Legend behind Potala Palace
Legend states that the three hills of Chokpori, Marpori and Pongwari are the three protectors of Tibet. The Potala Palace, named so after the mythical abode of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, Mount Potalaka, is located on the Marpori hill. It lies between the Drepung and Sera monastaries and the old city of Lhasa, making it an ideal site for governing establishment, as pointed out by Konchong Chophel, spiritual advisor to the 5th Dalai Lama. The 5th agreed, and began construction of the palace in the year 1645. Though the external construction was completed in a quick 3 years, the interiors and furnishings took around 45 years to be completed! Since its completion, it was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama till the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the Tibetan Uprising in 1959.
Interesting facts about Potala Palace Architecture
The palace is a sturdy complex, comprising of the Red and White palaces and their ancillary buildings. The White palace is a massive 13 story building with over 1000 rooms and 10000 shrines. There are more than 200000 statues and artifacts in and around the palace. Especially noteworthy are the 698 murals on the walls and along the corridors. It also houses the main ceremonial hall and the throne of the Dalai Lama. Higher up the mountain and to the west lies the Red Palace, which contains the gilded burial stupas of past Dalai Lamas. Further west is the private monastery of the Dalai Lama, the Namgyel Dratshang. This 117 m structure has copper based foundations, which help proof it against earthquakes. So spectacular is its architecture that it is regarded as one of the most beautiful architectural buildings in the world. Another feather in the cap for the palace is that not only is it a splendid feat of architecture, but also a place where you can see and learn about Tibetan culture thanks to the numerous artifacts that it houses.
Tour to Potala Palace
The tour to the palace is splendid, and I recommend you carry a coat with you, even if you visit in summer. The climb to the palace is a beautiful experience in itself, and because there’s so much to see (almost 30 sites!), the limited 1 hour viewing period flies by like a flash! Pro tip – Research beforehand to mark what you absolutely must see. My recommendation is that you do not miss the Dharma Cave.