The Potala Palace in Lhasa stands as the highest ancient palace in the world. Sitting on top of Marpo Ri, which translates as the “Red Hill”, it is 300 ft above the valley below. From here, it rises up a mountainous 384 ft with 13 stories starting with a bright white at the bottom and moving into the clay orange, a hallmark of the Tibetan Monks (don’t worry, it’s not bad luck, these monks know what they’re doing!). Over 1000 rooms, 10,000 shrines, and more than 200,000 statues are contained within the palace.
As though it wasn’t epic enough it has the snowy peaks of Mount Potalaka as an alluring backdrop. Truly a testament to the creativity, ingenuity, and determination of man, and a beautiful shrine to Tibetan Buddhism. It was the main abode of the Dalai Lama until the current Dalai Lama fled to India during the Tibetan uprising in 1959. Now it is a glorious museum and World Heritage Site. In this article, we will go through how to see the Potala Palace in Tibet. Make sure you add it to your BUCKiTDREAM list and get ready to head out there and get amongst it!
Potala Palace is drenched in the history of almost 5 centuries. The 5th Dalai Lama started its construction in 1645 after being advised that the site was ideal as a seat of government, due to its location between Drepung and Sera monasteries and the ancient city of Lhasa. Supposedly, the three significant hills of Lhasa represent the “Three Protectors of Tibet”.
The Red Palace The central member of Potala is entitled the Red Palace. It contains the main halls and shrines of the last nine Dalai Lamas. These rooms are incredibly extravagant, with intricate, decorative painting, detailed, skillful carving, and other ornamentation, the perfect location for the religious study and Buddhist prayer they were fashioned for.
The White Palace The Potrang Karpo – White Palace – is the part of the Potala Palace that makes up the living quarters of the Dalai Lama. This contained the living quarters, offices, the seminary – an educational institute for teaching theology too, in this case, prospective Tibetan Monks. It also has the sacred gold stupas (the tombs of eight Dalai Lamas), the monks’ assembly hall, numerous chapels and shrines, and libraries for the important Buddhist scriptures.
The Saint’s Chapel This chapel dates back to the 7th century. It contains an impressive, jewel-peppered statue of Avalokiteshvara and two of his attendants. Below this, a low, dark passage leads to the Dharma Cave where images of Songsten Gampo, his wives, his chief minister, and Sambhota, the scholar who developed Tibetan writing in the company of his many divinities.
West Chapel Here there lies a stupa for the 5th Dalai Lama. It is built from sandalwood, coated in gold, studded with thousand of pearls and jewels.
The Three Galleries The first gallery is on the floor above the West chapel and its superb murals showcase the Potala’s skilled construction is fine detail. The second gallery gives access to the central pavilion where souvenirs and refreshments can be found. The third gallery also has detailed murals, but coupled with this are a number of dark rooms branching off it containing enormous collections of bronze statues.
Tomb Of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama This can be reached only from an upper floor and with the company of a monk or a guide of the Potala so sacred it is. Built in 1933, the giant stupa is 46 ft high. Devotional offerings include elephant tusks from India, porcelain lions, and vases. Intricate murals created in traditional Tibetan styles tell tales of the colorful events of the life of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama during the early 20th century.
The Tibetan monks strictly observe Tibetan Buddhism and expect visitors to the palace to also respect these customs (just for your time there, they are not trying to conscript you!). This includes not wearing hats, not taking pictures within the palace. All visits are limited to an hour, so you are not allowed to stop anywhere inside the palace residence.
Due to its high altitude, Potala Palace has been the cause of altitude sickness in many people. There are two ways to prevent the onset of altitudes sickness which we’ll outline now. One is allowing your body ample time to acclimatize to the altitude over a period of days or weeks and slowly making your way upward toward the palace. Or you can start taking altitude medication prior to arrival.
Note: the number of visitors to the palace is restricted to 2,300 a day. Numbers were far higher than this in the past but high levels of footfall led to structural damage that is extremely hard and costly to restore. During peak periods – July to September – this quote is often reached by mid-morning. Tickets are only purchasable for following days and you may be surprised at how many days you have to wait for an opening if you head during these peak months, that’s why we recommend timing your trip outside of them.
*Be sure to bring your ID card, or you cannot enter.
So, BUCKiTDREAMER, are you ready to take a terrific trip to Tibet? Load your favorite tips into your BUCKiTDREAM planner and when you’re finding yourself in The White Palace, reaching Nirvana in The Saint’s Chapel or taking a tour around the Tomb of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, don’t forget to share your memories on social media!