Perched 130m above Lhasa atop Marpo Ri (Red Mountain), and named after India’s Riwo Potala – holy mountain of the god Chenresi – the Potala Palace (布达拉宫, bùdálāgōng ) is dazzling inside and out, an enduring landmark of the city. As you revel in the views from the roof, gaze at the glittering array of gold and jewels and wend your way from chapel to chapel, you’ll rub shoulders with excited, awestruck pilgrims from all over ethnic Tibet, making offerings at each of the altars. But be aware that, beyond the areas approved for tourists and pilgrims, the Potala is a shadow of its former self: most of the rooms are off limits, part of a UNESCO World Heritage grant was spent on a CCTV system and the caretaker monks are not allowed to wear their robes.
Though close enough to town to reach on foot, don’t tackle the Potala on your first day at altitude – the palace is a long climb, and even the Tibetans huff and puff on the way up; you’ll enjoy it more once you’ve acclimatized. Morning is certainly the best time to visit, when the place bustles with pilgrims. Photography is banned inside, and neither, bizarrely, are you supposed to take pictures of the fabulous views from the roof. Snapping away in the palace’s courtyards is tolerated, however.