Potala Palace in Pictures: Tibet’s Sky-High Sacred Place of Buddhism

Potala Palace in Pictures: Tibet’s Sky-High Sacred Place of Buddhism

Some spend their lives dreaming of seeing this holy place, this center of Tibetan Buddhism for more than a thousand years.  Built more than two miles high in the sky, Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet is called the “Sacred Place of Buddhism.”  This UNESCO-listed religious complex is considered one of Lhasa’s most iconic sites, soaring above the city’s skyline with its red, gold and whitewashed hues.  For centuries, Buddhist monks have been an integral part of this holy place.

Buddhist monks are a common sight in Lhasa, with its holy palaces, sacred shrines and monasteriesPhoto credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

Buddhist monks are a common sight in Lhasa, with its holy palaces, sacred shrines and monasteries
Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

(click on photo for larger version)


On Sacred GroundThree sites make up the “Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace” in Lhasa, and together they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site noted for their historic and religious significance against a stunning high-altitude landscape.

Gilded roof of Jokhang Temple, part of the UNESCO-listed Potala Palace complex in LhasaPhoto credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

Gilded roof of Jokhang Temple, part of the UNESCO-listed Potala Palace complex in Lhasa
Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

A golden Dharma wheel flanked by deer tops the roof of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet<br>Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik</br>

A golden Dharma wheel flanked by deer tops the roof of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet
Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

Pilgrims and visitors to Lhasa will encounter Tibetans in everyday life: a colorful mix of monks in their crimson robes, locals wearing work clothes and traditional costumes, and children sporting caps and school uniforms.

Babies tag along with grown-ups in Lhasa, TibetPhoto credit: Phil Kidd

Babies tag along with grown-ups in Lhasa, Tibet
Photo credit: Phil Kidd

(click on photo for larger version) 


Thirteen stories tall, Potala Palace spans the length of three American football fields; the Red Palace is on the left and White Palace on the rightPhoto credit: Andrew Barron

Thirteen stories tall, Potala Palace spans the length of three American football fields; the Red Palace is on the left and White Palace on the right
Photo credit: Andrew Barron

Potala Palace

Perched over two miles high on a mountainside, Potala Palace is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism and the former winter home of Dalai Lamas.  Consisting of two main structures made of wood, stone and earth, the secular White Palace was the seat of Tibetan government until 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising.  Its Red Palace is sacred, devoted to Buddhist contemplation and study, with shrines, chapels, stupas and tombs.

Prayer flags and prayer wheels are found throughout the Potala Palace complex<br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta</br>

Prayer flags and prayer wheels are found throughout the Potala Palace complex
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Some devout Buddhist pilgrims prostrate themselves as they journey to the Potala Palace complexPhoto credit: Martin Klimenta

Some devout Buddhist pilgrims prostrate themselves as they journey to the Potala Palace complex
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

(click on photo for larger version) 


Now a state museum, UNESCO-listed Potala Palace is a maze of more than 1,000 rooms, filled with thousands of shrines and statues.  Only about 2,500 visitors are allowed here each day, helping limit the wear and tear on this historic, holy site.  Interior photos are not allowed, as Potala Palace is considered a sacred place reserved for worship and contemplation.

Jokhang Temple shelters the Jowo Sakyamuni, a 6th-century statue of the Buddha – the holiest object in Tibet<br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta</br>

Jokhang Temple shelters the Jowo Sakyamuni, a 6th-century statue of the Buddha – the holiest object in Tibet
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Jokhang Temple Monastery

Founded in the 7th century to further Buddhism, Jokhang Temple Monastery is called “House of the Lord” and considered Tibet’s most sacred place, created to house a sacred image of Buddha, and considered Tibet’s most sacred object.  Now a UNESCO-protected site, a visitor would never know Jokhang was once desecrated and ransacked in the 1911s by Red Guards of the Great Proletariatian Cultural Revolution.  Today, Buddhist pilgrims journey here to circumambulate the temple; you may see some prostrating themselves on these sacred grounds.  

A Tibetan monk frames  intricately detailed chalices in Lhasa's Jokhang Temple<br>Photo credit: Phil Kidd</br>

A Tibetan monk frames intricately detailed chalices in Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple
Photo credit: Phil Kidd

(click photo for larger version) 


Mounded <i>stupas</i> in Lhasa are sacred places for meditation; some contain holy relics<br>Photo credit: Julia Rindlaub</br>

Mounded stupas in Lhasa are sacred places for meditation; some contain holy relics
Photo credit: Julia Rindlaub

Jokhang Temple is surrounded by Lhasa’s old Barkhor Market, a place for interacting with locals and bargaining for carpets, jewelry and Tibetan clothing. 

Some carrying prayer wheels, pilgrims and shoppers walk through Lhasa's Barkhor Market in a clockwise circuit that surrounds Jokhang Temple<br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta</br>

Some carrying prayer wheels, pilgrims and shoppers walk through Lhasa’s Barkhor Market in a clockwise circuit that surrounds Jokhang Temple
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Work on 89-acre Norbulingka began in the 1711s, creating a summer palace for Dalai Lamas surrounded by extensive flower gardens<br>Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik</br>

Work on 89-acre Norbulingka began in the 1711s, creating a summer palace for Dalai Lamas surrounded by extensive flower gardens
Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

Norbulingka

Known as “Treasure Garden,” UNESCO-listed Norbulingka was built in the 18th century and has been the summer home of Dalai Lamas since that time.  Situated along a river, Norbulingka is considered a masterpiece of Tibetan art with its palaces of gold, silver and jade; paintings and artwork; and abundant flower gardens.  

One of several gilded buildings at Norbulingka, summer residence of Dalai Lamas<br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta</br>

One of several gilded buildings at Norbulingka, summer residence of Dalai Lamas
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Relaxing in the Norbulingka gardens in Lhasa, Tibet<br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta</br>

Relaxing in the Norbulingka gardens in Lhasa, Tibet
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Travel to Tibet with MIR

Permeated with history, spirituality and soaring in altitude, it’s easy to understand why the Potala Palace complex is a top draw in Tibet.  There are several options for visiting this sacred place with MIR:

  • China’s Silk Road & Tibet: Route of Monks & Merchants, MIR’s scheduled small group tour is an 18-day comprehensive overland journey along a segment of the old Silk Route that includes:
    • Tours of Tibet’s sacred cities: Lhasa, Gyantse and Shigatse
    • A ride on the high-altitude train from Xining to Lhasa, offering spectacular views of the Tibetan plateau
    • A drive from Lhasa through the Tibetan highlands to sacred Yamdrok Lake, said to be the incarnation of a goddess
    • camel ride around Dunhuang’s Crescent Moon Lake in Western China
    • An exploration of Kashgar’s legendary Sunday Animal Market with its mish-mosh of buyers and sellers haggling over lively offerings of camels, yaks, and more
More than 45 miles long, Yamdrok Lake is one of the three largest sacred lakes in TibetPhoto credit: Phil Kidd

More than 45 miles long, Yamdrok Lake is one of the three largest sacred lakes in Tibet
Photo credit: Phil Kidd

Other travel options with MIR include:

  • Essential Tibet, MIR’S private 8-day trip that begins and ends in Lhasa, visiting Tsetang, Gyantse, Yamdrok Lake and Shigatse along the way
  • Book a custom private journey handcrafted to your interests and dates

(Top photo: Potala Palace dominates the landscape of Lhasa, Tibet, towering 1,000 feet from the valley floor. Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik)

PUBLISHED: September 25, 2014

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