Lhasa

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For other uses, see Lhasa (disambiguation).
Lhasa is located in the Lhasa Valley of Tibet.
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Lhasa is located in the Lhasa Valley of Tibet.

Lhasa (Tibetan: ལྷ་ས་; Wylie: lha-sa; Simplified Chinese: 拉萨; Traditional Chinese: 拉薩; pinyin: Lāsà), sometimes called Llasa, is the traditional capital of Tibet and the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China. It is also the traditional home of the Dalai Lama.

Lhasa literally means "Place of the gods", although ancient Tibetan documents and inscriptions demonstrate that the place was first called Rasa, which literally means 'courtyard place' or 'goat place'. Its altitude is about 3,650 m (12,000 ft), and its population about 200,000.

Contents

Administration

Early 19th-century Russian map of Lhasa.
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Early 19th-century Russian map of Lhasa.

Administratively speaking, the City of Lhasa consists of one district and seven counties. The district, called Chengguan District (Tibetan: ཁྲིན་ཀོན་ཆུས་, Wylie: khrin kon chus, Simplified Chinese: 城关区; Traditional Chinese: 城關區; pinyin: Chéngguān Qū), comprises the urban area of Lhasa. The seven counties are Lhünzhub, Damxung, Nyêmo, Qüxü, Doilungdêqên, Dagzê, and Maizhokunggar.

History

Legend has it that the second Tibetan emperor Songtsen Gampo (Srong-brtsan Sgam-po) made Lhasa his capital. But contemporary documents—e.g., The old Tibetan annals—show that the empire was ruled from a moving capital.

The city rose to prominence following the founding of three large Gelugpa (Dge-lugs) monasteries by Tsong-kha-pa and his disciples in the 15th century. The three monasteries are Ganden (Dga'-ldan), Sera (Se-ra), and Drepung ('Bras-spung).

The fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso (Blo-bzang-rgya-mtsho) (16171682), conquered Tibet and moved the center of his administration to Lhasa. There, he started constructing the Potala Palace, which was finished some years after his death. During this time, Lhasa gained its unquestioned status as the political capital of Tibet.

In the first half of the 20th century, several western explorers made celebrated journeys to the city, including Francis Younghusband, Alexandra David-Néel and Heinrich Harrer. Lhasa was the center of Tibetan Buddhism, and nearly half of its population were monks. The population of Lhasa was estimated at 25,000 in 1951, excluding some 15,000 monks in area's monastaries. As of the early 2000s, the city's population stands at about 200,000, which is nearly seven times more than in 1959, when the population was approximately 30,000 [1]. For the history of the Lhasa since 1950, see Tibet.

Geography

Location within China
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Location within China

Lhasa lies at 29°41.76′ N 91°9.54′ E in an area known as the "Lhasa Valley"; even though the average altitude of the valley is well over 3,000 m (10,000 ft), mountains around it rise to 5,500 m (18,000 ft). The Kyi (or Kyi Chu) River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra River, runs through the city. Depending on how the status of Tibet before 1950 is interpreted, Lhasa can be regarded as the highest national capital at that time, surpassing La Paz, Bolivia, which currently holds that distinction.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa is a World Heritage Site
The Potala Palace in Lhasa is a World Heritage Site

Economy

The tourism industry now brings significant business to the region, building on the attractiveness of the Potala Palace, the spectacular Himalayan landscape, and the many wild plants and animals native to the high altitudes of Central Asia. Lhasa is the trading hub for Tibetan trade, and many of Lhasa's residents practice traditional agriculture and animal husbandry. For many years, chemical and automobile plants operated in the area, because the city's remoteness allowed them to pollute with minimal restriction. However, this has changed in recent years. Copper, lead, and zinc are mined nearby, and the Chinese government is experimenting with new methods of mineral mining and ground heat extraction in the area.

People

According to Chinese statistics, 87% of the city's population are ethnic Tibetans. These figures do not include members of the People's Liberation Army or the considerable population of unofficial, unregistered Han Chinese migrants. The Tibetan government in exile and other Tibetan groups assert that, because of this influx, ethnic Tibetans are now in the minority in Lhasa. Due to the partial liberalization of the economy over the past decade, greater freedom of movement and various government incentives, thousands of Han Chinese from China proper have settled in the area, and play a large part in Lhasa's economy.

Culture

The Barkhor, a place for both walking meditation and shopping
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The Barkhor, a place for both walking meditation and shopping

Lhasa has many historic relics, including the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera monastery, Zhefeng Temple, Drepung monastery and Norbulingka. However, many important sites were damaged or destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

The city of Lhasa contains three concentric circumambulatories for use by pilgrims, who make full or partial prostrations along these routes in order to gain spiritual merit. The innermost, the Nangkor (Nang-skor), is contained within the Jokhang temple, and surrounds the sanctuary of the Jowo statue. The middle circumambulatory, the Barkor (Bar-skor), passes through the old town and surrounds the Jokhang temple and various other buildings in its vicinity. The Lingkor (Gling-skor) encircles the entire traditional city of Lhasa. Due to the construction of a large new street, Beijing Lam, the Lingkor is not usually used by pilgrims today.

Tourism

Tibetan marketplace in Lhasa
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Tibetan marketplace in Lhasa

According to the region's authorities, 1.1 million visitors visited Tibet in 2004. Chinese authorities plan an ambitious growth of tourism in the region to 10 million visitors by 2020; these visitors are expected to be mostly ethnic Chinese. Proponents of greater Tibetan autonomy are concerned that the increase in tourism will lead to an erosion of the indigenous culture of Tibet; in particular, these proponents have stated that renovation around historic sites, such as the Potala Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are jarring "Disney-like" degradations of the setting.

In October of 2005, the 1,080 km (670 mile) Qinghai–Tibet Railroad to Lhasa was completed. The section of track has not yet opened to traffic.

References

  • Das, Sarat Chandra. 1902. Lhasa and Central Tibet. Reprint: Mehra Offset Press, Delhi. 1988. ISBN 81-86230-17-3
  • Miles, Paul. (April 09, 2005). "Tourism drive 'is destroying Tibet' Unesco fears for Lhasa's World Heritage sites as the Chinese try to pull in 10 million visitors a year by 2020". Daily Telegraph (London), p. 4.
  • Richardson, Hugh E (1997). Lhasa. In Encyclopedia Americana international edition, (Vol. 17, pp. 281-282). Danbury, CT: Grolier Inc.

External links

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Prefecture-level divisions of the Tibet Autonomous Region
Prefecture-level city: Lhasa
Prefectures: Naqgu | Ngari | Nyinchi | Qamdo | Shannan | Xigazê
List of Tibet Autonomous Region County-level divisions
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