The Potala Palace in Tibet was of special interest to me as its name is derived from a legend associated with a country next door. India. While its construction started in the 17th century the naming itself gave me a hint of cultures traveling to leave their impressions in new lands.
For any one who has seen pictures of the Palace, the view of it at close quarters does blow your mind. It is one ornate, colorful, rich and deeply spiritual place that has seen the consecration of many a Dalai Lama. The construction of the Norbulingka summer palace (18th century) made Potala Palace a winter destination. But up until 1959, it was the seat of the Dalai Lama before he moved to India.
ORIGINS OF ITS NAME: POTALA PALACE
Potala (higher heavenly realm) is said to have got its name from a hill in Southern India — situated in Cape Comorin, the mythical Mt. Potalaka is considered sacred to the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. Tibetan kings & Dalai Lamas were considered manifestations of this divinity hence the name perhaps travelled. The present day structure was commissioned by the 5th Dalai Lama and has two striking structures. The White Palace & Red Palace.
Tibet’s religious history including murals, tangkas (religious art painted on silk), documents, the study of Buddhism, the tomb of the much revered 5th Lama lined with gold and other precious metals is housed in the Red Palace that occupies the central courtyard. The White Palace is the residence of the Dalai Lama & has around it meeting halls & gardens. The rich tapestry, gold & studded jewels add richness to the visual expression. I must admit for the humility & meager living of the monks, I did find the Palace quite decorated and stunning but also worthy of the king of the land. And the Dalai Lama as the religious head was perhaps akin to that for the Tibetans.
(White Palace Entry)
NO MOUNTAIN IS TOO HARD TO CLIMB AND THIS ONE’S JUST A HILL
Set atop a hill called Red Hill, the location is where the kings of Tibet lived in earlier times starting with the first Emperor Songtsen Gampo in the 7th Century. I have always found the need to live or have a place of worship at a height quite telling of the state of the land. At one end is the holiness a higher plane brings. But another story is that it’s also a way to protect the ruler, his people & religious places (sometimes with coffers of precious metals as offerings) from the attacking marauders. I saw this in Delphi, Greece too. Home to the powerful Oracle.
Now for the tough part. Climbing has to be done slowly as it is the highest palace in the world at an altitude of 12,300 ft. If you are unfit this will take much longer than the usual. But climb you must. Have to say this though that the entrance ticket lets you stay at the Palace for just a short while. So how slow is slow is a potent question. The palace today has some of the holiest scriptures still preserved, the vibrantly done up resting place of the Dalai Lama & work carved/painted both outside and inside that is just beautiful. Presently it is a museum, but for many Tibetans it stays a pilgrimage place.
For any photography lover, there are clearly 3 views of this Palace that can’t be missed.
1. Top floor view from the hotel I lived in, Shambala Palace
2. Close-up of the Potala Palace from the base of the structure itself. Its size & the possibility of 1000 rooms within will overwhelm you
3. The iconic shot from the hillock diagonally opposite the Palace.
I’ve got all three for you captured on different days, at a different time of the day. It’s beautiful you’ll admit.
The backdrop of the Palace is also a delight for many wedding photographers as I noticed. I guess marriages do need couples to treat other like royalty, but mostly they need all the blessings they can get. Just joking
Left to myself I would have loved to explore more & capture even more through my lens. It is a beautiful creation and I can only imagine how energy & peace must’ve danced rhythmically to the chants of the monks. As a seat of power too, it perhaps saw even more amazing stories. What really happened in there I do wonder!
If Tibet is on your mind, make it to Potala Palace on the very 1st day you touch down in Lhasa. It’s a great way to start your Tibetan journey1