TYPE : Royal Park, Historic Buildings, World Heritage Site
BEST SEASON TO VISIT : Summer & Autumn
THINGS TO DO : Enjoy the royal garden view and Tibetan-style palaces
Norbulingka Palace is situated in the west of Lhasa, a short distance to the southwest of Potala Palace. Norbulingka covers an area of around 36 hectares (89 acres) and is considered to be the largest man-made garden in Tibet.
With 374 rooms, the main parts of the entire Norbulingka complex are Kelsang Phodrong, Golden Linka, and Takten Migyur Phodrong. Walking into the flower garden, the plants are so luxuriant that the buildings seem to be covered by tall trees. Walking along the flagstone path, you can enjoy the tranquility around you, which is really hard to see in Tibet, especially in such a high-altitude area.
Norbulingka was the summer residence of the successive Dalai Lamas from the 1780s up until 1959. When the summer is hot, the Dalai Lamas come here to spend the summer, attend to local government affairs and carry out religious activities. Therefore, it is commonly known as the Summer Palace in Lhasa, which means "Treasure Park" in Tibetan. Norbulingka palace has been mostly identified with the 13th and the 14th Dalai Lamas who commissioned most of the structures seen here now. However, a number of buildings were damaged in 1950. Norbulingka is a key cultural relic protection site in China and was listed as a world cultural heritage in 2001. It was rebuilt beginning in 2003, when the Chinese government initiated renovation works here to restore some of the damaged structures, and also the greenery, the flower gardens, and the lakes.
Takten Migyur Phodrong - The Most Elegant Palace
The most important place to visit in Norbulingka is the palace of the 14th Lama, Takten Migyur Phodrong. Completed in 1956, it is also known as the “New Palace”. This palace not only has the architectural characteristics of the temple but also has the artistic style of the palace and villa. It is more magnificent and elegant than other palaces. The exterior is in the style of a double-story Tibetan building, but the interior is equipped with modern facilities. This palace was said to be particularly popular with the 14th Lama after its completion.
The “New Palace” had a gilded roof, called a golden roof. It symbolizes the thoughts and doctrines of Buddhism. Takten Migyur Phodrong is composed of more than 40 rooms, including Buddha Hall, Dharma Hall, Scripture Hall, practice room, reception room, bedroom, and bathroom, etc. Entering the courtyard gate of Takten Migyur Phodrong is like entering a sea of flowers. In the “New Palace”, you can visit the living environment of the 14th Dalai Lama and some places for receiving visitors. And also can savor lifelike murals. The walls of the “New Palace” feature large, comic-book murals on themes including Tibetan history and Buddhist allusions. The most eye-catching picture is "Sakyamuni and 8 disciples" in the tantric chamber. Buddha Sakyamuni is standing under a bodhi tree, his clothes were smooth and elegant, his body gesture was beautiful, his face was smiling, his temperament was elegant, lifelike and perfect. The disciples around him are all dressed in yellow cassocks, holding scriptures and Buddhist emblems under the trees, with different looks and postures. These murals are compatible with the adornment of the vestibule, window, and corridors, very lively and comfortable, showing distinctive regional styles and characters. The interior fresco decoration and the outdoor landscape also complement each other, fully displaying the Tibetan unique and distinct aesthetic mood.
Tsokyil Phodrong - A Beautiful Place In The Garden
Tsokyil Phodrong (pavilion in the midst of the pond) is the most beautiful place in Norbulingka. The Dalai Lama often meets and feasts with monks and laymen here. Usually, Tsokyil Phodrong refers to the building complex of three square islands in the pond. Lukang (Dragon King Pavilion) is in the northernmost, and Tsokyil Phodrong stands in the center. The two islands were built with pavilions, surrounded by stone railings. Tibetan Buddhist murals were painted inside and outside the pavilions, especially the Bodhisattva Tara（green）painted on the inner wall of the front cornice column, which is vivid and exquisite. A small island on the south side is isolated in the pond. Only some trees are planted on it to keep the natural flavor. "one pond and three islands" layout embody the combination of Han style and Tibetan culture.
Norbulingka is considered the premier park of all such horticultural parks in similar ethnic settings in Tibet. During the summer and autumn months, the parks in Tibet, including the Norbulingka, become hubs of entertainment with dancing, singing, music and festivities. The park is where the annual Sho Dun or 'Yoghurt Festival' is held.
Sho Dun Festival also spelled Shoton Festival, (popularly known as the "yogurt festival") is an annual festival held at Norbulingka. The date for the festival is set according to the Tibetan calendar, which is a Lunar-based calendar. The festival is celebrated during the seventh month in the first seven days of the Full Moon period, which corresponds to dates in July/August according to the Gregorian calendar. The week-long festivities are marked by eating and drinking, with Ache Lhamo, the Tibetan opera performances as the highlight, held in the park and other venues in the city. On this occasion, yak races are a special attraction held in the Lhasa stadium. During this festival, famed Opera troupes from different regions of Tibet perform at the Norbulingka grounds; the first opera troupe was founded in the 15th century by Tangtong Gyelpo, considered the Leonardo da Vinci of Tibet. Over the centuries other opera formats of the 'White Masked Sect' and the "innovative" 'Black Masked Sect' added to the repertoire, and all these forms and subsequent innovations are enacted at the Sho Dun Festival. The Chinese observe the holidays of the Chinese calendar at the Norbulingka grounds with Tibetan music and dance under Government patronage. Tibetans also observe traditional holidays with Tibetan music and dance at this venue.
During the reign of the Dalai Lamas (from the 7th Dalai Lama onwards), their annual shifting of residence from the Potala Palace to Norbulingka Palace was also an elaborate festive event. The Dalai Lama used to be escorted in a glittering procession to spend 6 months of the summer season in the Norbulingka Palace.
How to Get to Norbulingka?
Norbulingka is located in Lhasa downtown. It's 2.5 km away from Potala Palace and 4 km away from Jokhang Temple/Barkhor Street. You can easily reach Nobulingkha.
Take bus No. 6, 13, 24, 25 to Museum Bus Stop, and then walk about 200 meters.
Take bus No. 2 or No.4 to Norbulingka South Bus Stop and walk there.
Take a taxi. The base fare is 10 yuan (including 5 km) and there's additional 2 yuan for each kilometer.
May-October is the best time of the year for visiting Norbulingka. At this time, there is sufficient oxygen and appropriate humidity, so vegetation flourishes.
The advised travel time is 2 or 3 hours.
The entrance fee varies during peak seasons and low seasons. In peak tourist season(May-Oct), the ticket is 80 CNY per person. In low seasons(Nov - Apr), the ticket is 60 CNY per person.
In August, during Shoton Festival, it's the most lively moment of Norbulingka. At that time, Tibetan opera genres from all over Tibet will gather here for grand performances.