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Dalai Lama’s White Palace by Mickey Hoffman

The Potala Palace is perched high above Lhasa, Tibet. This is where a long line of Dalai Lamas resided in comparative splendor until the current Dalai Lama left under circumstances variously described as a forced exile or a chosen one. The palace is divided into two sections called the Red Palace and the White Palace due to the color of their outer walls. The photo below shows mostly the White Palace with some of the Red Palace in the upper right. To get inside, you have to negotiate a long series of ramps and stairs, not an easy feat in the very high altitude.

Below is a photo taken from a lower ramp, looking down at a neighborhood of traditional style homes. If you look closely, you’ll see some colorful window frames and lots of prayer flags. The prayer flags look much different when you see them blowing in the stuff winds coming off the Himalaya mountains. In fact, the quality of light at 13,000 feet gives everything a different sheen. Hard to explain.

Up top, the site feels more like a maze of disjointed rooms than a cohesive structure, giving the impression it began small and expanded over time. One entrance to the White Palace is via a steep wooden staircase, almost a ladder. Below is a painting I did from a sketch looking up at this entryway as two local women came out.

Now, I am not a fan of the Dalai Lama or his religion, but I love art and architecture. And of course, there’s the location of consider! However, not everything in the palace is glorious. Two things I have not shown you are the huge drum (think three feet wide) made of human skin, and the trap door covering a pit–which used to be filled with scorpions–where the Lamas used to throw people who didn’t pay their taxes. I tried to keep my eyes on the beautiful decor and not think of those things. Don’t look down, Look up!

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