("the Forbidden City") Capital of Tibet at 5,000m/16,400ft. As the traditional centre of Tibetan Buddhism, it is the site of many temples, monasteries, and of the Potala, the former palace of the Dalai Lama. As Tibet's trading centre, it has many traditional handicrafts and some light industry.

History: The Tibetan capital since 1642, it was closed to Westerners until 1904, when members of a British expedition led by Colonel Francis E Younghusband visited the city. Before the Chinese occupation (1951) monks comprised half the population. Since then many Tibetans have fled, including the Dalai Lama following the 1959 uprising. Monasteries have been destroyed and monks killed, and an influx of Chinese settlers has generated resentment. In 1988 and 1989 nationalist demonstrators were shot by Chinese soldiers

Population (1982): 105,000

An astonishingly ugly city, full of Communist-style squat block buildings, and a few trees stabbed here and there. Otherwise, everything is very dusty. There are fairly substantial Chinese neighborhoods but they are as desolate and depressed as everything else. The drive from the airport is probably better than anything you'll see in Lhasa itself, except the palace.

Inhabitants of Lhasa include: resentful or enterprising Han Chinese, poor and/or aggressively enterprising city Tibetans, tall Tibetan nomads, beggars, rich American tourists, rude German tourists, hippie/New Age pilgrim-tourists, Tibetan religious pilgrims, and the mangy dogs that roam the streets and congregate at the temples. Oh yes, and a lot of heavily armed Chinese soldiers. Be warned, they do not have a sense of humor.

Across from the Potala is a large public square, usually full of tourists having their pictures taken. On one side of the square there's a disco. Another part of Lhasa has a large outdoor market. Tibetan souvenirs are cheaper in Nepal, though. Buy a hat anyway, you'll need it; even in Lhasa, the sun is blinding.

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