Norbulingka is the summer palace where the Dalai Lama used to reside. It is also one of the most serene and tranquil places where anyone who appreciates nature and mediation can truly enjoy themselves.
If you are like me and enjoy visiting tranquil and serene places such as monasteries, gardens, or any outdoor sites, I recommend you read about my visit to Shang Hai Jade Buddha Temple and Las Pozas of Edward James. These places are similar in experience to my visit to Norbulingka.
Norbulingka which literally translates as “The Jeweled or Treasure Park,” is the palace where the Dalai Lamas resided during the summer months, starting with the 7th Dalai Lama and continuing through to the 14th Dalai Lama’s exile in 1959. The Dalai Lama would alternate his time between Norbulingka in the summer months and the Potala Palace in the winter months.
Norbulingka Palace is located in Lhasa, Tibet a short distance to the southwest part of the Potala Palace. This palace covers an area of 360,000 square meters and is considered to be the largest man-made garden in Tibet.
As opposed to other monasteries and temples in China which tend to be located in the bustling cities, the Norbulingka Palace is located in a quiet, mountainous region. This makes it an ideal place for anyone looking to retreat to a serene and tranquil place to meditate, reflect or just be in contact with nature.
If being by yourself for a few moments is what you are seeking, walking through the many gardens surrounding the Norbulingka Palace will transport you into a quiet refuge away from visitors and tourists. The highlight of this quiet retreat are its well-kept gardens full of colorful flowers such as marigolds, peonies, roses, Himalayan poppies, as wells as other plants endemic to the Tibetan plateau.
As you approach the palace, the smell of juniper incense will be the first thing that your sense of smell will notice. The garden with its beautiful variety of flowers, make the palace’s entrance as inviting as the garden itself. The colors of the palace, bright orange, gold, yellow, and crimson – resembling the colors of the sun – heightens the sense of engulfing tranquility that blankets the whole of Norbulingka, the Jeweled Garden in Tibet.
It is said that the 7th Dalai Lama used to visit this site frequently in the summer when it was just an area full of weeds, scrubs, and wild animals. The Imperial Minister of the Qing Dynasty ordered for a Pavilion Palace to be built here for the Dalai Lama as a summer retreat in 1755.
The summer palace is comprised of three palace complexes, a monastery, a total of 374 rooms as well as other halls, and pavilions all integrated into the garden layout. Every Dalai Lama starting from the 7th Dalai Lama to the 14th have added extensions to the palace to become what it is today.
Norbulingka consists of five different sections in the park with three main palaces; the Kelsang Palace, Tsokyil Palace, and the Takten Migyur Palace. Staring with the Kelsang Palace, which is the original building where the palace for the 7th Dalai Lama was built, it consists of worship rooms, reading rooms, and bedrooms. The main hall of this palace is where the throne of the 7th Dalai Lama rests along with statues of Guanyin Bodhisattva and Longevity Buddha. Tsokyil Palace is located to the northwest of Kelsang Palace in the middle of the lake. This palace and section of the Norbulingka is the most attractive pavilion in the park built by the 8th Dalai Lama. The 8th Dalai Lama also made other significant additions to the Norbulingka including the Dragon King Temple, the Lake Heart Palace, and Han-style pavilion and gardens.
The Golden Linka and Chensel Palace are the third sections of the Norbulingka. The Chensel Palace is located in the northwest of Kelsang Palace and to the west of Norbulingka it’s the Golden Linka. These two additions were built in 1922 by a benefactor for the 13th Dalai Lama.
The fourth section of the Norbulingka is the Lake Heart Palace and it is one of the most visited and attractive highlights of the Norbulingka. It is one of the many additions built by the 8th Dalai Lama.
The last section of the Norbulingka is the Takten Migyur Palace also called the New Summer Palace. It is one of the most recent additions to the Norbulingka, and thus newer, magnificent, and larger than the original palaces. It is here where the murals of Sakyamuni and his eight contemplative disciples are found. This palace was built in 1956 by the 14th Dalai Lama.
Inside the palaces there are number of precious historical relics and art works kept including Thangkas (Tibetan Buddhist paintings), solemn Buddha statues, beautiful wall paintings and chinaware. For me, the most impressive art work was the colorful frescos found throughout the interior of the rooms, these are worth taking the time to admire.
One interesting note about the inside of the palaces in Norbulingka, due to the fact that many murals and frescos are ancient, great effort is made to preserve their current condition; therefore, visitors, including myself were not allowed to take pictures of the artwork. This rule of the museum however, did not take away from my enjoyable experience in this unforgettable palace. On the contrary, because of this rule, the quietness and silence that a site like this deserves is more readily obeyed. As such, it actually makes the experience more pleasant for the rest of the visitors.
Norbulingka has been called a “masterpiece of Tibetan art” as it reflects the religious and ethnic aspects of the Tibetan people and embodies the architecture style of inland China. It also houses more than 30,000 cultural relics. Because of its cultural value, this palace was listed by the UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2001, as an extension of the Potala Palace.
Norbulingka is a must-see, not just to learn about Tibetan culture and religion but for those who enjoy quiet and peaceful atmospheres. The beauty of the landscape, the Tibetan art and tranquility inside the palace, along with the most fresh and clean air you will ever find in any part of the world, will renew your senses and make this trip an unforgettable experience.
- Photography inside the Norbulingka was not allowed when I visited this site, that might not be the case at the time of your visit. If interested in taking pictures of the beautiful art inside the palace, you should ask for permission first.
- It took about 2 hours to visit the inside of the palace and its surrounding gardens and lake, it takes 2 to 3 hours to really see the entire site at your own pace.
- The trip requires a lot of walking so be prepared with water, comfortable shoes, and layered clothes.