We wake up to our third day in this amazing city, Lhasa. We both got to sleep in from our night of singing and partying at Music Bar, and push ourselves to stumble over for breakfast at 9:30am! The whole group eventually lumbers in, groggy but happy, we laugh about last nights fun and eat a Chinese breakfast. There are fruit and snacks stands right outside our hotel so we pick some up, and water, lots of water our guide reminds us. Then all twenty-two of us hop on a bus and drive the fifteen minute drive to the most recognizable landmark in Lhasa, and all of Tibet, the Potala Palace.
The incredible Potala Palace is built on Lhasas highest point and if you have seen any movie about Tibet you have seen the Potala Palace. It is considered to be the center for both spiritual and political power for Tibetans. These days the Palace is home to less than twenty Tibetan monks, there used to be several thousand here, and it is rumored to have over 1,500 rooms. Today only a small portion of it is available to the public.
Our guide fills us in as we climb the hundreds of steep steps up to the entrance. We are sweating, huffing and puffing madly as we try to catch our breaths and remain together as a group up to the entrance. I take a second to look around and discover the views are spectacular even only half way up – the small traditional Tibetan section of Lhasa can be seen clearly from this view as smoke from the Juniper branches burns in huge incense burners and rises into the sky. Everyone is taking as many pictures as possible but there are armed Chinese guards at every corner the higher up we go. They relax and lounge about arrogantly, then whisper to each other as groups of visitors pass.
The first palace was built by Songsten Gampo in 631, and it was merged into the tri-colored building that exists today. There is a white palace, a red palace, and a yellow palace. I only heard about the white and red sections but Im sure we saw some of the yellow areas too. There is the White Palace, built in 1645, which is the entrance to the main building. The white area houses the Eastern Sunshine Apartment where the 14th Dalai Lama spent most of his time, the Eastern Courtyard which was nice because of the splendid views but had too many Chinese guards loitering around to be enjoyable. We did find it hilarious that 99% of the bathrooms in China are squat style but the Dalai Lama himself had a more civilized, western-style toilet.
We go past the four Heavenly King Murals which are sumptuous, and on up and up into the Red Palace, 1693, which includes the Maitreya Chapel, the famous golden roofs (actually copper), and the Chapel of the 5th Dalai Lama and the 13th Dalai Lama. The 5th Dalai Lamas chapel contains a Stupa gilded with around 6,500 lb of gold. We also get to the see the infamous 3-D Mandala. The mandala is an intricate model of a palace covered in precious metals and jewels and highlights the paths to enlightenment. It is very large and obviously priceless.
We were instructed there is to be absolutely no picture taking of the guards, or once we are inside, and we only have 60 minutes exactly inside the palace and then we must be out. here is money swishing around beneath our feet as we climb steps, stop to admire an image, and move on. My head is spinning by the time our hour is up and I have a chance to grab a quick book of one of kind only for sale in the Potala Palace postcards, and we make it out, literally, with two minutes to spare.
Other than the abundance of rules for the Palace; no drinks, no food, no bags, everyone goes through security metal detectors, no pictures, and exactly sixty minutes for our tour, it was particularly beautiful inside and out. When we came out in the back of the palace there is a wonderful view except that 2/3 of Lhasa is all Chinese development now. And from high on the palace it looks like one huge industrial park complete with sickening noise, smoke, and traffic.
My recommend tips: According to the local custom, you have to tour clockwise around; don’t step on the doorsill; don’t smoke in the halls; don’t take photos without permission!It is not easy for visitors to climb to the top building because of its height, so you’d better slow down. Because the halls are always chilly; you’d better take a coat while visiting! Potala Palace is allowed less than 2300 tourists and pilgrims to enter each day. Therefore I suggest you prepare for a successful trip by purchasing tickets beforehand. Please note that when buying your tickets, you have to show your ID card or passport.
James Ashe is an American traveller, who loves trave all over the global . Kungfu Panda is his pet name for his China trip articles. See more about his China experience blog and tips just log on the ChinaTravelDepot.com, which sponsor his China vacations in China.