Thursday, November 18, 2010

Potala Palace

On a large hill just west of the center of Lhasa is the Potala Palace. My guess is that this amazingly beautiful building is the most photographed item in all of Tibet.

Built in 1645, it served as the home of the Dalai Lama until the 1959 Tibetan uprising when he fled to India. To visit the Potala Palace, it is necessary to make a reservation at least a day prior and to arrive at the front gate around your appointed time. From there you walk up the front stairs to reach the building. Since the palace is at 12,100 feet (3,700m) above sea level What must Everest, at twice the height, be like?

One of the first areas you come to during the tour is the White Palace, which serves as the residence of the Dalai Lama. I wanted to go take a quick nap there but was told that we were limited to only one hour for the entire visit and that we needed to move on.

The parts of the Potala Palace that aren't living quarters are dedicated to things like meeting areas, offices, chapels, shrines, study areas, and so on. You can't take pictures inside most of the palace so my photos are all from the outside. As you can see, the structure is impressive. The contrast between the dark red areas and the white areas is striking. The palace also has some gold-colored buildings spread throughout (you can see a hint of one in the photo above). The white areas are painted with a lime-based mixture that builds up over time. If you look closely at the photo below, the walls look like there are stalactites growing on them.

You know when you see travel photos that there are always these brightly-colored spots that look too nice to be real? I have a bunch of photos like that from my visit to Guatemala a few years ago and, well, here's one from Tibet (yes, it's real):

The tour of Portala lasts just over an hour or so. It's an inspiring building in an inspiring place and definitely worth the trip. At night they have the palace lit up and I took a bunch of photos from the plaza across the street. I think that this was the best one I got.

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