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China: Potala Palace

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Potala Palace | China | Asia

[Visited: April 2007]

When I arrived in Lhasa in total darkness, my eyes were drawn to a patch of light in the distance, and I was left in awe: I realized at once I was looking at the Potala Palace. On the way to the city, my eyes were glued to the Potala. It was late, and finding a hotel took some time. When I went to the roof restaurant of my hotel for breakfast the next morning, I was again surprised to find the Potala rising high above the surroundings - much closer than the day before. Inevitably, as soon as I had finished breakfast, I was drawn directly to the Potala. When I arrived at the Potala square, and the Potala towered high above me in all its serenity, I felt very excited. Even though I had seen the Potala so many times before on pictures and on TV, in reality it was much more impressive than I had imagined.

Picture of Potala Palace (China): Potala Palace seen from the Chagpo Ri

I stood still to just marvel at the sight of the Potala, while a stream of pilgrims was walking the kora or ritual circumambulation around the enormous building. I did not want to just walk in right away, but walked past the palace with the vast Potala square on the left hand side. Exactly in front of the Potala, pilgrims were prostrating and praying; the pavement was completely worn out here. The colours were contrasting brilliantly with the perfectly blue sky. Late in the afternoon, I returned to the square and visited the Chagpo Ri hill on the southwestern side. By this time, the sky was completely overcast. While I sat down to enjoy the view, openings appeared in the grey clouds above me, and a gentle sunlight was reaching the palace. The view was great: green trees in the foreground, the Potala majestically rising above them, and behind mountains with fresh snow defined the horizon. The next days, I always kept the Potala at a distance, and even considered not going in at all; not only because the palace is not used as such anymore, but also because I had heard disappointing stories by others, Tibetans and foreigners.

Picture of Potala Palace (China): Tibetan couple praying towards the Potala palace on the square

One day, I found myself looking at the Potala at the front entrance, and could not resist entering. The first palace at this place was erected in 637CE, while the present structure was built in the 17th century. It did not suffer major damage during the Chinese hostilities, and was renovated in the 1990s. Walking through Sho village, I climbed the wide stairs leading to the Potala. The museum exceeded my expectations, as there were some remarkable pieces of art, paintings and carvings, stupas and tombs, Buddhist scriptures, and to top it off, the views over Lhasa were remarkable. What remains strange is that the Potala is not more than a museum and as such dead, where until the late 1950s it was the residence of the Dalai Lama until he went to India in exile, never to return.

Picture of Potala Palace (China): West wing of the Potala palace
Picture of Potala Palace (China): Potala palace is visible all over Lhasa
Picture of Potala Palace (China): Potala palace seen from Potala square
Picture of Potala Palace (China): View of Potala palace from the eastern side of Potala square
Picture of Potala Palace (China): Late afternoon sunlight on Potala palace
Picture of Potala Palace (China): Praying Tibetan pilgrim praying in front of Potala palace
Picture of Potala Palace (China): View of Potala palace from below
Picture of Potala Palace (China): Close-up of Potala palace
Picture of Potala Palace (China): White palace of the Potala: the residential quarters of the Dalai Lama
Picture of Potala Palace (China): View from the Potala palace
Picture of Potala Palace (China): Golden roofs of the Potala palace
Picture of Potala Palace (China): Night view of Potala palace
Picture of Potala Palace (China): Traditional Tibetan toilet in the Potala palace

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