Situated on the Red Hill of central Lhasa, Potala Palace is considered as a masterpiece of Tibetan architecture, and the landmark of Lhasa. Standing at an altitude of 3,700m, it is also the highest and the largest palace complex in the world, reputed as the “pearl on the world roof”. As the winter palace of Dalai Lamas, Potala Palace symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism, and enjoys supreme religious status in the heart of the Tibetan Buddhists. In 1994, it was listed as one of the World’s Culture Heritages by UNESCO.
Potala Palace was originally built in the 7th century, about 1,300 years ago, when Tibet was reigned by King Songtsen Gampo. The palace experienced a number of restorations and expansions. Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Fifth Dalai Lama established his Gaden Phodrang Empire, and in 1645 he began the restoration of the palace. In 1690, Diba Sang-gye Gyatso commissioned the building of Funerary Stupa Hall in Red Palace for the 5th Dalai Lama. Similar expansions and renovations by the following Dalai Lamas continued, and finally there is the present Potala Palace in its grand scale.
With more than 1,000 rooms, Potala Palace now covers an area of over 360,000 square meters with an interior space of more than 130,000 square meters, about 36 meters from east to west, and the 13-story main tower is 115 meters high. It is comprehensive with halls, stupas, Buddhist chambers, chapel, monk dormitories, and courtyards.
You can take bus No. 1, No.6, No.12, No.17, No.24 and No.25, and get off at the Lhasa Department Store Station
The cab fare in Lhasa is negotiable. Generally, 10 RMB is enough to get you anywhere within the city center.
2. Purchasing Tickets
During the high season (May 1 – Oct. 31), you are required to apply for free reservation ticket one day in advance, with your valid identity document such as ID card or passport, as the number of visitors to the palace is restricted to 4,000 a day. The free reservation tickets are available on first come, first served. Every person is allowed to get a maximum of four reservation tickets at a time, including one for himself/herself. (Note: If you can’t visit the palace for personal reasons after obtaining the reservation tickets, you should make your tickets extended or cancelled. Otherwise, you will be forbidden to apply again within a week because your names are added to the blacklist.)
The visiting time is printed on the reservation ticket, and you have to visit the palace at the given time. You should go to the main gate to have your reservation ticket and passport checked, and then follow the other visitors to the stairs up into the palace. Halfway up you’ll pass the White House ticket office, where you can buy the real Potala Palace ticket. (Note: If you arrive later than the time specified on your reservation ticket or if you forget your reservation ticket, you can be refused a ticket.)
3. Opening Hours
High Season (May 1 – Oct. 31): 09:00 – 16:00
During the high season, the visiting time maybe adjusted according to the number of the visitors.
Once going through the ticket checkpoint, you are allowed approximately 1 hour to visit the site in the high season.
Low Season (Nov. 1 – Apr. 30): 09:00 to 14:30
During the low season, you don’t have to book the tickets in advance, but you are suggested to visit the palace in the morning since the time in the afternoon is quite limited.
4. Admission Fee
High Season (May 1 – Oct. 31): 200 yuan / p
Low Season (Nov. 1 – Apr. 30): 100 yuan / p
5. Sightseeing Overview
The Potala Palace consists of the White Palace, the Red Palace and their ancillary buildings, with the Red Palace in the middle. The primary function of the White Palace is the residence of the Dalai Lamas and also serves as a political administrative center whereas the Red Palace is to serve as the location where religious and ceremonial functions are held.
•The White Palace
The first part is the White Palace, which has 7 floors. The entirety of the building’s walls are painted in white which are very striking when viewed from afar; hence winning the name “White Palace”.
Located on the central 4th floor is the East Great Hall (Tsomchen Shar), which is 717 square meters, the largest sanctuary in the palace. In the history, the generations of the Dalai Lamas were enthroned and handled the political affairs in this hall.
The 5th and 6th floors are the Regent’s Office and living quarters.
The topmost of the White Palace is the Sunlight Hall, where the Dalai Lamas lived and had their daily activities, and it is divided into two sections – the East Sunlight Hall and the West Sunlight Hall. The hall is sunny from morning to the evening, hence the name. The furniture and decorations inside are very luxurious, with shining pearls and gems everywhere.
•The Red Palace
The 13-story Red Palace is west of the White Palace. The main building of the Red Palace houses many different kinds of Buddhist halls and stupas of the Dalai Lamas. Inside the palace are eight stupas of the previous Dalai Lamas, among which, the stupa of the Fifth Dalai Lama is the biggest and the most aesthetically pleasing. Standing at 14 meters tall, the body of the stupa is wrapped in gold and a jade inlay. It is said that structure used 110,000 Chinese ounces of gold, as well as pearls, precious gemstones, coral, amber, agate, etc, all together numbering 18,677 pieces.
The beautiful murals inside the Potala Palace are not only attractive, but also tell the story of Tibet. The murals of Potala can be divided into four different kinds: religious stories, depictions of ethnic culture, biographies, and depictions of historical events.
6. Travel Tips
Following are tips which will make your trip to the great palace the most rewarding.
1). As of 2006, the golden roof located at the top of the Potala Palace is no longer open to the public. Due to the renovations and other factors, the sanctuaries that are open to the public constantly change. Only a few of the most important sanctuaries remain open on a daily basis. It is recommended that you visit during the Shoton Festival, Tibetan Losar (New Year), or any other Tibetan religious holidays, so that your experience can be the most rewarding.
2).The interior of the Potala Palace has an extremely complex layout and very profound cultural value. It is recommended that you reserve enough time to fully look around the premises.
3).If time is sufficient, it is recommended that you walk around the Potala Palace clockwise one time. You can witness the layfolk taking ritual walk and making their religious prostrations, and experience the livelihoods of the people who live at the snowy plateau.
4).When you come to visit the Potala Palace, be prepared to respect Tibetan religious taboos, such as refraining from wearing a hat, taking pictures (although taking photographs from outside of a sanctuary is permitted), trampling on the doorsill, etc. After the tour is completed, please exit from the west gate of the Potala Palace. Go down the slope of the hill upon exiting and you’ll be able to return to the main front gate.
5). Remember to wear flat and comfortable shoes when you come to visit the palace.
6).Finding a toilet in the Potala Palace is extremely difficult. It is recommended that you take care of your restroom needs prior to entering.
7).Place to photograph a panoramic shot of the entire Potala Palace: The hillside across the street is commonly known to be the best choice. The two white pagodas that we often see in many panoramic photographs are taken from this location.