Perched on top the Red Hill of central Lhasa, Potala Palace is the highest ancient palace in the world, reaching 3,767.19 m (12,359.55 ft) at the topmost point. Potala named after a holy hill in South India is a Sanskrit means “Abode of the Avalokitesvara (Buddha of Mercy).” Later, with the collapse of the Songtsen Gampo Dynasty, the ancient palace was almost destroyed in wars. What is present is the architecture of the Qing Dynasty and the continuous expansion outcome since the 17th century. Potala Palace is composed of two parts, the Red Palace as the center and the White Palace as two wings. The Red Palace or Potrang Marpo is the highest part in the center that is completely devoted to religious study and Buddhist prayer.
The White Palace or Potrang Karpo once served as the office building of Tibet local government and made up the living quarters of Dalai Lama. Its wall was painted white to convey peace and quiet.
The Great East Hall on the fourth floor was the site for momentous religious and political events. The fifth and sixth floors are used as the living quarters and offices of regents while the seventh floor, the top one, is the living quarters of Dalai Lama consisting of two parts named the East Chamber of Sunshine and the West Chamber of Sunshine due to the plentiful sunshine they receive.
Potala Palace has other annexes including the School of Buddhist Logic, seminary, printing house, gardens, courtyards and even a jail. For more than 300 years, it has maintained many culture relics such as murals, stupas, statues, thangkas, and rare sutras.
Barkhor Street is an ancient, revered round street surrounding the Jokhang Temple. As a symbol of Lhasa, it is a must-see for visitors. A pseudo magical place, Barkhor shows the original vision of Lhasa in the old area of the city. Though it is not broad, the street – which was paved by hand-polished stone boards – accommodates thousands of tourists every day.
Various shops stand on both sides of the street and thousands of floating stands appear on every corner selling their wares. Most of them offer prayer wheels, long-sleeve ‘chuba’ (traditional Tibetan clothes), Tibetan knives and other religious articles for sale. Some shops sell ‘Thangka’ (Tibetan scroll painting), which is a unique art form with various themes. In short, Barkhor Street is a world of religious and exotic articles in which visitors are in for a treat.
Considered the spiritual center of the holy land, the Jokhang Temple is also surrounded by Barkhor Street in the center of Lhasa. Richly decorated with Tibetan features this temple is definitely worth a look-see. It was included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2000 as part of the Potala Palace.
Drepung Monastery is known as the most important monastery of Gelugpa in Tibetan Buddhism.
Covering an area of 250,000 square meters (299,007 square yards), at its height, it once held 7,700 monks and possessed 141 fazendas, 540 pastures and is the largest-scale monastery of its kind. Seen from afar, its grand, white construction gives the appearance of a heap of rice. As such, it was named ‘Drepung‘, which, in the Tibetan language, means ‘Collecting Rice.’
The Sera Monastery is one of three famous monasteries in the city along with the Drepung Monastery and the Ganden Monastery. It is dedicated to the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat Sect, a branch of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Tsong Khapa. Jamchen Chojey, one of Tsong Khapa’s disciples built it in 1419 during the Ming Dynasty. The monastery was named Sera which means ‘wild rose’ in the Tibetan language, because the hill behind it was covered with wild roses in bloom when it was built.
The monastery is magnificent and covers an area of 114,946 square meters (28 acres). Its main buildings are the Coqen Hall, Zhacang (college) and Kamcun (dormitory). Scriptures written in gold powder, fine statues, scent cloth and unparalleled murals can be found in its halls. Colorful debates on Buddhist doctrines are held here and these employ a style distinctive from those at Lhasa’s other famous monasteries.
Standing at an altitude of 3,800 meters (12,467 feet) above sea level, Ganden Monastery is one of the earliest and largest Buddhist monasteries in Tibet, and stands atop of the six famous temples of Gelugpa. Each year, one of the grandest of Buddhist activities – the Buddha Painting Unfolding Festival – is conducted here, attracting thousands of visitors and disciples.
Norbulingka (the Summer Palace)
The biggest man-made garden in Tibet Autonomous Region, Norbulingka, meaning ‘Treasure Park’ in Tibetan, is situated in the western suburb of Lhasa City, at the bank of the Kyichu River, about one km (about 0.6 mile) southwest of Potala Palace.
The garden covers an area of 360,000 square meters (about 430,000 square yards), with 374 rooms inside. Norbulingka both reflects the ethnical, religious features of the Tibetan people and embodies the architecture style of inland China.
Festival & Celebration
Shoton Festival in Lhasa
This festival started in the 17th century and falls on the first day of the seventh month (or August) of the Tibetan calendar. Traditionally after monks finished their ascetic practices for the previous year, family members come to welcome them by singing and dancing. Tibetan operas are performed during the festival as well with actors and actresses gathering at Norbu Lingka to participate in a performance contest, which lasts several days. During the festival, the Drepung Monastery holds the annual ‘Sunning of the Buddha’ ceremony.