If you lived next to the Taj Mahal, would it lose its grandeur after a while? What if you lived next to the Great Wall of China or the Eiffel Tower? When our bus drove into Lhasa on the way to our respective hotels, the tour guide casually pointed out the window and said “the Potala Palace is at the start of this street here”.
We all whipped our heads around to get a better look. I couldn’t believe I would be staying at a hotel just a few blocks away from the ultimate symbol of Lhasa.
The palace dates back to the 7th century. It had been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout history. During the 17th century, one of the Dalai Lamas decided to rebuild it and make it the center of the Tibetan government and of Tibetan Buddhism. The current Dalai Lama lived here until he fled to India in 1959 to live in exile.
The Potala Palace is one of the few famous sites in Tibet that wasn’t destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. According to our guide, Zhou Enlai (Premier of the People’s Republic of China) decided to leave the palace untouched. Maybe he was a fan of the architecture?
Our guide told us we went on a pretty normal day when it came to crowds. It was already packed, so I can’t imagine what it would be like on a crowded day. Every person that had a ticket only had a limited amount of time on the grounds to accommodate all the visitors. Like all the other places we visited, we had to go through security and Chinese soldiers were always close by.
We climbed up the countless stairs with other foreign tourists, nomads from various Tibetan regions, pilgrims, and locals who have probably walked past the palace a hundred times.
I could see the palace from my hotel roof every morning where they served breakfast, but of course, exploring it myself was even better.