China & Nepal 2009 travel blog

Potala Palace 1

Potala Palace 2

Potala Palace 3

Dali Lama throne

Potala courtyard

We could probably write lots in this journal about the situation here in Lhasa, but given the tight level of security we aren't sure if our communications are monitored and we don't want to cause trouble for either our hotel or our guide. The guides are 100% responsible for their client's actions, and one slip could be hours of grief or a loss of job, so it's not worth the risk. Instead, we'll focus on the sights we're seeing each day. Our first full day of sightseeing we went to the Potala Palace. 1) It's huge. 2) It'ss not built into the side of a hill as I had always imagined, in fact it IS the top of a hill. 3) There's lots and lots of stairs. And then there's more stairs. But if the stair climbing didn't take our breath away, the views of it certainly did. This place should have been one of the 7 Wonders, like The Great Wall. There is such a quiet dignity about it, and it has such presence even though the majority of it is empty now. Every day Buddhist pilgrims and locals circumbobulate the hill it sits on, many of them in traditional dress, praying, chanting, meditating, and spinning their hand-held prayer wheels. I don't even know how to describe the feeling you get there, it's a peacefulness, and of quiet power. The Potala was not just the Dali Lama's residence, it was actually the heart of the government when Tibet was ruled as a theocratic society. Many of the rooms in it were devoted to meeting with dignitaries, officials, and heads of state. Other entire wings were essentially government offices, to effectively run Tibet and carry out the Dali Lama's instructions. There was even a school in this "city within a building", where the children of the staff could learn & study several different majors, as our guide called them, such as math, painting, science, etc. At the very top of the Potala was the Dali Lama's own residence, of which we were able to see some rooms. Beautifully ornate, every surface painted or decorated, but yet still maintaining a simplicity of proportion and space. The "throne", if you can call it that, was a simple raised square platform covered in gold fabric. However I think my personal favourite thing is still the view of it from the outside, and the views and vistas you can see while climbing the endless stairs on the front and sides of the palace. Truly amazing, and truly awe-inspiring. We both had goose bumps. That afternoon we walked to the Hokhong Temple with our guide. If the Potala was the heart of the government, the Hokhong is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetfrom thet he country will sometimes walk for up to 6 months just to come here fopilgrimagemage. Every day, all day, thousands of both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhists will circle the temple, always in a clockwise direction, praying and chanting same as they do at the Potala. Except here there are even more of those with stronger faith. Many of them prostrate themselves, body length by body length, around the entire path - some even make it more difficult on themselves by going sideways or binding their legs together. Our guide said some of them do this 20, 30, 40 times or more, as often as they can come, to make their lives "more better". Fragrincenseence burns in giant clay ovens at the entrance, clouding the entire area with thick sweet smoke that made us sneeze. Under unbelievably tight security, people do this every day, day after day, because their religion is so passionate inside them that nothing else matters. It just boggles the mind how strong these people are.

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