AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Tibet Tour: Day 6

This was to be the highlight of the tour. We were going to visit the Potala Palace, home of the Dalai Lama until the Chinese forced the 14th Dalai Lama to flee into exile. This palace is the symbol of Tibet, instantly recognisable to most people. After the palace and lunch we were going to visit Jokhang Temple in the centre of Lhasa and just round the corner from our hotel. This is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet.

We left the hotel at 10am and walked to the area in front of the palace. There is a path running around the palace and there were thousands of people walking around the palace and praying as they walked. We had a specified time we could enter the palace and we were early, so the guide gave us 15 minutes to wander and take photos. Annemarie had already taken the photo of the palace and as the sun was burning hot went found some shade and sat for 15 minutes.

Front of Potala Palace

Potala Palace

Potala Palace from below

After going through the security checks we looked around the village at the bottom of the hill.

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Then we were led up the steps to the entrance of the palace. The combination of heat and altitude made these steps more difficult than normal!

Stairs to Potala Palace

Photography is not allowed in the palace so we have nothing to show for the tour. The palace has a mix of secular and monastic rooms. We were able to visit the room where the Dalai Lama once met distinguished guests but couldn’t see his bedroom. The palace blurs into one with most rooms consisting of statues of Buddha and scholars. There were also many tomb stupas with the 5th Dalai Lama having a tomb with 3.7 tonnes of gold and jewel encrusted decorations. This Dalai Lama was given the term Dalai Lama by the Mongolians and he was given both the spiritual and political office over Tibet. He also is famed for building the Potala Palace in the 17th century. The gold and jewels supposedly came from donations from the people who see the Dalai Lama as a living god. However the money was gained the resultant tomb was extremely impressive and beautiful. The Dalai Lama sits inside, mummified in the lotus position. Also in the palace are the tombs of the 7th to the 13th Dalai Lama but only Tibetans can go to see the 13th Dalai Lama’s tomb and only on Tibetan New Year.

Inside the palace there are many thrones for the Dalai Lama. All of then have the robes ready for the Dalai Lama should he return from exile. The staircases also have 3 sections with the middle section cordoned off for the Dalai Lama. Above all the thrones sits the image of the 13th Dalai Lama. Throughout Tibet you cannot see the image of the current Dalai Lama because that’s politically too sensitive.

After the palace we headed back towards the centre of Lhasa for lunch. Our guide stopped by a Tibetan restaurant and said the food was very nice and was a good price. We went inside and sat down expecting the rest of the group to join very soon. After 10 minutes it was clear that no-one else was coming. We learnt later that they’d gone to Dico’s, a fast food chain popular across Asia. Oh well, they missed out on really delicious food!

In the afternoon we visited Jokhang Temple, the most important temple in Tibet. It’s history goes back to 700AD, pre-Buddhism in Tibet. It was originally built for the Bon religion but in 800AD it was converted to Buddhist. It contains a statue of Buddha which is believed to be 2,000 years old. It looked pretty new to us! The statue was made from sandalwood and then decorated with gold leaf plus the obligatory precious gems. The figure is believed to be the first image of Buddha in Tibet. The temple also has a room for the Dalai Lama, with gold coating its roof.

Residence of Dalai Lama at Jokhong Temple

Room for Dalai Lama at Jokhong Temple

The temple itself is not actually a temple, it’s a monastery. A temple has no monks and is for worship only. A monastery, on the other hand, contains scriptures and monks. Therefore, Jokhong with its 40 monks is indeed a monastery. However, as it used to be a temple the name stuck for reasons we didn’t fully understand.

Outside Jokhong Temple is a square where many pilgrims come to visit. There are a number of pilgrimage routes within Lhasa and from Lhasa to Mount Kailash, over 2000km away. We saw many pilgrims circumnavigating the temple. They would clap their wooden blocks together, which were tied to their hands before prostrating themselves with vigour onto the floor. Then take 3 steps and repeat. Our guide said this small pilgrimage would only take a day whereas the one to Mount Kailash takes around 7 months. The temple itself is small but the pilgrims come to see the 2,000 year old Buddha.

We spent about an hour wandering around the temple. When it comes to making money the Buddhists are far better than the Catholic churches in Europe. Firstly, they charge for camera usage separately in each part of the temple. Secondly, the temples are full of Buddhists praying and giving money. Every statue, every throne, every possible gap was filled with money. The notes were mostly worth 1p/$0.02 but the quantity must add up to a reasonable value.

With the temple tour complete we were free to do whatever we wanted. The freedom was surprising. We had seen some professional photos of the Potala Palace and roughly worked out where the photos were taken from. We decided to go there. The sun was burning hot and we walked slowly back to the palace. We found the viewpoint, a chunk of rock with steps up the side beside the square in front of the palace. There was a 2 Yuan charge (20p) to go up. The view was worth it!

Annemarie and Andrew in front of the Potala Palace

Potala Palace

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The path around the palace hill was still filled with people walking around and around it. The first wall had over 1,000 prayer wheels, I guess there’s more than 3,000 prayer wheels around the whole hill. Because of the latitude and China’s single timezone policy this meant that although the time was 6pm, in other places at the same latitude it was only 4pm. Around the time of day when it always feels hottest. We walked into the park behind the Potala Palace and sat in the shade.

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That evening we ate in the same restaurant we had at lunch. The food was delicious! We paid £3 for two meals, two teas and a coke. An OK price. This was a really good day and we felt pretty happy with the tour today.

Potala Palace from Pilgrimage route

Potala Palace from Potala Square

Potala Palace taken from Stupa

Fried rice and momo

Posted from Lhasa, Xizang (Tibet), China.

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