1,165km (722 miles) S of Golmud, 278km (172 miles) E of Shigatse. Altitude: 3,600m (11,808 ft.)

The religious and political heart of the Tibetan world, Lhasa sits on the north bank of the Kyi Chu, surrounded by colossal mountain ranges to the north and south. The first hint that you are entering the traditional capital of Tibet is the red and white palaces of the Potala, home to Tibet's spiritual and temporal leaders, the Dalai Lamas, since the 17th century. Most Western visitors, however, are disillusioned to find a Chinese city. The Dalai Lama, the other enduring symbol of Tibetan purity and mystery, fled the grounds of his summer residence, the Norbulingka, nearly 50 years ago.

The effects of martial law, declared in March 1989, are still felt in Lhasa, particularly in the nearby Geluk monasteries of Drepung and Sera. Hu Yaobang, general secretary of the CCP during the early 1980s, compared Chinese policies and attitudes in Tibet to colonialism, and this feeling is still hard to shake. Nowhere is the grip of Chinese rule tighter, all the more so since the Olympic demonstrations. Since the 1980s, waves of Han migration from poor neighboring provinces have made Tibetans a minority in their own capital and the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet rail line has only exacerbated the situation. Ironically, Hu Yaobang's policy of opening Tibet to migration and trade led to this influx of Han migrants, which most Tibetans consider the most odious aspect of Chinese rule.

All Tibetan Buddhists aim to visit Lhasa at least once in their lives, drawn by the sacred Jokhang Temple, which forms the heart of the Tibetan quarter. It is recommended that you stay, and spend most of your time exploring this captivating neighborhood, also known as the Barkhor District.