Welcome to the land of what once was. Here in Tibet, the Potala Palace was long the home of the Dalai Lama, a thriving monastery, and the hub of government administration. Although monks still maintain the shrines, under China's domination of Tibet, the palace has become a museum, a repository of things past.
Yet the Potala Palace remains a wonder of architecture, requiring the skills of 1,500 artists and skilled workers and 7,000 laborers. The exotic structure stands 13 stories high and contains more than 1,000 rooms. Located in Lhasa at 12,000 feet above sea level, the palace is surrounded by transcendent mountains, lakes, and snow that must have helped generate the Tibetans' highly spiritual culture.
On top of Marpo Ri, or Red Mountain, stands Potala Palace, the great landmark of
Lhasa. Before the Dalai Lama left in 1959, the palace served not only as the
leader's home and seat of government, but also as a monastery and fortress.
See more pictures of Tibet.
Tibet's beliefs developed around the seventh century, when Buddhism arrived and blended with local animistic doctrines. Today religious pilgrims from all over Tibet come to the Potala Palace, thronging its chapels, admiring its gold and bejeweled treasures, making offerings of yak butter, and prostrating themselves.
The palace is divided into two sections. The White Palace, built in the mid-17th century, provided living quarters for the fifth through the fourteenth Dalai Lamas. The latter's apartment remains just as it was in 1959, when he and some 80,000 followers left Tibet and took flight across the Himalayas to India to escape the invading Chinese.
From the White Palace, pilgrims climb to the central Red Palace, completed in the late 17th century and packed with chapels, ornate statues, and the gem-embellished tombs of past Dalai Lamas. The fifth Dalai Lama's tomb, made from two tons of gold, stands three stories tall.
Tibet's most venerated image, a solid gold statue of Sakyamuni, is housed not far away in Jokhang Temple, the country's holiest shrine. At the 1,350-year-old temple, monks chant, incense burners waft juniper smoke up toward heaven, and it seems that the world of long ago and far away is still very much with us.
Here are links to dozens of other world-famous landmarks:
To learn more about these landmarks and vacation destinations, see:
- Famous Landmarks
- National Monuments
- National Historic Sites
- History of Tibet
- History of China
- History of Asia
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.