Potala Palace#3 in Best Things To Do in Tibet
It's hard to miss Potala Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This grand, imposing structure stands more than 12,000 feet above sea level on Marpo-ri, or Red Hill, in the middle of central Lhasa. Potala's larger-than-life presence physically embodies the great historical, cultural and religious significance it holds for the Tibetan people. Not only does the palace serve as the winter home of the Dalai Lama but it also houses the remains of many other Dalai Lamas throughout history. At one point, Potala also acted as the seat of the Tibetan government.
Potala Palace is actually broken up into two palaces. The White Palace is where the Dalai Lama took residence and also where the government once operated. The Red Palace is where you'll find the stupas (a dome-shaped structure in Buddhism used to commemorate a sacred person, place or event) where former Dalai Lamas are buried.
Recent visitors said the palace's importance can be felt immediately upon arrival. Travelers say there is definitely a spirit here that's both palpable and contagious. Once inside, travelers report being awestruck by the architecture as well as the Tibetan art that's on display throughout the premises (Potala features 698 murals and nearly 10,000 painted scrolls). The only complaint some travelers had was that they didn't have enough time to enjoy the palace, as some reported that they were only allotted one hour inside with a guide. Also keep in mind, because of its location on the mountainside the palace can get quite cold so you should plan to wear a coat.
Potola Palace is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If a guide doesn't prearrange a site visit for you and your tour group you can still visit the palace independently, but securing a ticket won't be easy. The palace only sells 2,300 tickets a day. During peak season (May to October), you need to book your ticket at the west gate of the palace one day before your visit. Luckily, Potala Palace is a common stop on Tibet tour group itineraries, so chances are you won't have to do much legwork. You must show up an hour before the time slot arranged by your tour guide to allow enough time for a security check. Tickets cost 200 yuan (about $30) from May to October and 100 yuan (about $15) from November to April.
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#1 Jokhang Temple
Alongside Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple is one of the most important sites in Tibet. The Jokhang Temple was built in the seventh century to promote Buddhism in Tibet, and as such earned the distinction of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Jokhang translates to "house of Buddha," or more specifically "chapel of the Jowo." And it lives up to its name. The temple houses more than 3,000 images of Buddha, deities and other historical figures in the religion, including the Jowo Shakyamuni.
Jowo Shakyamuni, or also referred to as the Jowo Rinpoche, is considered to be the most sacred image of Buddha in Tibet. It is said that the statue was sculpted by Vishwakarma – the Indian god of architecture – between the fifth and sixth century B.C., when Buddha was still believed to be alive. This has led to the belief that the Jowo Sakyamuni, as one of the earliest accounts of Buddha, is the most accurate visual representation of Buddha. Research has shown that this story is factually inaccurate, but that hasn't stopped crowds of Tibetans from coming to the temple to pray. The statue depicts Buddha the moment he reached enlightenment – legs in lotus position, one hand gesturing meditation with the other gesturing the "earth to witness."
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