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Lhasa is the cultural, religious and historical centre of Tibet, one of the world's most fascinating regions.

Journey in through the surrounding mountains to reach the Chinese shell in which Lhasa is wrapped. Enter traditional old town and you will find a city still, in-spite of everything, 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 that stays with you. 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 we'll show you the resident monks taking to the courtyard for their famous debating sessions, perhaps after completing a scenic half-day hike for deeper exploration to discover some fine views. Venture further out and we'll find more isolated monasteries, Nomadic people living traditional yak-herding lives and flourishing rivers ripe for rafting.

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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Hugh Clayson

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