Perched high on the Red Mountain, in the centre of Lhasa Valley, Potala Palace has a fortress-like appearance. Standing 170 metres tall, with walls that are 3 metres thick, huge towering turrets, heavy gates, and an exterior of bright red and white, it was once the main residence of the Dalai Lama and is now a museum housing antique Tibetan sculptures, Buddhas, and murals. If you want to chat with monks, learn more about Tibetan culture, and experience the mystical atmosphere of Lhasa, you're in the right place.
Setting eyes on Potala Palace for the first time is a moment you'll remember for years to come and it won't surprise you at all to learn that the American television show, Good Morning America, named it one of the 'New Seven Wonders of the World'. It really is a sight to behold.
Originally built by the Chinese in 637, the palace was commissioned by Emperor Songtsen Gampo who wanted to have somewhere to retreat to and meditate. The palace was much smaller then and was only added to and expanded after it suffered damage from wars and lightning. It was at this time that it became the main residence of the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama, with his successors also residing at Potala Palace until the 1950s when the 114th (and current) Dalai Lama fled to India after an invasion from The People's Republic of China.
Today, Potala Palace has been renovated to its former glory and now houses a fascinating museum on Tibetan culture and Buddhism. In 1994 it was officially declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking around Potala Palace, it's difficult not to imagine what it would have been like before the Chinese takeover. In fact, some say it's an incredibly emotional experience visiting the palace for the first time. It symbolises so much of the spirit and endurance of the Tibetan people and exploring this magnificent palace for yourself is sure to be a humbling experience that will deepen your understanding of the culture of Tibet and its people.
The weather is Lhasa is basically divided into 2 seasons: wet and dry with mild temperatures year round. The best time to visit is between March and October when the climate will be mild and humid.
If you want to explore Potala Palace you'll need to take your passport to the ticket booth at the southwest exit of the palace the day before you plan to visit where you'll be given a free ticket with a time stamped on it. The next day, be at the entrance half an hour early and buy your actual ticket on the way up the stairs to the palace. Tickets are limited, so make sure you've got a couple of days in Lhasa to avoid disappointment.
The beauty of Potala Palace and its significance in the life of the Tibetan people won't leave you in a hurry, but you'll still want to take some photographs to commemorate your trip. You can't take photos inside the building so head up to the golden roof group on top of the red palace to see the turrets of Potala Palace from above and Lhasa sprawled out in front of you. For that all-important panoramic shot, Jokhang Temple to the east of the palace offers a unique view of Potala amidst the rolling mountains and clear, blue sky.
Immerse yourself in the spirit of Tibet, add this item to your bucket list, and discover why Potala Palace is such a significant part of its history with a visit to Lhasa.
Beverley Reinemann is a freelance writer and founder of the travel and lifestyle blog, Pack Your Passport. Originally from England, she's a self-confessed Australophile and travel lover and spends most of her time drinking way too much coffee in east London, going to gigs and planning her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @PckYourPassport.