrined in the walls. The Main Chanting Hall, capable of holding 2000 chanting monks.

The Maitreya Chapel was the tallest building in the monastery, 30 meters in height. The chapel lies at the west end of the monastery, founded in 1914 by the Ninth Banchen Lama. The chapel houses the world largest brass statue of Maitreya that is 26.2 meters high. The statue is seated on a 3.8 meters high lotus throne. A single finger is 1.2 meters long, while foot is 4.2 meter long. The statue costs about 280 kilograms of gold, 150 tons of brass and about 1400 precious gems such as the huge diamonds,

pearls and ambers.

After the death of the tenth Banchen Lama in 1989, about 64 million Yuan in RMB and lots of gold, silver and gems were immediately allocated by the central government to build his stupa. In 1993, the 11 meters stupa was completed and the lama's body was placed inside. Every year on April fourteenth on Tibetan calendar, gigantic thangkas of Buddha will be displayed on the wall. In addition the trove of thangkas, murals and other religious and artistic treasures certainly will make an indelible impression upon visitors.
Shannan Prefecture
Shannan, a prefecture of 3,600 meters above sea level and with a mild climate in the middle reaches of the trunk Yarlung Zangbo River, was the cradle of the Tibetans. Among Shannan's cultural relics are Samye Monastery, Tombs of Tibetan Kings (Songtsan Gambo), Chang-zhug Temple, and Yarlung River, a mysterious and breathtaking national scenic zone that shows Tibet's snow mountains and glaciers, idyllic pastoral farms, alpine vegetation, historical sites and folklores.


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