Saturday, July 25, 2009

Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is the home of the Dalai Lama and seat of the Tibetan government, at least before the Chinese took over and the Dalai Lama went into exile(1959). The white portion was built in 1649 and the red in 1694. There have been many additions/changes in the intervening years, with each new Dalai Lama making embellishments. Prior to the Chinese takeover there were about 1000 monks living there; now there are about 400. It sits on a hill in Lhasa and is one of the architectural wonders of the world.

During the cultural revolution propagated by Mao Tse Tung many Tibetan cultural monuments were damaged or destroyed by the Red Guards. Our guide and some of the guide books say that the Potala Palace was not damaged because Chou En Lai sent his personal army to surround it and protect it from the Red Guards.

The Potala Palace was its own little world with kitchen, numerous rooms, an apartment for the Dalai Lama, a jail, many chapels and accommodations for the government.

There are strict quotas for the number of visitors allowed per day as well as for the amount of time allowed to be inside. We were required to make an appointment, deliver our passports and were allowed one hour inside the Palace. No photography is permitted inside. One must walk up 354 steps to get to the entrance. Fortunately the steps are not steep and are broken up by ramps. The altitude as you begin this climb is about 12,500 feet.

The inside was confusing and seemed like a giant maze to me as we moved from room to room and floor to floor. We were taken to the Dalai Lama's apartment where the guide proclaimed on the simplicity of it. I suppose one could look at it that way; it was heavily endowed with fabrics on walls, bed, etc. I did wonder a bit at the simplicity theme as the table settings(dinner service) were solid gold. As I remember it was rectangular and perhaps 15 by 30 feet.

When you come out of the Palace you travel a different path and are able to see some of the architectural details closeup. To see more photos go to my website.


  1. The rules regarding entry are very strict as you mentioned which heightened the intrigue felt in this strangely beautiful place. Too bad one can't linger. Good writing.

  2. There is a mysterious beauty to it all. The prayer wheels remind me of one day when one of my seminary students (after weeks or maybe even months of sitting right next to it) discovered my little prayer wheel. In the middle of a lesson, he picked it up and started trying to figure out how it would work. I told him what it was and what is was used for. They all thought it was pretty cool.

  3. Don't you think that the West should stop poking their nose in Tibet ?