Journey in through the surrounding mountains, through the Chinese shell in which Lhasa is wrapped and enter traditional old town and you will find a city still quintessentially Tibetan. Red flags might fly atop the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Temple, but no amount of Chinese exhibitions can mask the smell of burning incense, nor the flutter of colourful prayer flags or the aroma of sweet tea as it is downed by monks and locals alike in the city's bustling teahouses.

Watching the extraordinary devotion with which Tibetans from across the region file into the Jokhang Temple, having first circled the Barkhor Street, spinning prayer wheels or prostrating themselves along the floor, is a genuinely moving experience. Seeing the empty rooms of the Potala Palace and Norbulingka, vacated by the Dalai Lama and his followers in 1959, is a rather more melancholy and deeply-thought provoking one.

Head to the well-preserved Sera Monastery and you can see the resident monks take to the courtyard for their famous debating sessions, perhaps after completing a scenic half-day hike for deeper exploration and some fine views. Venture further out and you'll find more isolated monasteries, Nomadic people living traditional yak-herding lives and flourishing rivers ripe for rafting on.

Lhasa is the gateway to the rest of the Tibetan region, a starting point for a round trip to Mount Everest Base Camp and the final destination for the scenic 22 hour sleeper train from Xining.

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