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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 29.65, 91.1
No one slept well last night. All of us, including our guide, were feeling the effects of living at such a high altitude. I thought that my slight headache and racing heartbeat were because I had not followed Johnny's advice and had overdone activities yesterday, but everyone was feeling the same thing. So I had no regrets, and felt better about stepping out and exploring Lhasa on my own our first day in Tibet.
But today we were going to see the Potala Palace! Such an exquisite palace to explore, plus with our extraordinary Tibetan guide, Yarpel, this turned into another afternoon to add to treasured memories. To reach the Palace, we had to go through security, similar to what is now considered normal at airports. And then there were 432 steps to climb, as the Potala Palace is situated on top of a very high hill, impressively located: one looks up at the Palace which is probably the highest spot in Lhasa, which is on the top of the world. But we were all worried about climbing more steps after such a bad night's sleep, still feeling the effects of being in high altitude. So as we began, I focused on making this a sort of walking meditation, slower than I usually walk or hike, taking deep, deep breaths to pull in as much oxygen as possible. I reached the top pretty quickly, but thought I was only 1/4 of the way up as I saw more stairs ahead. When a friend said we are nearly there I was surprised and very pleased. This wasn't hard at all! We had just made it an ordeal in our minds, another example of what power our thoughts have, and how careful we need to be with them. A few more sections of steps, and we had arrived.
There is a large courtyard near the top, with the ubiquitous vendors of water, postcards, books, plus the highest bathrooms in the world! Of course I had to see these, although in our grading system of bathrooms in China and Tibet, with 5 being the best (a clean area, toilet paper, running water and soap, western toilets), this was a #1. So I saw the highest bathroom in the world, but that was enough. After a brief stop here we then climbed up a few steeper steps, called ladders. These were not difficult, just steep. Monks ran down them, but they were young and lived here; their fleetness impressed and mocked us although I am certain that neither was intended. I was anxious to get into the Palace, so hated stopping every section for people to catch up, but Yarpel offered wonderful information at each stop, so I learned to wait patiently, to listen to his wisdom.
The magnificent Potala Palace, the residence and burial place for hundreds of years for the Dalai Lamas, is now only used by the monks, and for visitors. As we traveled from room to room, here I could clearly feel the energy of this blessed place. The smell of incense and candles burning in yak butter followed us along as we traversed from corridors to meditation rooms to sleeping chambers to large open gathering places, all decorated with paintings and statues and gold and gifts from centuries ago. As we looked at statues of the Buddha and other holy teachers, Yarpel said it was karma that brought us to this place, to Tibet. It is impossible to describe how I felt in those secluded palace rooms (filled with many other pilgrims on that day), except to say that I felt as if I were being allowed a glimpse of a pathway to heaven, that in this place we all were touching nirvana, if only for a little while.
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