35 Beijing Middle Road, Chengguan, Lhasa, Tibet, China
GPS: 29.655735345623, 91.11910635448
Visiting Potala Palace, which is located at an altitude of 3,700 metres at the top of the red hill of Marpari (or Hongshan), in Lhasa, capital of the autonomous region of Tibet. It is the oldest Tibetan monument and an architecturally spectacular building with the appearance of a real fortress (the stone walls are 3 metres thick). Together with the neighbouring Jokhang Temple and the palace complexes of Norbulingka, the Potala Palace represents the centre of Tibetan spirituality in a sensitive political and diplomatic context with China.
The first section of the Potala complex was erected in the 7th century overlooking the Lhasa Valley. This construction from stone and wood was initiated by the king of the Yarlung dynasty, Songtsen Gampo, to make a fortress palace (or dzong). After several victorious territorial conquests, Songtsen Gampo founded the monarchical empire of Tibet. In addition to its religious and spiritual function, the Potala Palace embodies the political heart of Tibet as the country’s governmental, military, administrative, monastic and social headquarters. Completely rebuilt in the 17th century by the Fifth Dalai Lama (Lobsang Gyatso) after several wars had damaged it, this winter palace is now being expanded. It served as the main residence of the Dalai Lamas for over 300 years. The Potala is occupied alternately by the spiritual and temporal leaders of Tibet with the summer palace of Norbulingka, built a little later in Lhasa in the 18th century.
Following the Tibetan uprising against China in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) was forced to flee to India at the age of 24, where he still lives. He fled the palace in the middle of the night in complete secrecy and had no choice but to cross the Himalayas to escape the Chinese forces. The Potala Palace, as the epicentre of Tibetan Buddhism, is one of the most sacred places in the Lhasa region. It is now a holy shrine and Buddhist pilgrimage site under the state of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Comprising a total of 1,000 rooms and inner halls, including many prayer spaces, the complex is divided into two distinct parts: a white palace for political functions (where the Dalai Lamas resided), and a red palace dedicated to religious worship (study of ancient texts and place of prayer). The 13 floors of the palace preserve many treasures representative of the richness of Tibetan culture.