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Few places in the world inspire a sense of mystery and magic quite like the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Closed off to outside visitors for generations, it has only been within the last 50 years that Tibet’s 12,000 foot (3,657.6 meter) capital has been accessible to a handful of lucky visitors. As an area that is still very much protected from the influences of foreign tourists, nearly all travelers must obtain a Tibetan Tourism Bureau permit and be part of an organized tour group. While pockets of semi-rogue travelers have found ways to skirt the stifling Chinese regulation surrounding Tibetan travel, virtually all visitors to Lhasa will be doing so as part of a packaged experience. For the chance to stand on the roof of the world, however, and marvel outside the steps of the Potala Palace—former home of the exiled Dalai Lama—all of the hassle and prior arrangements are undoubtedly worth the effort.

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