Built in the 18th century, Norbulingka served as the Dalai Lama’s summer residence. Located west of the Potala Palace (the Dalai Lama’s main residence until 1959), it sits on the bank of the Lhasa River. Norbulingka is surrounded by an exquisite park area, which is considered largest garden in Tibet. In 2001, it was designated a UNIESCO World Heritage Site, being added as an extension to the Historic Ensemble of Potala Palace. Deemed a masterpiece of Tibetan art, Norbulingka is an attraction that cannot be missed.
- Norbulingka is comprised of four palace complexes, pavilions, halls, and a large garden.
- The entirety of the site covers 36 hectares (89 acres), with the garden complex covering 3.4 square km.
- It is situated at an elevation of 3,650 m (11,980 ft), it is the highest garden in the world.
- In 1988, the State council declared Norbulingka a “National Important Cultural Relic Unit”.
- Norbulingka is regarded as a unique representation of Tibetan palace architecture.
History Of Norbulingka
Construction on Norbulingka began in 1755 by Kelzang Gyatso, the 7th Dalai Lama. He was drawn to the area, what for the beautiful scenery. Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty permitted Kelzang to construct a palace at the location, as a resting pavilion.
The Norbulingka complex was completed in 1783 under the 8th Dalai Lama, Jampel Gyatso. He added three temples and extended the park area with plantations of conifers and fruit trees, acquired from various areas throughout Tibet. A large staff of gardeners tended to the vast garden.
Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama, constructed several new buildings during his tenure. He made architectural modifications to the complex, including adding red doors to the palace. Thubten Gyatso also improved the garden area known as the Chensel Lingkha garden.
The 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, built the Takten Migyur Potrang, or “New Palace” in 1954. Completed in 1956, it is regarded as the most beautiful of all the palaces in the complex. The two-storey building was built in a modern Tibetan architectural style, with the first-floor containing over 300 frescoes displaying Tibetan history. Takten Migyur Potrang contains numerous rooms and halls, in addition to chapels, pools, fountains, and gardens. Norbulingka was declared a public park and museum in 1959.
In 1988, the State Council deemed Norbulingka a "National Important Cultural Relic Unit”. In December 2001, UNESCO designated it as an extension to the World Heritage Site inscription of the “Historic Ensemble of Potala Palace”.
During the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, Norbulingka sustained substantial damage. In 2001, the Chinese government decided to restore the palace complex, allotting $8.14 million USD for the restoration project. The reconstruction and restoration project commenced in 2003, with the primary focus being on several main structures.
Culture Of Norbulingka
Norbulingka translates into “Treasure Park”, or “Treasure Garden” in Tibetan. The palace complex is a fusion of many different Tibetan architectural and artistic styles from over the centuries. Over 30,000 cultural relics are kept within Norbulingka.
Structures: The oldest palace is Kelsang Palace, named after the 7th Dalai Lama. The three-storey structure contains an assembly hall on the main floor, with chambers designated for meditation and the worship of Buddha on the second floor. The third-storey was added later, and contains a living room, and administrative meeting area.
The 8th Dalai Lama, Jampel Gyatso, built Tyokyil Potrang. It is a pavilion situated in the middle of a lake, and considered at top attraction at Norbulingka. Rectangular in shape, it is connected on both sides with two stone bridges. Complete with a golden roof and copper tiles, the palace contains several statues of Buddha, and likewise, frescos of Buddha. Jampel Gyatso also built Khamsum Zilnon. It is a spectacular pavilion of the Han architecture style, where the Dalai Lamas enjoyed Tibetan opera.
Festivals: The most popular festival that takes place at Norbulingka, is the Sho Dun (or Shoton) Festival, also known as The Yogurt Festival. The weeklong festival involves eating, drinking, and overall revelry, highlighted with performances of Tibetan opera. Throughout the festival, opera troupes from different regions perform at Norbulingka. Durng the festival, yak racing also takes place at the stadium in Lhasa. According to the Tibetan calendar, it is celebrated during the seventh month in the first seven days of the Full Moon period. This corresponds to dates falling within July and August.
Holidays that fall within the Chinese calendar are also observed at the Norbulingka complex, under the patronage of the Chinese government. Likewise, Tibetans celebrate traditional holidays within the complex, complete with Tibetan dances and songs.
- Norbulingka is open from Monday to Saturday, 9 AM to 6 PM.
- It is recommended that visitors allot at least 2 to 3 hours to see the entire complex.
- Norbulingka and the surrounding park provide incredible scenery and photo-ops. However, visitors should always ask permission first, to take photographs inside the Buddha halls and palaces.
- You can visit Norbulingka all year round. Visiting during the different seasons, provides a whole new perspective.