For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this time of year is one of mixed feelings. On one hand, the changing of the seasons is a welcome period of transition, in which we put on sweaters and watch the leaves change. On the other hand, we know that just behind the nutmeg-scented, flannel embrace of fall looms the unforgiving wrath of winter. Forced indoors by the deep freeze outside, we find ourselves confined to a state of seasonal hibernation. For those of us who like to explore, this can be a trying time indeed. This year, why not break the cycle? While people don’t often think of China as a winter destination, reduced crowds, local festivals, and mild weather (depending on your destination) make this season an ideal time to explore the “Middle Kingdom”. That is why we’ve put together a series highlighting some of the best places to visit during this time of year.
People don’t often associate Tibet’s capital with winter travel. Some would argue that the “roof of the world” just doesn’t seem like a good place to be in January. It may come as a surprise, then, that winter is an ideal time to visit Lhasa. Though you’ll still need to bring a jacket, daytime temperatures rarely fall below freezing. If you don’t mind the cooler weather, you will not be disappointed. The light this time of year is nothing short of fantastic, with the low-hanging sun casting long shadows across the markets and monasteries. This luminescence, along with the snow-capped peaks that surround the city, make Lhasa a photographer’s playground in the winter.
Potala Palace, former winter residence of the Dalai Lama
In addition to this unique seasonal beauty, another reason to visit Lhasa during this time of year is the significant decrease in tourism that takes place during the winter. This means less crowds, cheaper accommodations, and easier access to train tickets. This also means that you will be able to experience Tibetan culture more freely. As winter puts a break on much of the farming activity in the region, Tibetans use this time to make pilgrimage to Lhasa. This influx of pilgrims will begin arriving in December, and will often stay through the Tibetan New Year, which takes place around late January.
The tens of thousands of Tibetans who descend on this city during this time, along with the reduction in tourism, make winter the one time of the year where locals actually outnumber the tourists from China and abroad. The difference that this makes cannot be overstated. Instead of being surrounded by other foreigners, you can spend your time in Lhasa immersed in the rich cultural and spiritual life that has long made Tibet a focus of the global imagination. If you don’t mind a little chilly weather, winter is the perfect time to gain a truly authentic experience of Tibetan culture.
Jokhang Courtyard, Lhasa If you would like to make your own winter pilgrimage to Tibet’s capital, find more information here.