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To the west of the north street of Barkhor, in front of a juniper hearth, the annual ceremony to hail Maitreya (Buddha of the Future) is held. Tibetans pray before the hearth to expect fortune in the next year.

Barkhor, the sacred pilgrim path, is also a marketplace where shaggy nomads, traders, robed monks and chanting pilgrims join together. Clustered shops and stalls sell printed scriptures, cloth prayer flags and other religious vessels, jewelry, Tibetan knives, ancient coins and other Tibetan relics.

Jokhang Temple

Jokhang Temple, is the spiritual center of Tibet. Everyday, pilgrims from every corner of Tibet trek a long distance to the temple. Some of them progress by prostrating themselves throughout their journey until they reach the threshold of the temple. Pilgrims kindle butter lamps with yak butter, or honor the deities with white scarves (Kha-ta) while murmuring sacred mantras to show their pieties to the Buddha.

The temple lies at the center of the old Lhasa. Built in 647 by Songtsen Gampo and his two foreign wives, it has a history of more than 1,300 years. It was said that the Nepalese Princess Tritsun wanted to build a temple to house the image of Jowo Sakyamuni brought by Chinese Princess Wencheng. The temple is the product of Han, Tibetan and Nepalese architectural techniques. Visitors will be treated to the sight of various exotic and sacred sculptures. It also houses many invaluable cultural relics. Every year, the Great Prayer Festival is held in the Temple. Initiation rites into lamahood of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lamas are also held in this monastery.

Potala Palace

Potala Palace, The monastery like palace, reclining against and capping Red Hill, was the religious and political center of old Tibet and the winter residence of Dalai Lamas. It is more than 117 meters in height and 360 meters in width, occupying a space of 90 thousand sq. meters. Potala comprises both the White Palace and the Red Palace. The former is a secular building while the latter is sacred.

The White Palace contains offices, dormitories, a Buddhist seminary and a printing house. The center of the complicated Red Palace is the Great West Hall, which records the Great Fifth Dalai Lama's life by its fine murals.

Sera Monastery

Sera Monastery, one of the three largest monasteries of Gelugpa, sits at the foothills of Tatipu. It is as prestigious as Drepung and Ganden, which both have longer histories. Sera, in Tibetan, means "Wild Rose Garden" since opulent wild rose woods once grew around it. Sera is designed around a Main Assembly Hall, or Tshomchen in Tibetan, which is the grandest hall of Sera, occupying a floor space of 1,000 sq. meters. The four-storied hall has four chapels in which Arhats, Manjushri, Tsong Khapa, and Chenrezi are enshrined.

Palkor Monastery

Palkor Monastery, also named Palcho Monastery, is very different from other monasteries. It lies about 230 kilometers south of Lhasa and 100 kilometers east of Shigatse at the foot of Dzong Hill. Built as a Tibetan monastery, its structural style is very unique.

The monastery houses monks from the Gelugpa, Sakyapa and Kahdampa orders. Although they once quarreled and fought, the different orders eventually discovered a way to get along with each other. The monastery is the only one known to house monks from different orders in harmony. As a result, its structural style, deities enshrined and murals are very special.

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Tashilhunpo Monastery, lies 2 kilometers west of Shigatse city. It lies at the foot of Drolmari, or Tara's Mountain and is one of Tibet's most influential monasteries. It was founded in 1477 by Gendun Drubpa, the first Dalai Lama. The monastery buildings currently occupies 300 thousand sq. meters in area. There are nearly 800 monks in Tashilhunpo.

Gyantse

Some 200km (124mi) southwest of Lhasa, is one of the least Chinese-influenced towns in Tibet and is worth a visit for this reason alone. The Palkhor Monastery here was built in 1427 and is notable for its superb Kumbum (10,000 images) stupa. The dzong (old fort) that towers above the village offers a fine view over the valley. Gyantse is a four-hour bus ride from Shigatse.

Mt. Everest

Mt. Everest, the Tibetan approach to Mt. Everest, or Qomolangma (8848m/29,021ft), provides far better vistas of the world's highest peak than those on the Nepal side. Some 27,000 sq km (10,422 sq mi) around Everest's Tibetan face have been designated as the Qomolangma Nature Preserve, aiming to protect the environment and the cultural traditions of the local people. For foreign travellers, the Everest Base Camp has become the most popular trekking destination in Tibet, but this does not mean that the region is exactly swarming with hikers. The two access points are Shegar and Tingri, along the Friendship Highway to Nepal, but be warned that neither trek is an easy three- or four-day stroll. Take your time getting acclimatised and be prepared for a strenuous climb. If it all sounds too much, 4WD vehicles can lurch all the way to Base Camp along the Shegar track.

Sakya

Sakya, is 152km (94mi) west of Shigatse and about 25km (15.5mi) south of the main road. The huge brooding monastery here was Tibet's most powerful 700 years ago. The monastery probably contains the finest collection of Tibetan religious relics remaining in Tibet, although the monks may restrict you to viewing only a couple of halls. There's an unreliable bus from Shigatse, but most people arrange to see Sakya on their way to the Nepali border or the Everest Base Camp.

Other great places to go in Tibet include sacred Mount Kailash in western Tibet and the Yarlung valley which is the cradle of Tibetan culture.

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