First day of arriving Lhasa and without a whole lot of sleep, we left around 8:30am and headed towards the Potala Palace. Tibet Vista’s package includes the entry tickets to the various places on the itinerary and our tour guide took care of it all. Potala palace, once the residence of every Dalai Lama from the 5th to the 14th, is now mostly a museum. The 9-story place with 1,000 rooms stands tall and mighty and dominates the view from all around Lhasa.
The entry begins with a climb of stairs and I can tell you sea-level folks like us don’t do well with stairs at 13,000 feet on day one. We were all soon huffing and puffing up the 432 stairs stopping at places to catch our breath and admire the architecture.
Apparently once a year, in an annual renovation process, the locals get together to “paint” the palace by essentially splashing and throwing a mix of Yak milk, sugar, barley against the walls.
I love the “everlasting/infinite happiness” symbol threaded on to yak-hair blankets that are wind, water, rain, snow, heat proof and protect the interior of the palace. There are no pictures allowed in the interior rooms of the place, but you can feel the history here, with some of the sculptures, scriptures and paintings dating over 1,000 years old. One thing that caught my eye was a monk sitting cross-legged and chanting in front of the Shambhala, while a little kitten was following his finger-tip as he traced it around the floor. Soon he brought out a laser pointer which made me laugh.
As we walked around the palace, there were a number of references to Seven Years in Tibet 🙂 “Do you know that scene where Brad Pitt …”
After a brief lunch in a hole-in-the-wall we stopped at a temple that only locals visit and learned about the protectors (once demons, but now converted) and how to appease them with water and wine. The smell wicks burning Yak butter pervades these temples.
From there, we headed to Jokhang, the most religious structure in all of Tibet. It houses an image of a buddha (Jowo Sakyamuni) brought to Tibet by King Songtsen Gampo’s Chinese wife, Princess Wencheng.
For dinner, our tour group ate vegetarian hot pot (with barley wine and Lhasa beer!) for dinner.
Tomorrow, day two, we drive to Shigatse crossing over Khampa-la pass (5,200m) overlooking the scorpion-looking Yamdrok-tso and then the Karo-la pass (5,050m), with a massive glacier viewable right from the highway.
Blogs in this Tibet Travelogue series:
- The Logistics
- Aboard the Qinghai-Tibet Train
- Potala Palace and Jokhang
- Lhasa to Shigatse
- Everest Base Camp
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