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Potala Palace

Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Potala Palace
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Summer in the Hamptons with Barbara Walters and Martha Stewart, winter in Tibet with the Dalai Lama. The Potala Palace has stood as the Dalai Lama's winter spiritual stomping grounds since the 7th century, though its current incarnation is a 17th century re-build of the original, which was destroyed during China's dynastic wars. Symbolizing Tibetan Buddhism and its role as the country's administrative shroud, the aesthetically powerful fortress comprises White and Red Palaces, plus ancillary buildings, all built 12,000 feet above the center of Lhasa Valley on Red Mountain.

Potala Palace boasts more than a thousand rooms throughout its million-plus square feet of interior space. Formidable stone walls have bases that measure 16 feet thick, though rise as more finely crafted architectural artistry to the palace's 390-foot peak. A walled and gated great plaza welcomes Potala visitors, who then climb series of staircases to the structure's summit overlooking the valley. Inside, the White Palace serves as the Dalai Lama's living quarters, while the Red Palace is devoted to religious study and prayer.

The more visually breathtaking of the two, the Red Palace sits regally decorated with Buddhist paintings, jeweled and carved ornamentations, and the tombs of eight previous Dalai Lamas. Shrines and votive offerings to the holy men intensify the spiritual presence in the palace, particularly a pagoda centerpiece made of 200,000 pearls, and the tomb of the fifth Dalai Lama. Credited as the first to reign politically over Tibet, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama's life story is depicted in murals illuminating Red Palace, and his mummified body rests in a 50-foot stupa covered in four tons of gold, and encrusted in semi-precious stones.

Though Potala Palace once saw as many as 5,000 visitors per day, concerns about damage to the buildings and their treasures have led to current daily guest restrictions of 2,300 people--a number that is often reached by mid-morning. Anyone set on touring the palace interior areas should obtain tickets in advance through a travel agency.

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