7 days in Tibet, Part 2 Lhasa & the Incredible Potala Palace

Seeing the majestic Potala Palace in person will leave you in awe. This large, white complex in Lhasa is an architectural beauty and will not disappoint. After touring other parts of Tibet (see part 1) we finally made it to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. 

Barkhor Bazaar

Old Town in Lhasa is centered around Barkhor Bazaar. Pedestrian streets are lined with old Tibetan-style, flat -roofed buildings that are now used for shops and restaurants. The colourful windows and doors reminded us of other Tibetan heritage buildings we’ve seen. It’s a busy place. The sidewalks are filled with locals, many dressed in traditional attire. We enjoyed spending time in the bazaar people-watching and taking in the local culture.

Jokhang Temple

At the centre of the bazaar is Jokhang Temple. It is a beautiful temple and was one of the most colourful ones we’d seen. Intricate details are painted on the ceilings and walls. Colourful tapestry hangs from pillars. Jokhang is a very important site for Buddhists since it houses the only statue of Present Buddha, Sakyamuni, that was made while he was alive.

Jokhang temple was built in the 7th century when Buddhism was just becoming popular in Tibet. Before Buddhism most people practiced Bon, a type of animism. Legend says that the temple was built over a lake where Bon locals paid taxes to the king by sacrificing animals and even children in the lake!

Because it is an important site there were many Tibetan Buddhists making a Kora around the temple. Some were prostrating themselves. Koras are the clockwise circling around a Buddhist structure, for example: a mani stone, chorten, monastery complex or even a mountain or lake.

Dreprung Monastery

Just outside Lhasa is Dreprung Monastery. In 1416 a lama had a dream that he would build an important monastery beside a large boulder. The result was Dreprung which is the largest monastery in Tibet. There used to be as many as 10,000 monks living in the monastery. Today that number is much smaller. In recent years the Chinese government imposed very strict entrance requirements resulting in significantly fewer new monks entering into monkhood in Tibet.

Sera Monastery

An interesting monastery to visit in Lhasa is Sera monastery. Built in 1419 it is the 2nd largest monastery in Tibet. They have a very unique teaching technique at this monastery. The daily ‘monks debates’, which sounds like an oxy-moron, is actually a fun display of teacher/student interactions. Young student monks are paired with an older student or instructor. The young ones ask the other questions about certain topics. If the younger monk disagrees, they make an over-exaggerated slap of their hands. This may go on for several minutes until they finally agree, and the young monk slaps their hands with both palms up. There were approximately 150 monks at the debate when we were there and they all looked like they were having fun.

Here’s a short video of the monk debates.

Potala Palace

It was nearing the end of our trip, but we still had our most anticipated site to see; the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Potala Palace. What an incredible building. It’s massive and very majestic. Set on a hill, the palace can be seen from many points in Lhasa. In the past few days we had seen it from a distance, but to be in front of this majestic building is awe-inspiring.

Potala Palace was built on the grounds of an old 7th century monastery. The 5th Dalai Lama reconstructed the original buildings in the 17th century. Two shrines from the original temple were incorporated into this new monastery. Potala Palace was the residence for 5th Dalai Lama and all successive Dalai Lamas until the current one had to flee Tibet as a youth.

Potala is divided into the White and Red Palaces. The White Palace contains assembly halls and temples. It is also holds the yellow section which is where Dalai Lama had his private quarters including a small bedroom and study. As well, the yellow section is where he met with important guests.

The Red Temple has many shrines, 2 assembly halls and the tombs of the 5th to the 13th Dalai Lamas. Each tomb is a large, ornately decorated statue or chorten gilded in gold. Throughout the palace there are many old artifacts and statues of Buddha, bodhisattvas, and Guru Rinpoche. It is beautifully decorated inside with colourful banners and paintings on the walls and ceilings. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.

After our visit inside, we did a Kora around Potala and then visited a small nunnery at the base of the palace. The nunnery is only one small room with a few statues inside. It is not nearly as decorated as the rooms in the main palace. 

Across the road from the palace is a park with a small pond that provides the perfect spot for reflection, both literal and meditative. Later in the evening we returned to see Potala Palace illuminated. The view was spectacular; a highlight of our trip.

Coming up next: Sailing On BC’s Beautiful Coast – Howe Sound & Gulf Islands

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Tibet. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

For more stories from around the world visit Destinations.

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63 comments

  • Gorgeous photos! I visited Lhasa and the Potala Palace with my parents in 2010. Truly an incredible trip to a beautiful, storied, and sacred place. I’m happy to see the Tibetan spirit still shining bright in Lhasa! Enjoy your travels!

    Liked by 3 people

  • I found my way here via your recent interview with Andy. Tibet looks like it’s another world, truly amazing! Off now to read the rest of your Tibet posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tibet is really a fascinating place. Many of the people live in traditional ways, at least as much as they can. The mountains and landscape are really unusual. Mustang in northern Nepal and Ladakh in India are similar, some say even more Tibet than Tibet! If you’re interested, we spent quite a bit of time in both and did posts about them. Consider it for a future trip!

      Liked by 1 person

  • How beautiful the Jokhang temple is, I liked the roof picture the most – so rich and intricate. The monk of the Sera monastery seems to have real fun in the monks debate. And the Potala palace is just magnificent, massive and awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Awe inspiring beauty and colours. The faith of the people in the face of reality is amazing. The lack of interior photos, while disappointing allows imagination and memory to flourish. Thanks so much for taking me there Maggie. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    • Let your imagination take over, it’s that spectacular inside too! Seeing people prostrating around the entire temple was such an amazing show of true devotion that I have never seen before. Thanks for you comments Allan, Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • It’s just STUNNING – I had to scroll through 3 times to keep taking them in. I absolutely love the colours and look at that Palace – wow. Just the intricacy and splendour of the decor, it’s just so different to what we see every day and so beautiful 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • The buildings in Tibet are in a category all to themselves. They really are that spectacular in person too. Too bad we couldn’t show the interiors because some of the temples were intricately, colourfully decorated too. Thanks for your comments Hannah! Maggie

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  • Fascinating that the debating tradition is still carried out. I read about it in a detailed account of the Chinese monk, Xuangzang, who travelled overland along the Silk Road to India over a thousand years ago as he felt the Buddhism taught in China had been distorted. He visited Nalanda—the most famous university at that time that taught this kind of debating along with mathematics, logic, marshal arts, the sciences, language and of course, Buddhism. Nalanda had once been the equivalent of today’s Oxford or Yale and students would make the arduous journey from as far away as Korea to study there, but of course, with the invasion by the Moguls, then the British, the twenty-five or so universities in India at that time were gradually destroyed. All that remains of Nalanda today is ruins.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Tibet is of course so much more than a photogenic place, but I just cannot get over how visually stunning it all is: the awe-inspiring landscape, picturesque architecture and traditional attire. I love your people shots from the Jokhang Temple. Sadly, I can’t help but feel that I missed my chance to visit Tibet during all those years in China.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Parts of Tibet still feel untouched and certainly the people continue these traditions with the buildings and clothing. It’s as visually stunning as it is an awesome cultural/religious experience. The younger generation isn’t as interested though so go soon if you want to see it. Thanks for commenting Leighton! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • A few castles are quite as fascinating, or as significant, as Potala Palace. The sheer size of the Buddhist building and the views of the surrounding mountains are out of this world. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s very true Aiva, it’s setting, architecture and meaning contribute to being one of the most fascinating sites we’ve ever seen. Thanks for your comments! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Thank you for this interesting journey to Tibet. I have really enjoyed seeing the beautiful architecture and colorful decorations and garments. It must have been fascinating to experience it all first hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Much of the beauty of the architecture is due to so much philosophical iconography present in nearly every aspect of the construction. Sacred imagery is everywhere to be seen. Your photographs are beautiful and bring this aspect to light.

    Liked by 2 people

  • This looks like a re-post but for some reason I didn’t comment before. All I can say is Ahhhhhh, Lhasa! One of the most incredible places I’ve ever been, and I desperately want to get back one more time before it is completely subsumed by its occupiers. Seeing your photos brings back such warm and peaceful feelings!

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  • Lhasa pictures are truly captivating. Tibet was one of the least visited places for years. For Indians, it is still not easy. Thanks for this virtual tour, Maggie.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Barkhor Bazaar looks so impressive! I think I’d enjoy spending a lot of time there just to soak in the atmosphere. When I traveled to South Asian countries (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan), I noticed how most of the locals still pretty much wore their traditional outfits. And as Tibet is culturally closer to Bhutan and Nepal, it’s nice to know that this is also the case there. It’s interesting to see the differences between the Tibetan dresses and Bhutanese gho and kira.

    Your photos of Potala Palace are so beautiful! I really hope one day I’ll get the chance to see this magnificent building in person. Speaking of visiting Tibet, I read that since a few years ago, China only accepts cashless payment (with their local e-wallet apps as the most popular payment option). Was this also the case on your visit? Or you could still pay in cash.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We spent a couple of hours at Barkhor Bazaar soaking it all in. Most of the older generation wore their traditional dress, especially women. But the younger generation didn’t so that cultural aspect won’t be around for much longer. So much different in Bhutan where saving their culture is the government’s priority. You can definitely see similarities between the clothes, but Bhutan is distinctively different. There may be but I can’t see a large difference between the traditional dress of Buddhists in the Himalayas in Nepal to Tibet, even though they’ve been in Nepal for generations.

      We went in 2018 and still used cash. We booked our tour in Kathmandu so really didn’t need much, but anything we bought was paid in cash. I’m not sure if that’s changed in Tibet too, but likely. I hope you get there someday soon, Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • The photos of the palace with the reflection in the water are pure perfection! What an incredible place that must have been to visit. Love the vibrant colours everywhere!

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  • We were in Lhasa in 2011 and the streets, and highways coming in and out, were clogged with pilgrims, prostrated, circling the temples, and spinning the prayer wheels. Chinese soldiers paced and Chinese people were being settled in newer areas. Your excellent photos bring back memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We didn’t see pilgrims on the highways leading to Lhasa but certainly saw all of the new cities being built in Tibet for Chinese to ‘settle’. Even today, Lhasa has a special feel to it. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Ever since we did Spiti Valley road-trip, Tibet has been on our list like forever. Spiti Valley is inhabited mostly by Tibetan community in India (after China annexed Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama along with survivors, found a second home in India. Thanks for this wonderful post and candid pictures.

    Cheers,
    Charu

    Liked by 1 person

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