The seventh Dalai Lama founded the first summer palace in the Norbulingka (Whose name literally means ‘jewel park’) in 1755. Rather than use the palace simply as a retreat, he decided to use the wooded environs as a summer base from which to administer the country, a practice that was repeated by each of the succeeding Dalai Lamas. The grand procession of the Dalai Lama’s entourage relocating from the Potala to the Norbulingka became one of the highlights of the Lhasa year.
The eighth Dalai Lama (1758-1804) initiated more work on the Norbulingka, expanding the gardens and digging the lake, which can be found south of the New Summer Palace. The 13th Dalai Lama (876-1933) was responsible for the three palaces in the northwest corner of the park, and the 14th (present Dalai Lama built the New Summer Palace.
In 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama made his escape from the Norbulingka disguised as a Tibetan soldier. All the palaces of the Norbulingka were damaged and artillery fire in the popular uprising that followed. At the time, the compound was surrounded by some 30,000 Tibetans determined to defend the life of their spiritual leader. Repairs have been undertaken but have failed to restore the palaces to their full former glory.