The Potala Palace is probably the most well-known attraction in all Tibet. The images are featured in guidebooks and even 50 Yuan bills. It is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The distinct architecture and unique atmosphere combined with ancient artifacts displayed inside impress its visitors.
To enjoy the spectacular view of the Potala, we recommend going up the hill in front of it. After taking photos of the palace, come down and walk towards the main gate of the city. You can join Tibetans walking around Potala Palace in a clockwise direction, spinning prayer wheels to send thousands of prayers.
Marpo Ri, the 130 meters-high Red Hill, from which all of Lhasa can be seen, was the site of King Songtsen Gampo’s palace during the mid-7th century, long before the construction of the present-day Potala. The fifth Dalai Lama decided to move the seat of his Gelugpa government here from Drepung Monastery.
Work began first on the White Palace, or Kharpo Podrang, in 1645, and the fifth Dalai Lama moved there from Drepung Monastery three years later. It is unknown who initiated the work on the Red Palace, or Marpo Podrang. The fifth Dalai Lama died in 1682 and his death was concealed until the completion of the Red Palace 12 years later. His death was not announced until he was put to rest in the newly completed Red Palace.
There is some scholarly debate concerning the Potala’s name. The most common explanation is that it derives from the Tibetan name for Chenresig’s pure land, or paradise, also known as Potala.
Since its construction, the Potala has been the home of each of the successive Dalai Lamas, although, since the construction of the Norbulingka summer palace in the late 18th century, it served as a winter residence only.
It was also the seat of the Tibetan government, and with chapels, schools, jails and even tombs for the Dalai Lamas, it was virtually a self-contained world.
The Potala was shelled briefly during the popular uprising in 1959 but the damage was not extensive. The Potala was spared again during the Cultural Revolution, reportedly at the insistence of Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier, who is said to have deployed his own troops to protect it. The Potala was reopened to the public in 1980 and final touches to the US $ 4 million renovations were completed in 1995.
Visiting Potala Palace
We will make the reservation to visit the Palace for you. The reservation time depends on availability and we will organize the day based on the booking time. Due to a large number of visitors, time that we can spend inside the palace can be limited.
The visit starts by entering the Palace from the east gate where we spend some time taking close up photos of the Palace.
After that, we will climb up the stairs to enter the White Palace. The White Palace or Potrang Karpo served as living quarters of Dalai Lama and we can see the rooms where Dalai Lamas lived and studied.
Later we will proceed to the roof of the Palace to enter the Red Palace.
The Red Palace or Potrang Marpo includes religious chapels. We will see tomb stupas of Dalai Lamas, 3-d mandalas built with precious stones and metals, meditation cave and Compassion Buddha chapel.
Finally, we will exit at the west side of the Palace and walk down the stairs on the backside of the Potala. From the top of the hill, you can enjoy splendid views of Lhasa and surrounding mountains.
Things to do nearby
Walk in the park behind the Potala Palace.
Spend some quiet moments in the shade of trees.
If you visit it in the evening, you will see the Potala Palace beautifully lit up and its reflection in the lakes both in the front of it and in the lake behind the Palace.
Cross the small arch bridge to visit the small Lugang Temple and enjoy its wall paintings telling some old stories (similar to modern day comic books). The temple is truly a hidden gem. It is located on a small peaceful island with lots of trees. Temple is well cared for and offers opportunities for taking nice photos. Good for 30 minutes to 1 hour visit.
Visit the small Nunnery: the small yellow building to the right from the entrance to the Potala Palace.
Visit one the tea shops with the view on Potala. You can visit the Shol-kunkyi teahouse located to the right from the view point and go up to the second floor to enjoy your meal with a great view!
Want to get even closer? There is a local tea house located to the right from Potala Palace where you can get affordable meal and enjoy the view.