The fragile Tibetan old town shelters the soul of Lhasa, far from the Chinese part. This walk takes in craft workshops, backstreet chapels and pilgrim path, passing en route some of Lhasa's last remaining traditional architecture.
At the first turn of the Barkhor circut(1) take a left and then quick right, past strips of dried yak meat and yellow bags of yak butter to the bustling Tromsikhang Market(2). After a quick look around the modern market, head north to the main road, Beijing Donglu, and then right to visit the Gyume Lower Tantri College(3).
About 50m further down the road, opposite the Kirey Hotel, are the deceptively long white walls of the small but active Meru Sarpa Monastery(4). The building in the middle of the central housing compound houses a traditional wood-block printing press. In the northwest corner is an atmospheric chapel with a statue of thousand-armed Chenresing.
Take the alley down the east side of the Kirey Hotel into the old town and follow the winding branch to the right, past the yellow walls of the Huse of Shambhala, which has a nice rooftop restaurant. As you continue south you will pass Tibetan craftspeople making statues, cabinets, masks and Tibtan banners. At he junction there is the Eizhi Exquisite Thangka Shop(5) to the left; you want to take a left here but first look down the alleyway to the right to see the brassware shop, a Tibetan tailor and a noodle-making worshop.
As you head southeast past a small market, curve right to the quiet but interesting Karmashar Temple(6), once the home of Karmashar, Lhasa' main oracle. Look for the Karmashar statue in the far right corner of the back chapel, decorated with bangles, beads and hair clips, and for the spooly faded icon painted on a pigskin bad in the main hall, pacified with offerings of tsampa and barley beer. There are also some nice original murals on the upper walls. Enter from the south side.
Continue east to T-junction past outdoor pool tables and blaring video teahouses. At the T-junction take a left to visit the stylish Dropenling crafts center(7), where you can watch local craftsmen from the Ancient Art Restoration Centre across the courtyard, as they grind uo mineral paints for thangka-painting and hammer away at metal sculptures.
After loading up with souvenirs, head south towards the Muslim quarter(8), the focus of Lhasa's 2000-strong Muslim population. During Friday lunchtime weekly prayers the quarter is full of men with wispy beards and skullcaps(non-Muslims are denied entry to the mosque itself). Many women here wear black-velvet headscarfts, characteristic of the Linxia region of China's Gansu province. Try a bowl of Muslim noodles at the Islam Restaurant(9) if you are feeling peckish.
As you face the mosque, turn right and head southwest past Muslim tea stalls and butcher shops, along part of the Lingkhor prilgrim circuit to the yellow walls of the Ani Sangkhung Nunnery(10).
This small, friendly and active nunery is the only one within the precincts of the old Tibetan quarter. The site of the nunnery probably dates back to the 7th century, but is housed a monastery until at least the 15th century. The principal image, upstairs on the 2nd floor, is a thousand-armed Chenresing. A small alley to the side of the main chapel heads down to the former meditation chamber of Songtsen Gampo, the 7th-century king of Tibet. The busy nuns run a great teahouse in the courtyard. Just next to the entrance is an excellent and very friendly thangka workshop(11).
Continue past a second mosque to the Lho Rigsum Lhakhang(12), one of the four chapels surrounding the Jokhang at cardinal points. The lovely chapel, almost completely ignored by tourists, has a central statue of Tsepame flanked by the four mainbodhisattvas and its own inner kora. The site is looked after by monks from Ganden Monastery.
Take a right here headed north and then a right, then a left. At the junction you can see the Rabtse Temple(13), affiliated to Sera Monastery.
The alley north takes you to the southeast corner of the Barkhor circuit, where you can continue clockwise to Barkhor Square.