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The Potala Palace

 

The Potala Palace, of course is a must. Its gold roofs are visible all over Lhasa, but most notably from the roof of the Jokhang. It's easy to see why the first Western visitors to Tibet were utterly enchanted with Lhasa. The sense of achievement at having finally attained this remote city, even by airplane, is still very real. Lhasa sits in a huge crater formed by mountains surrounding it on all sides. In the middle sits the Potala, itself atop its own sizeable hill. In front of it spreads the city and the Kyichu river. Behind it a veritable tapestry of fields and flowers spreads back to the mountains. A more picturesque scene could scarcely be imagined.

The Potala is the official residence of the Dalai Lama, Buddhism's highest ranking priest. He is believed to be both a living god and an incarnation of all previous Dalai Lamas. Construction of the Potala Palace was begun by the 5th Dalai Lama, but it was not completed by the time of his death, in 1682. His regent concealed his death whilst the new Dalai was found [there is an elaborate process involved in locating the new Dalai upon the death of the previous incarnation]. The regent also knew that the workers would never have the heart to complete their work if they knew their beloved leader to be dead, so the regent convinced the entire country that the Dalai had merely gone on a lengthy spiritual retreat for some 20 years, while the new Dalai was raised to adulthood. The Potala contains treasures unimaginable, although it is unfortunate that very little of it is open to the public today. The Tomb of the Fifth Dalai Lama is within the Potala. It is three storeys high, and made of 3,700kg of gold. A multi-tiered model of a palace resembling a wedding cake, and made of over a quarter of a million pearls, is staggering to behold.

Allow a couple of hours to see the Potala. Much of it is closed to visitors and photography is strictly prohibited.

 

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