Situated on the Red Hill of central Lhasa, the Potala Palace is the highest ancient palace in the world, reaching 3,767m at its topmost point. Taken from an old Sanskrit word meaning “Abode of the Avalokitesvara (Buddha of Mercy)”, Potala Palace could easily be heralded as the most iconic sight in all of China!
Undoubtedly, a trip to the Potala Palace will be the highlight of anybody’s time in Tibet, and while the guided tour lasts only for 1 hour (maybe for 2 hours in off-season, if you’re lucky), you will get a great impression of what Tibetan Buddhism means from the atmosphere and architecture of this grand old palace. One minor remark is that we weren’t allowed any photography at all when touring the palace.
All visitors are required to apply for tickets with valid documents in advance of their visit. The reservation ticket window opens at 9am and closes when all tickets are sold out. Only 400 tickets are sold each day. The entry price to the Potala Palace is CNY 200 per person. The visiting date and exact time, and the number of the visitor are printed on the ticket – and you have to visit the palace at the given date and time, otherwise your reservation will be cancelled.
Housed within the amazing stone and wood structure of the Potala Palace are articles and artefacts from Tibetan history, religion, and culture. Statues of Buddha, murals, and antiques that are centuries old, and incredible works of art grace every area of this mountaintop palace. The elaborate works of art and murals tell many stories of the Dalai Lamas and the history of the Tibetan people, and depict different customs and traditions held dear in this beautiful part of the world. One area of particular importance is the wall frescoes that depict the life and works of the fifth Dalai Lama. Other precious works of art include ornate statues, sculptures, and Tibetan paintings.
The Red Palace (Potrang Marpo) is the highest part of the whole palace, and is completely devoted to religious study and Buddhist prayer. It was painted to red to represent stateliness and power. It consists of a complicated layout of different halls, chapels and libraries, with an array of smaller galleries and winding passages, such as the Dharma Cave, The Saint’s Chapel, and the Tomb of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. Also here is the Great West Hall, with beautiful murals painted on its inner walls. The Dharma Cave and the Saint’s Chapel are the only two remaining constructions of the 7th century, and these include the statues of Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wen Cheng, and Princess Bhrikuti inside.
The White Palace (Potrang Karpo) makes up the living quarters of the Dalai Lama. Its wall was painted to white to convey peace and quiet. The Great East Hall on the fourth floor was the site for momentous religious and political events. The fifth and sixth floors are used as the living quarters and offices of regents while the seventh – and top – floor is the living quarters of the Dalai Lama, which we learned consisted of two parts: the East Chamber of Sunshine and the West Chamber of Sunshine. This is due to the plentiful sunshine that reaches the Potala Palace most days of the year.
Important facts to remember when visiting the Potala Palace:
- The Government has limited the number of visitors allowed up the mountain each day. Tickets sell quickly, so it is best to book in advance.
- Once inside, visitors are allowed approximately 1 hour to visit the site before being asked to leave, so that many more people can enjoy the beauty of this wondrous site.
- Research well beforehand. Before you enter the Potala Palace, get some knowledge about it or you won’t understand what the guide is talking about.
- Climbing steps at high altitude requires good physical condition, so go as slowly as possible to avoid altitude sickness (and to enjoy the view).
- Dress respectfully and for the coolness. Modest clothing is encouraged, as this is a sacred site. Hats are not allowed. Bring a coat, because it is quite cool (and damp) inside the Potala Palace.
- Photography, video equipment, and other recording devices are not allowed, due to the sacred nature of the site and the relics held within the sacred walls.
- To ensure a safe and secure environment, security checkpoints are set up to remove prohibited items from visitors, such as weapons or flammable liquids.
- Don’t bring any liquid – including water – inside the palace. It will be confiscated and you probably won’t get it back!