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Lhasa Tibet

Lhasa is the administrative capital of Tibet. It is the second most populous city on the Tibetan Plateau after Xining and, at an altitude of 11,450 ft., Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world. The city contains many culturally significant Tibetan Buddhist sites such as the Potala Palace, Jokhang temple and Norbulingka palaces, many of which are located in Chengguan District, the city seat.

 Lhasa literally means "place of the Gods." Ancient Tibetan documents and inscriptions demonstrate that the place was called Rasa, which either meant "goats' place", or, as a contraction of rawe sa, a "place surrounded by a wall," or 'enclosure', suggesting that the site was originally a hunting preserve within the royal residence on Marpori Hill. Lhasa is first recorded as the name, referring to the area's temple of Jowo, in a treaty drawn up between China and Tibet in 822.

By the 15th century, the city of Lhasa had risen to prominence following the founding of three large Gelugpa monasteries. The three monasteries are Ganden, Sera and Drepung and were built as part of the puritanical Buddhist revival in Tibet. The scholarly achievements and political know-how of this Gelugpa Lineage eventually pushed Lhasa to center stage.

The fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso (1617–1682), unified Tibet and, in 1642, moved the center of his administration to Lhasa, which thereafter became both the religious and political capital. The Jokhang Temple was also greatly expanded around this time. Although some wooden carvings and lintels of the Jokhang Temple date to the 7th century, the oldest of Lhasa's extant buildings, such as within the Potala Palace, the Jokhang and some of the monasteries and properties in the Old Quarter date to this period in Lhasa's history.

By the end of the 17th century, Lhasa's Barkhor area formed a bustling market for foreign goods. The Jesuit missionary, Ippolito Desideri reported in 1716 that the city had a cosmopolitan community of Mongol, Chinese, Muscovite, Armenian, Kashmiri, Nepalese and Northern Indian traders. Tibet was exporting musk, gold, medicinal plants, furs and yak tails to far-flung markets, in exchange for sugar, tea, saffron, Persian turquoise, European amber and Mediterranean coral.

By the 20th century, Lhasa, long a beacon for both Tibetan and foreign Buddhists, had numerous ethnically and religiously distinct communities, among them Kashmiri Muslims, Ladakhi merchants, Sikh converts to Islam, and Chinese traders and officials.

The city's merchants catered to all kinds of tastes, importing even Australian butter and British whisky. In the 1940s, according to Heinrich Harrer (Seven Years in Tibet, Penguin, 1997):

There is nothing one cannot buy, or at least order. One even finds the Elizabeth Arden specialties, and there is a keen demand for them. . .You can order, too, sewing machines, radio sets and gramophones and hunt up Bing Crosby records.

Such markets and consumerism came to an abrupt end after the arrival of Chinese government troops and administrative cadres in 1950. Food rations and poorly stocked government stores replaced the old markets until the 1990s when commerce in international wares once more returned to Lhasa and arcades and malls with a cornucopia of goods sprang up.

In 2000 the urbanized area covered 53 square kilometers (20 sq. mi), with a population of around 170,000. Lhasa Prefecture covers an area of close to 30,000 km2 (12,000 sq. mi). It has a central area of 544 km2 (210 sq. mi) and a total population of more than 500,000; 250,000 of its people live in the urban area. Lhasa is home to the Tibetan, Han, and Hui peoples, as well as several other ethnic groups.

Lhasa is located at the bottom of a small basin surrounded by the Himalaya Mountains. The elevation is about 3,600 m (11,800 ft.) and lies in the center of the Tibetan Plateau with the surrounding mountains rising to 5,500 m (18,000 ft.). The air only contains 68% of the oxygen compared to the air at sea level.

Due to its very high elevation, Lhasa has a cool semi-arid climate with frosty winters and mild summers, yet the valley location protects the city from intense cold or heat and strong winds. The city enjoys nearly 3,000 hours of sunlight annually and is thus sometimes called the "sunlit city" by Tibetans. The coldest month is January with an average temperature of 29.1 °F and the warmest month is June with a daily average of 60.8 °F.

Administratively, Lhasa is a prefecture-level city that consists of one district and seven counties. Chengguan District is the main urban area of Lhasa.

Competitive industry together with key economic features play key roles in the development of Lhasa. With the view to maintaining a balance between population growth and the environment, tourism and service industries are emphasized as growth engines. Many of Lhasa's rural residents practice traditional agriculture and animal husbandry. Lhasa is also the traditional hub of the Tibetan trading network. For many years, chemical and car making plants operated in the area and this resulted in significant pollution, a factor which has changed in recent years. Copper, lead and zinc are mined nearby and there is ongoing experimentation regarding new methods of mineral mining and geothermal heat extraction.

Agriculture and animal husbandry in Lhasa are considered to be of a high standard. People mainly plant highland barley and winter wheat. The resources of water conservancy, geothermal heating, solar energy and various mines are abundant. There is widespread electricity together with the use of both machinery and traditional methods in the production of such things as textiles, leathers, plastics, matches and embroidery. The production of national handicrafts has made great progress.

The tourism industry now brings significant business to the region, building on the attractiveness of the Potala Palace, the Jokhang, the Norbulingka Summer Palace and surrounding large monasteries, as well the spectacular Himalayan landscape and the many wild plants and animals native to the high altitudes of Central Asia. Tourism to Tibet dropped sharply following the crackdown on protests in 2008, but as early as 2009, the industry was recovering. Chinese authorities plan an ambitious growth of tourism in the region aiming at 10 million visitors by 2020; these visitors are expected to be domestic. With renovation around historic sites, such as the Potala Palace, UNESCO has expressed "concerns about the deterioration of Lhasa's traditional cityscape."

Lhasa has many sites of historic interest, including the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery and Norbulingka. The Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and the Norbulingka are UNESCO world heritage sites. Many important sites were damaged or destroyed during China's Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Many have since been restored.

The Potala Palace, named after Mount Potala, the abode of Chenresig or Avalokitesvara, was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama. After the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the Chinese occupation in 1959, the government converted the palace into a museum. The palace underwent restoration between 1989 and 1994 costing $6.875 million and was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.

The Barkhor is an area of narrow streets and a public square in the old part of the city located around Jokhang Temple and was the most popular devotional circumambulation for pilgrims and locals. The walk was about one kilometer (0.6 miles) long and encircled the entire Jokhang, the former seat of the State Oracle in Lhasa.

The Jokhang is located on Barkhor Square in the old town section of Lhasa. For most Tibetans it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. It is in some regards pan-sectarian, but is presently controlled by the Gelug School. Along with the Potala Palace, it is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Lhasa. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace," and a spiritual center of Lhasa. This temple has remained a key center of Buddhist pilgrimage for centuries.

The Qinghai–Tibet Railway which proceeds north and then east to Xining, some 2,000 km (1,200 mi), goes up to 5,072 meters above sea level, is the highest railway in the world. Five trains arrive at and depart from Lhasa railway station each day. Train numbered T27 takes 43 hours, 51 minutes from Beijing West, arrives in Lhasa at 16:00 every day.

Lhasa Gonggar Airport is located about one hour's taxi ride south from the city. There are flight connections to several Chinese cities including Beijing and Chengdu, and to Kathmandu in Nepal. A few years ago a 37.68 kilometers (23.41 mi), four-lane highway between Lhasa and the Gonggar Airport was built by the Transportation Department of Tibet at a cost of RMB 1.5 billion (approximately $200 million).

The closest port is Kolkata, India. The Nathu La pass offers Chinese companies access to the port of Kolkata (Calcutta), situated about 1,100 km (680 mi) from Lhasa, for transshipments to and from Tibet.