Norbulingka Palace is situated in the west side of Lhasa, a short distance to the southwest of Potala Palace. Norbulingka covers an area of around 36 hectares (89 acres) and considered to be the largest man made garden in Tibet.
Norbulingka park 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 Norbulinga, become hubs of entertainment with dancing, singing, music and festivities. The park is where the annual Sho Dun or 'Yoghurt Festival' is held.
The Norbulingka palace has been mostly identified with the 13th and the 14th Dalai Lamas who commissioned most of the structures seen here now. During the invasion of Tibet in 1950, a number of buildings were damaged, but were 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.
Sho Dun Festival, also spelt 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.
Recommended Tour Itineraries Including Norbulingka
Taking a train from Xining to Lhasa is a good idea to get a better view of the ultimate beauty of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau with a more comfortable experience and fewer reactions to high altitude. After spending a whole day on the train, you will arrive Lhasa to start an excellent trip around this holy land of Tibetan Buddhism.