The Potala Palace, a World Heritage site in Lhasa, China's Tibet Autonomous Region, announced an unscheduled closure Wednesday after 24-hour snow battered the regional capital city.
The steep stone stairs leading to the Potala Palace atop a hill became slippery due to heavy snow, according to a statement released by the palace's administrative office late Tuesday.
"The palace is usually only closed on Tibetan New Year's Eve and the second day of the New Year. There was no closure due to weather in the past," said Jorden, deputy director of the palace administrative office.
All the palace staff, more than 440, and some 30 firefighters participated in snow removal Wednesday, according to Jorden.
The palace is expected to reopen to the public Thursday.
This winter's first snow in Lhasa came early Tuesday morning and did not stop until Wednesday morning. The city saw 10 cm of snow, and the temperature dropped to minus 9.4 degrees Celsius at 9 a.m. Wednesday, according to the regional meteorological bureau.
At noon, shopkeepers were busy clearing the snow. Excited tourists stood on the heights to shoot video of the surrounding mountains and shared the picturesque scenery on social media platforms.
"The snow-capped mountains are like in the city! They appear even more spectacular against the blue sky. I've never seen such beautiful scenery before, with Buddhists turning prayer wheels, and the deep red outer walls of the Potala Palace topped with thick snowflakes," said Yang Xiaoyu, a tourist from southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.
As one of China's top tourist destinations, the palace was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.
It received over 1.18 million tourists in the first 10 months this year, nearly one-quarter more than the same period last year, according to Jorden.
The first snow arrived about 52 days later than usual, according to Du Jun, director of the regional meteorological center.
The regional meteorological bureau issued a yellow alert for a blizzard Tuesday morning and dismissed it Wednesday morning.
The Potala Palace was built by Tibetan King Songtsa Gambo in the seventh century and was expanded in the 17th century, covering an area of 41 hectares on top of a craggy hill in the heart of Lhasa.