Magnificent Mansions – Potala Palace

Potala Palace (Postcard purchased in Lhasa)

Potala Palace is located on Red Mountain in the centre of Lhasa Valley, Tibet at an altitude of 3,700 metres. The highest palace in the world - an awesome sight and amazing architectural feat of massive proportions - the walls 2.5 metres thick.

It was a dream come true for me to visit this fascinating place in 2019. Lhasa is situated in a barren, brown valley - surrounded by enormous mountains, topped with snow in the winter and also on several days during our visit, giving the city a magical quality, enhanced by the Potala Palace, rising majestically over the city.

Pray flags flutter on tops of buildings and mountains. At every turn we were faced with fabulous mountain views - the mighty Himalayas - we’d reached the Top of the World!

The Potala viewed from across the Lhasa Valley. (Photo by Craig Lewis. From newlightdreams)

Potala was named after a holy hill in South India, which means Abode of the Avalokitesvara (Buddha of Mercy) in Sanskrit word. The Legend of Potala dates back to the 7th century, King Songtsen Gampo built a 9-storey palace with a thousand rooms up on the Red Hill for his bride, Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty and named it Potala Palace. The Potala Palace we see today was built in the Qing Dynasty, because the original one was destroyed in the war when the Songtsen Gampo Dynasty declined.1

Ascending the ramps to the Palace

It was a slow journey, taking us an hour to ascend the ramps of the Potala Palace, the air thin at this altitude. We were fortunate to be accompanied by a Tibetan guide - a gentle serious man – passionate about history, the many deities, Buddha’s and sects related to Tibetan Buddhism, quite complicated – a little too complicated for me!

A dream come true - here I am with my guide at the base of the Potala

Our visit was timed at only 50 mins, which is the maximum a tourist is allowed and always accompanied by a guide. Our guide, was ever conscious of the time, as with so many rules in Tibet, he would be fined if we outstayed our time slot.

We viewed a mere 20 rooms – filled with Buddha’s, deities, beautifully painted walls, bookcases packed with endless scripture books – each covered with ornately decorated fabric. Everywhere I looked – walls, ceilings and deities, adorned with gold, silver, brass and semi precious stones, each an important part of Tibetan history.

Alas no photos allowed and I am sorry I did not buy the booklet from the palace shop, as I have been unable to source any interior photos of the rooms.

The layout of Potala Palace (1)

As the winter palace of the Dalai Lama from the 7th century the complex symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration of Tibet.

The White Palace contains the main ceremonial hall with the throne of the Dalai Lama, and his private rooms and audience hall are on the uppermost level. The palace contains 698 murals, almost 10,000 painted scrolls, numerous sculptures, carpets, canopies, curtains, porcelain, jade, and fine objects of gold and silver, as well as a large collection of sutras and important historical documents.2

The Red Palace, the highest part of the palace is painted entirely in red to symbolize stateliness and power. It was used for religious study and Buddhist prayer. The interior comprises halls, chapels, and libraries. The Great-West Hall, considered the largest, with beautiful murals painted on its inner walls, takes an area of the 725 sq meters (about 7,804 sq ft). Surrounded by three chapels the Dharma Cave and the Saint's Chapel remain constructions of the 7th century with the statues of Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wen Cheng.1

The Red Palace contains gilded burial stupas of past Dalai Lamas - as shown below. This section is cordoned off, however we glanced around, no-one in sight, so we lifted the cover for a quick photo.

Gilded burial stupas of past Dalai Lamas

Here is a Youtube clip of the Palace.

Home to every Dalai Lama from the 5th to 14th and the centre of government until the cultural revolution, when the current Dalai Lama escaped to India. The Potala survived the cultural revolution, however there are no images of the current Dalai Lama at the Potala - in fact, images of him are banned in Tibet.

The Potala from the Barkhor

With a girlfriend I stayed near the historic old town, close to The Barkhor, a large square surrounded by small alleyways, with Jokhang Temple at its centre, the spiritual heart of Tibetan Buddhism. An exotic mix of locals living their daily lives, monks begging for alms, pilgrims from near and far, walking or prostrating themselves in a clockwise direction (known as a kora).

Jokhang Temple
Life around The Barkhor

For our next mansion we are heading back to the UK for a home with an equally illustrious heritage.

All images are my own unless otherwise stated.