Published: April 8th 2012April 7th 2012
Today we went to the Potala palace, the winter residence for the Dalai Lamas. The Potala was originally built in 645, and has been added on to throughout the ages. It has housed the government, religious schools, tombs, and has been the home to every Dalai Lama, up until the Chinese invasion in 1959. Now it lies dormant, a relic of the past waiting to be used once again for its original purpose.
It is 1,400,000 square feet, and has 1000 windows. It’s enormity is truly staggering, and it’s religious and political significance cannot be rivaled. Buddhist pilgrims circumambulate the palace, as they spin hand held prayer wheels, while others prostrate themselves along the sidewalks. Buddhists circle the palace three times, as dictated by their religion. The tombs of all the previous Dalai Lamas are housed inside, so this location has incredible spiritual significance to the Buddhists.
The climb to the top of the palace is incredibly strenuous, and I was huffing and puffing, stopping every so often to just admire the amazing views of the city below, and to catch my breath. At the summit of the palace, we ascended the final staircase, the same staircase used by the Dalai
Lamas for centuries. The stone stairs were worn down so much, that they were polished as smooth as glass.
Inside the palace are room after room of incredible religious icons, with deep meaning and symbolism. Our guide is incredibly thorough with his explanations of everything we see, but Buddhism is such an incredibly complex religion, that it feels as though I am only absorbing 10% of what he explains. Photography is unfortunately not allowed inside, but the images I saw will last me a lifetime.
Afterwards we visited Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas. This is the location where the present Dalai Lama fled from to escape the Chinese in 1959. He dressed undercover as a Chinese soldier, and was smuggled out of the country to India where he has stayed until this day. There is no mention of him here, as it is forbidden by law to write about or depict him in any way.
We visited the Tibet Museum, which we quickly breezed through. It feels as though walking through the streets of Lhasa is more of a living museum, than any place you can create.
Our guide finished with us for the day, and we
decided to go to the shopping district of Barkhor on our own. I haggled fiercely with all the merchants, happily ending up paying about 60% less than their original asking price, which I’m sure was still 20% more than a local price. We ate at a local Tibetan restaurant called Namaste, where there pictures of Bob Marley and Jim Morrison, along with traditional Buddhist decor. We ate some barley noodle soup and momos, a dumpling filled with vegetables and yak meat. I felt brave after not suffering any gastrointestinal problems yet, and drank the famous national beverage of yak butter tea. It is a thick drink comprised of yak butter, yak milk and black tea, which is best described as “interesting” and barely drinkable.
There are more photos below