Wander at the place where prayers since the ancient times resonate through the walls and instill a sense of holiness, where individuals attained nirvana and the secrets of life.
This huge building of white and red sits pretty perched upon the hill of Marpo Ri which is about a hundred and thirty meters high above the valley of Lhasa in Tibet. It is one of the greatest monuments to be found in all of Tibet. The Potala Palace itself measures a whopping 170 meters as it paints a vivid picture in the backdrop of the many snow covered mountains.
The place has huge religious importance as the legends speak of a sacred cave which existed in this rocky hill. It was used as a dwelling by Avilokiteshvara (Bodhisattva Chenresi). This is where Emperor Songtsen Gampo meditated in 7th century AD. The emperor later on built a beautiful palace on this hill. The palace lasted until the 17th century. It was later on incorporated into the foundation of the existing greater buildings of the Potala Palace.
The construction of the Palace:
It was during the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama that construction of the present wondrous building started. The white palace or the Potrang Karpo construction was completed in 1648. Constructed in a span of four years the Potrang Marpo or the red palace was added to the building in 1694.
Its construction made use of about 7000 workers and 1500 craftsmen and artists. Two stories were added to the red palace by the thirteenth Dalai Lama who also renovated the white palace with assembly halls and chapels.
Only slight damage was incurred by the beautiful building of the Potala Palace during the Chinese invasion in 1959. All the artifacts here are well preserved and escaped the wrath of the Red Guards due to the intervention by Chou En Lai.
Potala Palace building:
The gorgeous Tibet Potala Palace overlooks the city of Lhasa and has fortress like sturdy and strong appearance. More than a thousand rooms are present here and cover 1300 feet by 1000 feet area. The base stone walls are as thick as 16 feet. The upper stories have finely constructed walls and no nails are used here.
At the front of the Palace is the great plaza. The plaza is situated at the south side of the rock and is enclosed by gates and walls. A series of easy staircases leads down from the palace to the plaza. Acclimatization to the high altitude conditions is necessary before making the ascent up to the palace.
The Red Palace:
The Potala Palace is made up two parts of the Red and the White Palace which can be easily told apart by their namesake colors. The two are linked by the smaller structure (yellow colored) which houses sacred banners that are hung outside the Palace during the festivities of New Year. The rooms of the palace are identified on basis of their names as well as numbers.
The Red Palace is painted deep brick red and is at the heart of the Palace complex. It is chiefly used for the religious purposes. The Red Palace is the resting place of the tombs of the past 8 Dalai Lamas and many shrines. The place is heavily decorated with jeweled crafts, ornaments, carvings and traditional paintings. The precious offerings which are made to the tombs include a pagoda made from 200,000 pearls.
The life of the 5th Dalai Lama is celebrated in the form of murals throughout the Red Palace. The mummified body of the 5th Dalai Lama lies inside the 50 foot stupa present here. The stupa is designed with semi precious stones and gold (four tons).
It is the part of the Potala which is the living quarters of the Dalai Lama. The white palace is used for secular practices. It contained the offices, living quarters, printing house and the seminary.
The yellow colored central courtyard is the Deyangshar which separates the white palace, the living quarters of Lama and the monks and the Red Palace which is purely devoted to prayer and religious studies.
The Tibet Potala Palace is a UNESCO world heritage site and a lot of effort and money has been spent on restoration and maintenance of this ancient monument. The visitors are limited to 2300 on a daily basis.
During the peak season form July to September the visitor quota is increased to accommodate an average of 6000 visitors per day. These restrictions are in place to protect the structure and to maintain its safety as a heritage and national monument of great religious significance.