Potala Palace, Lhasa!

Refreshed.  After a nice sleep last night, my first night in Lhasa, I felt so refreshed.

It was 9 a.m.

It was pouring outside.  Heard that it was hailing earlier this morning.  My plan was to check in to YHA, book a tour to the base camp of Mt. Everest, then visit Potala Palace today. 

But the weather was so bad.  Gazing through the window, I could see some houses.  People were running about to find shelter.  I took one sip of hot water from my cup.  ‘When is it going to stop?  The rainy season has gone, supposedly.’ I thought to myself as I poured some more water.

The steam of the hot water slowly rose from my cup.

‘How long do I have to wait?’ I had been having a conversation with myself for the whole morning since I woke up.

One cup of hot water after another.

‘I should leave regardless of the heavy rain.  I will just catch a taxi.’

I checked out and asked the reception to call a taxi for me.

I asked the taxi driver, ‘when is the rain going to stop, do you think?’  The taxi driver looked at the sky, thought for a while, then said, ‘this is going to last for the whole day today.’  Oh.  Well, I would stay inside Potala Palace anyway, so it would not affect me much.

In the heavy rain, I walked up the steep path to Potala Palace. That itself was a challenge. I was still acclimatizing to the high altitude.  Strenuous exercises were not for me (or anyone) at this stage. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath. ‘Take it slow’ as my friend suggested.  My decision to go to Tibet at this age was right. I couldn’t imagine how I’d react to the high altitude if I went there at an older age. I may suffer from altitude sickness.

I could only take a few pictures.  They didn’t look good because of the rain.  There were a lot of pilgrims going up to worship the gods.  The ticket to Potala Palace cost RMB100 yuan per person.  The pilgrims did not need to pay that much.  I think they only needed to pay a few yuan.

Lhasa in the rain

Potala Palace was enormous!  It had many idols of different gods.  Some of the idols were plated with real gold and some of them were even made of real gold.  They were huge.  Most of the time, I needed to bend my neck hard to look up to see the face of the gods.  Not only gold, some even had jewels and pearls on them.

That’s why people say Potala Palace is a gem. It truly is!

No photos inside, sorry. My dear readers, you have to go there in person to see all the treasures yourself. 🙂

There were a lot of tour groups inside the Palace.  Those tour guides gave very detailed explanation of the idols and stories of Dalai Lama.  I listened to them very closely trying to learn more about the gods.

Other than the idols, I could see a lot of white candles in front of the gods.  According to one of the tour guides, if you lit the candles, you would be given wisdom.  Out of curiosity, I played with the white wax.

It was a very tiring trip.  The Palace was too big for me (and also because of the thin air and the altitude).  I left the Palace after I finished visiting all the temples that were opened to public (not all the temples were opened to public). The rain has stopped. 

The sky was blue. 

Very blue.

A family of pilgrims were walking up the steep path to Potala Palace.
I asked the older lady for her consent to take photos of her little girl (grand daughter?).  Before the little girl knew what was happening, I took the photo. She was so cute. 🙂 She will be in her 20’s now.
It was the young lady’s turn. Look at her cheeks! It looked like she had put on some make up. So pretty. I really liked the ornaments that they wore.
Then the lady.  The white scarf she was wearing is called ‘Hada’ in Mandarin. I saw the pilgrims throw these scarves to the gods and leave a few yuan in the temples as offerings. The scarf is made of silk and it has Tibetan sewn on it. When the lamas bless you, he might give you a white scarf too. It would be an honour for you and you need to thank him.

Because I used a digital camera, I could show them the photos immediately.  I was suddenly surrounded by the whole family.  They all laughed when they saw their own images.  They even asked me to take a few more photos for them.  All the while, we used body language to communicate to each other. Until now, when I travel to some places and even when I was volunteering in Cambodia in 2019, I used body language too. it’s a universal language and I am getting better and better at it. 😛 

I didn’t really expect my camera would be that popular. They just looked at their own faces in my camera without asking for anything in return.  They were satisfied with it already. 

It really touched me.

Even the passers-by came around and had a look at my camera.  One of them was a lama.

At first, the lama asked me to take a photo of him with his friend.  Then he asked me to take another photo for him by himself.  And then he introduced his family to me.  So, I decided to take a photo for the whole family.  After that, they all rushed to me to have a look at their own faces on the little screen of my camera.  It was a very close encounter with them.  I could see from their eyes the excitement, and their innocent smile. 

To this date, I still remember the innocent eyes very clearly.

It was so touching.

He was the passer-by. He saw me taking pictures of the family so he asked me to take one for him. When he looked at his own image in my camera, he smiled excitedly.  I can still remember the excitement and innocence in his eyes, now, 15 years later.
The lama and his friend

The lama gave me his address so that I could send him the photos afterwards which I did after I returned home. I hope he got them.

I believe, if I go there now, each one of the pilgrims will have a smartphone and will take their own photos. I don’t think this kind of close encounter will happen anymore. Is it good or is it bad?

Technology seems to have put people closer but does it really?

Tibetan prayer flags were waving in the wind spreading prayers to the world.

After lunch, I walked around Barkhor Street which is still a very famous street encircling a famous temple in Lhasa, Jokhang Temple. 

A corner of the busy Barkhor Street
Stalls in Barkhor Street
Pilgrims were praying outside Jokhang Temple.
Wheel of life, at Jokhang Temple
At the roof of Jokhang Temple
I was told that the round copper thing in the pilgrim’s hand was engraved with prayers.  When the pilgrim turned it once, it meant that s/he had prayed once.

I went to check the travel agency. The lady told me the other two guests had confirmed to go. So, I’d join them.  There were only 3 of us but they’d go ahead anyway. As I’d be staying in a single room, I’d pay a little bit more. The difference wasn’t too much so I paid.

All set.

I went to the common room in the hostel where I found all the computers. Some people were chatting about Tibetan Mastiffs.  It was my first time to hear them. I didn’t do any research on Tibetan dogs before I went there. The travellers were looking at photos of these dogs and said they were huge but it’d be very hard to see them in Tibet. I wonder if it is still true now and I wonder if there is any mixed breed now too. I remember those travellers were saying that these dogs were very fierce and it was hard to tame them. 

I chatted with a former soldier in the hostel who told me that one of the girls in my dorm room went to the hospital. ‘What happened?’ He answered, ‘She was suffering from altitude sickness. She was really sick. She had serious headaches and was vomiting all the time so she was sent to the hospital. Now that she’s there, she should be fine.’ He said it quite casually. It could be very common among travellers.  Well, tomorrow, I’d start to go to an even higher place in Tibet. I needed to be constantly aware of my conditions too.

Despite this, I looked forward to the trip. 😊

8 October 2005

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