For many travelers, what reminds them the most of Lhasa is not the blue sky, crystal-clear Lhasa River or colorful Lama Temples, but rather those homely Tibetan-style taverns scattered across the city. Despite being their small rooms, many tourists from all parts of the world prefer to stay in these more traditional and humble abodes rather than large hotels. Today we'll take you to one of these taverns called Banak Shol, located along the Beijing East Street in Lhasa.
Close to Jokhang Temple is the busiest street in Lhasa. Often a sea of tourists and pilgrims, the street is filled with stores and hostels. Camouflaged amongst all the buildings is the Banak Shol, a small tavern that would be missed nine times out of ten if not for its large signboard featuring Chinese, Tibetan and English inscriptions.
Banak Shol was first opened to business back in 1984 and covers an area of 3020 square meters . According to Pentoc, Front Office Manager of Banak Shol hotel, Banak means "a black tent" in the local dialect.
"In the past, many herdsmen lived in tents here. As time passed, living conditions improved and they moved into modern houses. However the Banak name has stuck around and now describes this whole disctrict."
Tibetan-style taverns like Banak Shol are extremely popular, with many of the 220,000 people who visited Tibet during the seven days of this year's national day holiday choosing to stay in these traditional abodes.
Li Qianbi came to Tibet on her own from south China's Guangdong province. She said she found out about Banak Shol on the internet.
"I found information about it on the web and other travelers also recommended it for its affordable prices and convenient location. What interested me most was its traditional Tibetan-style architecture so I came. I really like everything here."
Most of the traditional Tibetan-style taverns are indeed affordable, with rooms in most costing no more than 30 Yuan per day. For a little more, you can also find ones with rooms equipped with modern facilities such as color TVs and telephones.
So are there other reasons why so many tourists flock toTibetan taverns? To begin with, most taverns offer a wide range of services, such as bicycle renting, free local phone calls, free laundry, ticket booking and internet access. We even found one serving Irish coffee, although many tourists still prefer to sample traditional Tibetan butter tea instead.
Furthermore, their traditional Tibetan architecture and decorations give them a very distinct feel compared to a conventional star rated hotel. Interiors are often marked by a two or three story attic with long, narrow staircases and small rooms featuring traditional Tibetan furniture.
Maybe it's also the mixture of eastern and western cultures and lifestyles that draws people to them. Whatever the reason, Tibetan taverns are now frequented by backpackers from all over the world. Such is their popularity that visitors often choose these taverns over star rated hotels.
In Lhasa, there are currently more than ten such taverns, among which Banak Shol is one of the best known. Not only can it boast of being the first traditional Tibetan-style tavern opened in Lhasa, it is also the only Chinese entry in the list of the global top ten mountain hotels compiled by the World Tourism Organization.
One of its most famous attractions is its now famous bulletin board. The board is filled with all kinds of notes about everything from renting cars to disposing of luggage or even looking for partners. As a testament to the truly international flavor of Banak Shol's clientele, you can find notes written in Chinese, English, Japanese and many other languages. Zhong Ying is from Hong Kong. She posted a message on the board to find a traveling partner.
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