The Potala, which was first built during the seventh century, is a 13-story, castle-style structure sitting majestically on the top of the Red Hill, 115.4 m from the surrounding plain. Its structure and shape are very special and ornate. “Potala” is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word “GPotalaka.” The Potalaka Hill is supposed to be the residence of Avalokitesvara (gradually changed into the feminine image “Guanyin” or “Goddess of Mercy” after Buddhism was spread to China). The Potala was the official residence of the successive Dalai Lamas.
The magnificent Potala has granite outer walls, which are painted in red and white. It consists of halls and rooms of various sizes, such as prayer halls, stupa halls, shrines, a seminary and living quarters for monks. The main structures are called the White Palace and the Red Palace. The former used to be the Dalai Lama’s living quarters, and his office space where he conducted his political activities. The latter is devoted to the stupas of the successive Dalai Lamas and shrines of Buddhist statues. Many cultural relics in the Potala are on show to visitors.
The Jokhang Temple is situated in the eastern part of the city. With a history of more than l,000 years, this internationally known temple is a four-story, portico-type structure. Although not as massive or as imposing as the Potala, it is special for the introduction of architectural styles from the interior part of China as well as from such foreign countries as Nepal and India. The image of Sakyamuni in the niche of the main hall was brought by Princess Wencheng from Chang’an, present-day Xi’an. In front of the statue are incense burners and butter oil lamps, in the midst of piles of banknotes and coins tossed in by worshippers. It is said that there are some instances of pious Buddhist followers donating all their incomes from many years of hard work to temples in the hope of ascending to paradise after death or acquiring a happy next life.
In front of the Jokhang Temple can be seen pilgrims performing their rituals. They first stand upright, then prostrate themselves on the ground with both arms outstretched, repeating these movements countless times. They are mostly elderly people, and women at that. Holding a rosary (usually with 108 beads), they move one bead each time they complete one prostration, until all the beads have been moved. Some pilgrims are said to start prostrating themselves the moment they leave their homes, and continue to do so all the way to the Jokhang Temple, no matter how far away they live.