The Potala Palace པོ་ཏ་ལ་ is the one building that most associate with Tibet. It rises over 300m (985 feet) above the valley below and has over 1000 rooms. It stretches 400m (1312 feet) long from east to west and the pilgrimage kora around the Potala is 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) in length. The massive building can be seen throughout Lhasa and the surrounding valley. Each day, thousands of Tibetan pilgrims walk the kora around the Potala.
The site of the Potala was first used as a meditation center by the famous Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo སྲོང་བཙན་སྒམ་པོ།. The first part of the palace was bult in 637AD. Over 1000 years later, the 5th Dalai Lama Lobsang Gyatso བློ་བཟང་རྒྱ་མཚོ་, ordered for the palace to be built to serve as the seat of government. Construction on the palace lasted for nearly 50 years. It was completed in 1694. For the next 265 years, it served as the winter home for the Dalai Lama. The White Palace has served as the living quarters since the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama. In the early 20th century, the 13th Dalai Lama expanded the White Palace to its current size. The current 14th Dalai Lama lived in the White Palace each winter until early 1959 when he fled to India.
It’s hard not to look at the Potala while in Lhasa. It is an amazing building that draws your attention unlike anything else. I have been to Lhasa more times than I can count, have taken countless photos of the Potala and still stare in awe of it everytime I see it. The entrance fee to the Potala is Y100 ($15), though rumors in Lhasa suggest this could be raised in 2013. During the summer time, getting tickets to the Potala can be difficult as there are only 2300 tickets sold each day. This sounds like a lot, but tickets can sell out within an hour or two during peak season. While the inside of the Potala is also quite amazing (only a handful of the 1000 rooms are open to the public), it does not compare with the amazing architecture of the outside of the building. If you do go inside, be sure to go all the way to the top. The view of Lhasa is well worth the extra fee.
Now, go to Tibet and see the Potala Palace for yourself!