(9th June) In the midst of Lhasa city, lying peacefully across the high-altitude Plateau, stands an infamous landmark that soars above the natural plains and rocky mountains. For centuries, the faraway sight of its white-washed walls and red-lined roofs, for many long-awaited pilgrims and tourists, has connoted to a warm welcome after their arduous journey, come rain or shine. When our eyes finally settled on this palace under the azure sky, we all knew our endeavour and days of impatient waiting are worthwhile.
We began climbing the zigzagging stairs that were on the way up to the highest palace on earth which is in around 3700m. At each intersection we were all greeted by women holding prayer wheels tight for good luck; while monks in red robe were whispering Buddhist blessings to the visitors, often with hands clasped in prayer position. Looking to the left, our eyes widened by the panoramic view across the Lhasa valley. The old town spread beneath us like a living map with a network of roads and mazes of alleys. All houses and buildings, like pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in an instant, were under our footsteps. Chains of chestnut-coloured mountains with heaven-touching apex, were stretching at great lengths, jutted and reared into the sky. With spectacular scenery below, it was so refreshing for us just to breathe the clear air during the rush of pure joy.
The establishment of this site traced from the 7th century, when Songtsan Gampo, who ascended the throne, completed his father’s cause for Tibet’s unification by setting up the Tubo Empire after the conquer of neighbouring tribes. To cement the newly emerging power, after moving the capital to Lhasa, he ordered to build the Potala Palace on the summit of 130m-high Red Hill. Construction of the present appearance, nonetheless, commenced during the reign of the fifth Dalai Lama in 1645 and took more than fifty years to complete. Since then, the vast Potala Palace, a UNESCO world’s heritage, has become the winter residency of successive Dalai Lamas until the Tibetan Uprising in 1959, and nowadays, the spiritual centre of Tibet, always in the heart of Tibetans.
While reaching the top, those towering, fortress-like walls in the White Palace were immaculately clean and seemed to glisten under the bright midday sun. Walking through the intricate hallways and gorgeous chapels, we couldn’t help but be astounded by that gorgeous main ceremonial hall and assembly halls with the throne of the Dalai Lama. Inside this majestic seven-storey palace, in front of our curious eyes were the exquisite paintings of resplendent Buddhist murals, plateau landscapes, grand aesthetics and rows of ancient manuscripts. At this particular moment, an atmosphere of prayerfulness floated across the air through the serene meditation of faithful believers. Murmuring sounds of praying, by soft chants of Tibetan monks, reached our ears from afar, making the moment magical. As a house of prayer, living quarters and seminaries by the Dalai Lama, the sights and sounds this holy part of the Potala Palace awakened us with spiritual tranquillity.
Then through a tunnel-like passage, we ushered to the Red Palace that was dazzled by the halls with lavishly ornamented mausoleums of past Dalai Lamas. Even though only a handful of 1000 rooms were opened for tourists, the palace had precious relics like no other can compare. Here, along with the sparkles of yak-butter candles and the rancid smells of intense smoke, monks in lines were performing daily rituals, expressing heartfelt honour to worship their spiritual leaders near to the stupa tombs. One of the most stunning stupas definitely goes to the fifth Dalai Lama, who is credited with the construction of the Palace in 1648. Standing five storeys high, the extravagant stupa is dazzled with an array of turquoises, pearls, and 3700 kg of gold, amounting to 150 million US dollars at current values. Under the flicking of interior spotlights, every surface glittered with a blaze of colour, radiating in all its glory when we wowed with immediate amazement.
This wondrous treasure on earth, with intricate architecture from centuries ago, otherworldly presents with striking artworks and venerated Buddhist statues. Lifted with inexpressible rejoice, no one ever spoke as we left the Potala Palace in the evening – for it truly a sacred place shining with the spiritual pureness that touched each of us in comfort. The sight of those living quarters – and the jewel-bedecked mausoleums of the Dalai Lamas – was enough to return to Lhasa city again in the future. ♦
More photos of the Potala Palace:
Next travel post: Jokhang (大昭寺) – The Mecca of Tibetan Buddhism