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Exploring Norbu Lingka: Popular Summer Palace and Treasure Garden

Summer palace of Dalai Lama: Popular Jewel Park

Norbu Lingka, meaning ‘Treasure Garden’ in Tibetan, is a significant historical site in Lhasa. Established in the 1740s, it has been a summer retreat and administrative hub for successive Dalai Lama. This garden showcases typical Tibetan style, blending natural beauty with cultural significance. It’s a fusion of gardens, temples, and palaces, creating a serene environment away from Lhasa’s bustling city life.

Situated just 2 kilometers from the Potala Palace, Norbu Lingka offers a contrast to more frequented sites like the Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace. Its religious aura is subtler, and it’s not a common stop for many travel groups, making it a peaceful escape for independent travelers.

Despite its less prominent status compared to other Lhasa landmarks, Norbu Lingka is worth a 2-3 hour visit. It offers a unique glimpse into the summer life of Tibet’s past spiritual leaders, differing from other popular tourist spots in Lhasa.

A Historical Snapshot Of Norbu Lingka

In the 1740s, the 7th Dalai Lama began using this area, initially a wilderness of forests and marshes, for bathing and healing his leg illness. He lived in a tent initially, but as his visits became more frequent, palaces and temples were constructed, evolving Norbu Lingka into a summer residence and work place for successive Dalai Lamas.

Visitor Tips

Photography is prohibited inside the temples. It’s also respectful to remove hats when entering these sacred spaces.

Kalsang Phodrang: A Historical Masterpiece

Constructed in 1755 and completed during the 8th Dalai Lama’s time, Gesang Phodrang is one of Norbu Lingka’s earliest buildings. Named after the 7th Dalai Lama, Kalsang Gyatso, it houses various religious rooms including a Buddha hall and a protector hall.

The main hall features the throne of the 7th Dalai Lama. The second floor is dedicated to a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, with murals depicting stories of Tibetan kings like Songtsen Gampo. A special statue of the six-armed Mahakala, commissioned by the 8th Dalai Lama, is also housed here.

Norbu Lingka Zoo: A Joy for Children

Norbu Lingka is home to a small zoo, a delightful spot for Lhasa’s children. The park’s lush greenery makes it the most verdant site in urban Lhasa.

Natural Oxygen Bar: A Breath of Fresh Air

For visitors acclimatizing to Lhasa’s altitude, Norbu Lingka’s fresh air provides natural relief. Another green haven in Lhasa is the “Lalu Wetland” in the suburbs, ideal for those seeking more extensive vegetation. Norbu Lingka, with its rich history, serene gardens, and unique architecture, is a must-visit for anyone looking to explore the less trodden paths of Lhasa. It’s a perfect blend of nature, spirituality, and Tibetan culture.

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Exploring Norbu Lingka: Hidden Gems and Historical Wonders


Stumbling Upon the Outer Stables

While wandering through Norbu Lingka, visitors might stumble upon the open gates of what used to be the stables. Initially intended for the Dalai Lama’s horses, this area, currently under renovation, is typically closed to the public. A chance encounter with a local media interview might offer a rare glimpse inside.

Chensil Phodrong: A Legacy of the 13th Dalai Lama

Constructed around 1922 (some sources say 1926), the Chensil Phodrong served as the residence and final resting place of the 13th Dalai Lama. Contrary to what its name might imply, its ‘golden’ designation has nothing to do with the precious metal. The term originates from the Tibetan word ‘Chinse’, a title given to favored individuals, phonetically similar to ‘golden’. The accuracy of this interpretation, however, might require confirmation from Tibetan language experts.

The Structure of Chensil Phodrong

This three-story Tibetan building features the main hall on the ground floor, where the 13th Dalai Lama met with monks and officials. Its walls are adorned with paintings, including some inspired by Beijing’s Summer Palace, reflecting the Dalai Lama’s visit to Beijing.

Norbu Lingka is a popular spot for Lhasa locals. It’s common to see residents enjoying picnics on the grass, surrounded by mats and enjoying traditional sweet tea or butter tea. Gesang Deji Phodrang: A Small Palace Located northwest of the Chensil Phodrong, this small two-story palace served as the 13th Dalai Lama’s tantric meditation room.

Takten Migyur Phodrong: Palace of Current Dalai lama

Further along the path lies the Takten Migyur Phodrong , also known as the ‘Eternal Unchanging Palace’ or the ‘New Palace’, completed in 1956. Despite being one of the newer structures, it’s richly decorated and embodies traditional Tibetan architecture with modern amenities rare for the 1950s, including flush toilets and bathtubs.

The New Palace stands out with its modern interior design, featuring amenities that were scarce even in mainland China during the 1950s. Its courtyard resembles a garden, and the building is adorned with gilded roofs, a common feature in major Tibetan palaces and monasteries.

The walls of the New Palace are covered with large mural paintings depicting Tibetan history and Buddhist stories. These include the transformation of Tibet’s ancestral monkey into a human, the rise and fall of the Tibetan empire, the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet, and the establishment of various Buddhist sects.

In summary, Norbu Lingka is not just a place of historical importance; it’s a living museum where the past meets the present, offering insights into Tibetan culture, history, and spirituality.


Discovering the Heart of Norbu Lingka: The Tsokyil Phodrang (Lake Heart Palace)

Located opposite the Takten Migyur (New Palace), the Tsokyil Phodrang, also known as Lake Heart Palace, is a remarkable creation of the 8th Dalai Lama. This area, featuring palaces, pavilions, waterside pavilions, and cloisters, showcases a strong influence of Han Chinese architectural style.

The Lake Heart Palace’s primary structures include the palace itself and the Dragon King Palace. The layout features a long, narrow pool in which these buildings are situated, connected by stone bridges – reminiscent of the ‘little bridges and flowing water’ concept typical in Han Chinese gardens.

The palace’s roof uses a hip-and-gable style, covered with yellow glazed tiles. Its details, such as the blue-gray marble carved railings, wooden carved doors and windows, and the painted decorations, employ traditional Han Chinese construction techniques.

Dragon King Palace: A Sino-Tibetan Mix

Located north of the Lake Heart Palace, the Dragon King Palace combines Han and Tibetan styles. Its roof, under the spire, features Han-style bracketing. Local university students can be seen measuring and studying these ancient structures, contributing to the preservation of cultural heritage.

A Comfortable Stroll in Norbu Lingka

Walking through Norbu Lingka is a pleasant experience, especially in May when the weather on the plateau is clear, neither too cold nor too hot. The park is lively but not overcrowded, allowing visitors to enjoy its tranquility.

Kamsum Siling: The Pavilion of Three Realms

Also known as the Pavilion of Three Realms, this two-story pavilion was built by the 8th Dalai Lama. About 70 meters northeast of the Kalsang Phodrang, it faces east with a Han-style golden roof. The lower level is a passageway, while the upper level served as the Dalai Lama’s viewing platform for theatrical performances.

A Stage for Festivities In front of Kamsm Siling, there’s a spacious area that once hosted a stage for Tibetan opera performances during the annual Shoton Festival. The Shoton Festival, held from the 15th to 30th day of the 6th month of the Tibetan calendar, during which monks and nuns are not allowed to go out, to avoid harming young lives that emerge in spring. The festival begins on the 1st day of the 7th month when monks and nuns descend the mountains, and locals offer yogurt as a sign of respect. The name ‘Shoton’ in Tibetan means ‘Yogurt Banquet’. Over time, the festival has evolved into a celebration of Tibetan opera, earning it the nickname ‘Tibetan Opera Festival’.

Exiting Norbu Lingka: A Path to Further Exploration

Upon exiting Norbu Lingka through its east gate, visitors find themselves on Norbu Lingka Road, with views of Yaowang Mountain in the distance. Just across the road and to the right is the Tibet Museum, an ideal next stop for visitors interested in exploring Tibetan history and culture further.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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