NPR logo Lhasa: Finding Peace at the House of Shambhala

Lhasa: Finding Peace at the House of Shambhala

Buddhist prayer wheels stand inside the entrance to the House of Shambhala in Lhasa, Tibet. i

Buddhist prayer wheels stand inside the entrance to the House of Shambhala in Lhasa's historic Barkhor neighborhood. Anthony Kuhn, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Anthony Kuhn, NPR
Buddhist prayer wheels stand inside the entrance to the House of Shambhala in Lhasa, Tibet.

Buddhist prayer wheels stand inside the entrance to the House of Shambhala in Lhasa's historic Barkhor neighborhood.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR
The view from the hotel's rooftop: mountains north of Lhasa loom over the rooftops of the old city. i

The view from the hotel's rooftop: mountains north of Lhasa loom over the rooftops of the old city. Anthony Kuhn, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Anthony Kuhn, NPR
The view from the hotel's rooftop: mountains north of Lhasa loom over the rooftops of the old city.

The view from the hotel's rooftop: mountains north of Lhasa loom over the rooftops of the old city.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR
Room at the House of Shambhala i

A guest room at the House of Shambhala. House of Shambhala hide caption

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Room at the House of Shambhala

A guest room at the House of Shambhala.

House of Shambhala

Don't come to Tibet in search of golf courses, Michelin-starred dining and plush accommodations — at least not yet, thankfully. Instead, most visitors are drawn by the region's harsh, pristine natural beauty, and the deep spirituality and unvarnished hospitality of its people.

That was my thinking last September, when I stayed at the House of Shambhala, a small boutique hotel that opened last year in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. I also picked the hotel for its location in the Barkhor neighborhood at the historic heart of old Lhasa, which I wanted to write about.

It's less the luxury that wows you than the funk factor. You enter from the street, past a row of prayer wheels, and find yourself in a lovingly restored traditional Tibetan residence, with three stories of rooms around a central courtyard.

The place has a dozen or so rooms and suites of different sizes and layouts. All are skillfully decked out with Tibetan furniture painted in gold and crimson, furry white rugs and exquisite Buddhist thangka paintings.

The bathrooms have stone shower stalls, heat lamps and fragrant Tibetan soaps. Some rooms have free broadband. The stone walls and rough-hewn wooden floors give the place a rustic, medieval feel. Pillows and lampshades are adorned with the eyes of Buddha and votive yak-butter lamps illuminate nooks and crannies.

The hotel also features a spa with sauna, yoga space and a hip, young female Tibetan yogini.

Exit the hotel and after a few minutes of walking through a maze of narrow lanes, you emerge on Barkhor Street, a circular thoroughfare around the Johkhang Temple, the holiest of Tibetan Buddhism's shrines. The street perpetually teems with nomads, monks and pilgrims, circumambulating clockwise around the Jokhang.

The House of Shambhala is the brainchild of American lawyer, entrepreneur and author Lawrence Brahm. Several years ago, Brahm got the Tibetan bug and moved to Lhasa from Beijing, where he runs two other funky, boutique hotels.

Every morning during my stay, I went up to the hotel's roof garden. Tibetan prayer flags fluttered over the city's rooftops against the stunning backdrop of the mountains to the north. I then enjoyed a breakfast of omelet, toast and coffee, as Brahm's gray wolf-dog, Himalaya, lounged on a nearby chair. In the evenings, I often enjoyed a plate of momos, Tibetan dumplings with meat or vegetable filling and spicy dipping sauce.

The Shambhala that the hotel refers to is a utopian realm of peace in Tibetan mythology. It's worth searching for; but go quickly, before Tibet is overrun by decidedly un-funky chain hotels, fast-food franchises and bigger hordes of tourists than are already there.

House of Shambhala — 7 Jiri Erxiang, Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. Telephone: 86-891-632-6533. Fax: 86-891-632-6695.

For International Booking and Reservation — Telephone: 86-10-6402-7151 or 86-10-6402-7152. Fax: 86-10-6402-7153. E-mail: info@houseofshambhala.com. Web site: http://houseofshambhala.com/.

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