Standing at 170 meters tall, and 400 meters wide from east to west, the Potala Palace is home to thirteen stories of rooms, each of which were mostly used for and by the various Dalai Lamas who inhabited it.
Each of the palace’s surrounding walls – built atop the 100ft tall ‘Marpo Ri’ hill – slope towards the bottom, where they are at their most thick; some reaching up to 16 feet in width. If it weren’t for the fact that they were thinner at the top, it would be a huge surprise that the palace had ever been damaged, as it was by Chinese shells during the Tibetan uprising in 1959. It had also been damaged many years before that, again by war but also by various lightening storms, and it wasn’t until the fifth Dalai Lama came to live in Potala Palace in the seventeenth century that it was rebuilt to be much the same palace that we see today.
Potala Palace is not simply one building with many rooms, but various different palaces all built into one. There are halls where the Dalai Lama used to hold political conferences and talks, courtyards where entertainment such as opera would be held, chapels for worship and murals painted on the walls of this luxurious location.
Today Potala Palace provides no residence to anyone, as the Dalai Lama is no longer based there, but it is instead a museum of Chinese life that anyone can visit at any time of year.
Potala Palace was built originally in the year 637 by the Chinese, under the commission of the Emperor Songtsen Gampo. The Emperor wanted it to function as a place where he could retreat to and spend time in meditation. At the time, however, Potala Palace looked much smaller than it does today, as it was during the 1600s that additional palaces were added on to it, to form the structure that we know today.
In between Emperor Gampo’s inhabitance and this great expansion, Potala Palace suffered damage from wars and lightening strikes, which actually prompted its restructuring and the expansion in the first place. During this time it was also the primary residence for spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama. Each successor to the original Dalai Lama took residency at Potala Palace right up until the 14th (and present) Dalai Lama, who fled from the palace in the late 1950s to India when there was an invasion from the People’s Republic of China. Since this event, Potala Palace remained briefly empty, before being renovated to its former glory and turned into a modern day museum of the history of China.
How to Get There:
Potala Palace is located in the city of Lhasa, which is also home to the Lhasa Gonggar Airport. The airport is around an hour and a half away from Potala Palace by car, but if you find a hotel in the middle of this distance you will break up the journey nicely. Once you arrive at Lhasa Gonggar airport you can catch a train, bus, taxi or rented bicycle to your accommodation.
Lhasa City is located in South Eastern Tibet, not far from Bhutan and Nepal, so if you’re planning a long holiday you could visit these countries too.
Where to Stay:
If you’re looking for a budget hotel stay near Potala Palace in Tibet then a good choice is the Shang Bala Hotel; a 3 star accommodation on Dan Jie Lin road, Lhasa. Rooms here are, on average, $55 per night.
A good mid-range to high value hotel in Lhasa, Tibet is the four star Jardin Secret Hotel on Jhinzu West road, where rooms cost around $75 per night. However, if you’re looking for a more luxury, expensive stay in Lhasa then try the Jin Bo Grand on Linkuo North Road, where rooms are around $175 per night.