That Lhasa has changed, since my last vacation to Tibet some 20 years ago, became quite clear as a Porsche Cayenne and several other luxury SUV's overtook us on the new road from Lhasa airport to the city (about 45 mins drive).
Tibet is now an autonomous province of China, and this is nowhere more apparent than in Lhasa, its major city. Lhasa has become a very fast growing modern city. The infrastructure includes a modern highway, bridges, paved roads everywhere, numerous government and military installations, a mass of large apartment buildings, many schools and, to top it off, an almost completed Convention Center with a 1600-room Intercontinental Hotel attached!
The crown jewel, and one of the main reasons one might wish to visit Lhasa, is the Portola Palace, the former seat of the Dalai Lama and the feudal Tibetan government, which contains over 1000 rooms. Commissioned in 1645, the iconic Portola Palace is situated on a hill in the center of Lhasa, and the destination for thousands of Tibetan pilgrims who convene on Lhasa from all over Tibet year around. The most devoted prostrate themselves, body length by body length, clockwise around the Palace before ascending into the Portola with the rest of the pilgrims and tourists, and touring the eight gold-plated tombs of previous Dalai Lamas, countless Buddha statues and other treasures, as well as the former living quarters of the Dalai Lama before he escaped into exile in 1959. A prior reservation to enter the Portola is required and should be obtained as much in advance as possible.
Other attractions in and around Lhasa we were able to see and which should be included are:
Norbalinka - the summer palace of the Dalai Lama; Drepung Monastery, close to Lhasa,, founded in 1416, once the worlds largest monastery with over 10,000 monks in residence, now only 500; Jokhan Temple, built in 642- the oldest and holiest Tibetan Buddhist Temple; The Barkhor area- or kora (circle) around the Jokhan, a clockwise walk of a little over 1 hour unless you stop at one or more of the many interesting shops in the Barkhor; The hilltop Ganden monastery, about 2 hours by bus each way, altitude 13,800 feet, where you walk the kora outside while viewing the Lhasa valley far below.
Our home in Lhasa was the just opened (May 2014) Shangri-La Lhasa Hotel, easily the best hotel in all of Tibet. The location is outstanding and within walking distance to the Portola Palace and Norbalinka Palace. Grand in scale, tastefully decorated with a Tibetan motif, the Shangri La Hotel offers five different dining venues, a full service spa, an indoor swimming pool, steam room and a 24-hour oxygen lounge. As Lhasa is at the very high altitude of 11,600 feet, oxygen is also available in one's room on request.
The best time to travel to Lhasa would be spring and fall, although it is a year around destination. In the winter month, daytime temperatures are in the 60F's with night time temperatures much colder. Summers are in the 80's and 90's daytime. We do recommend for you to visit Lhasa rather sooner than later, as it will be struggling to keep and preserve it's unique cultural identity with the continuous infusion of Chinese capital and Chinese transplants.