Located on the Red Mountain in Lhasa, Potala Palace is a Tibetan castle built in the year 1649. The palace is named after Mount Potalaka which translates to ‘brilliance’ and is said to have its origin in Tamil Nadu in India.
Once the winter home for the Dalai Lama, the palace was converted into a museum by the Chinese Government after the Dalai Lama was exiled to India in 1959. The grandeur of this palace and the breathtaking panoramic views from the hill is what attracts travellers. The Potala Palace is also a symbol of Tibetan Buddhism and of religious importance to Buddhists around the world. Many pilgrims walk barefoot around the palace, with a prayer wheel, to pay their respects and seek blessings.
History of Potala Palace
It is believed that the Potala Palace was built as a symbol of love by the Tibetan King Sonstsen Gambo. He built a 9-storey building for his wedding to Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. During the civil war, in the 9th century, the ancient palace was almost destroyed. Later when the monks entered Tibet, they restored and expanded the palace and announced it as a residence for the Dalai Lama.
The construction of the palace began in the 17th century under the guidance of the fifth Dalai Lama. It took 45 years to complete the construction of the Red Palace (the palace was divided into two parts — Red and White Palaces). The structure underwent restoration again under the guidance of the 13th Dalai Lama after suffering slight damage during the Tibetan uprising.
In 1994, UNESCO announced Potala Palace as a World Heritage Site with Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka as extension sites in 2000 and 2001, respectively.
Potala Palace architecture
Built at an altitude of 12,100 ft above sea level, in the Lhasa Valley, this is the world’s highest palace that can be easily mistaken for a fortress due to its appearance.
It is built in the Dzong architectural style, a massive structure with towering exterior walls that surrounds a complex of courtyards, temples, administrative blocks and accommodations for the monks. This palace is a perfect display of Tibetan architecture filled with intricate artwork by artists from the region.
The builders used dirt and stones along with other simple equipment available at that time to build the palace. Copper was used in between the granite walls to protect the palace from earthquakes.
The exterior of the palace can be seen best from Jokhang Temple or Chakpori Mountain. The interiors are made up of stones and wood that add to the beauty of this palace.
Inside Potala Palace
The palace comprises 1000 rooms, tombs of 8 Dalai Lamas, numerous shrines, thousands of painted scrolls, murals and statues made from alloys and jewels. The palace building is divided into two sections – The Red Palace and The White Palace. The Red Palace is the religious space which has Namgyel Dratshang – the private monastery of the Dalai Lama along with monks’ dormitories. The grounds of the palace also have a garden, stables and even a jail. The White Palace is the administrative block that also has the largest room which used to be the Dalai Lama’s living quarter. The Dalai Lama’s residence consisted of two apartments on the top floor known as the Eastern and Western Sunshine apartments.
The Potala Palace today
The Potala Palace today is not only an iconic religious landmark but is also a protected heritage site that has a massive collection of spiritual and cultural artefacts. It is a 13-storey building where the beauty of the Red and White Palace buildings are restored by painting the buildings with respective colours of red and white with a fresh coat made from sugar, honey and milk every year in autumn.
What is Potala Palace used for now?
The Palace today is occupied by the Chinese government and converted into a museum that is frequented by Buddhists and travellers from across the globe. Previously, it was a place of government administration of Tibet and the residence of the Dalai Lamas.
Entrance fee and things to remember
The fee from May to October is MYR 128 and from November to April is MYR 64.
Tips to travel to Potala Palace
- You can visit the place only with tour groups or an operator.
- The groups are allowed only one hour inside.
- You should book your tickets before visiting as less than 3,000 visitors are allowed during the day.
- Photography is not allowed inside the premises and you cannot carry food or water.
- It is important to dress appropriately and wear comfortable shoes as you will be on foot covering 3,700 metres!
Best time to visit Potala Palace
Although you can visit the palace all year round, the best time is between June to October which also is the peak season for tourists.
How to get there
Fly into the Lhasa Gonggar Airport or take the direct train from several cities in China to reach Lhasa Railway Station. A Tibet Tourism Bureau permit is required through a local tour agency in advance that will allow you to enter Tibet by air or train. Airport shuttles are easily available to drop you outside the palace for a price of MYR 16. Alternatively, you can take a shared cab or private cab that will cost you approximately MYR 19 and 161, respectively. To reach the palace hop on bus numbers 4, 24 or 12 as all of them will drop you at Jinzhu Market which is close to the east gate of Potala Palace.
(Hero and feature image credit: Hung Chung Chih/Shutterstock)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: There is only one Potala Palace and that is in Lhasa in Tibet.
Answer: No, there is only one Potala Palace and that is in Lhasa in Tibet.
Answer: Potala Palace was previously the winter residence of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century and a holy place of worship for Buddhists.
Answer: Potala Palace was first destroyed during the civil war in the 9th century post which the palace suffered a slight damage during the Tibetan uprising.
Answer: No, the 14th and current Dalai Lama – Tenzin Gyatso lives in India.