Potala Palace in the early evening
“Hello lookie, lookie,” almost seems to be a Tibetan greeting as we have heard it over and over again. All the vendors say exactly the same thing with the same intonations as they try to sell their trinkets to the tourists. We even heard it from someone who wasn’t selling anything, and must have picked up the phrase from overhearing it and not understanding what it meant.
We are very lucky to be here. In the last year it had been closed off for a while to all tourists. Currently it can only be visited by permission which is only granted when travelling with a group. Up until the last couple of weeks you had to be escorted when travelling outside of the hotel. Now we have had the rewarding freedom of being able to wander around and interact with people by ourselves. However, when entering any of the major sites you still need to be escorted.
local Tibetan girl
Our first afternoon here we wandered through town to see the incredible Potala Palace. It is a magnificent building built into a stand alone hill and had been the on and off again home of the Dali Lamas since construction in 1645 up until 1959. In the evening the entire group went out for dinner and most of us had various forms of yak meat which makes up most of the menus in this area.
On our second day we went to the Summer Palace, the summer home of the Dali Lamas. It is fascinating walking through this still furnished home and all of its parts. At one point I was standing half way down a walk way taking photos of one of the buildings when I realized a large group of German tourists was standing behind me taking photos with some clearly agitated that I was in their way. I turned around and took their photo to remember the moment. After leaving the palace many of us wandered around trying to find somewhere for lunch. One of the places we went in was so smoky from incense it was nearly impossible to breathe.
In the afternoon we went inside the 1300-year old golden-roofed Jokhang building. There were people praying outside and inside the smell of yak butter candles and juniper incense was suffocating. Our local tour guide was very thorough in describing all the Buddha statues and its history inside. Unfortunately, when you feel you aren’t getting any oxygen there is some anxiousness to get back outside. We were rewarded with going to the rooftop and having a view over the square and all of Lhasa. It is a beautiful location. Lhasa can be hard to photograph though as there is an incredible military presence throughout it and it is illegal to capture any of it on camera.
Upon leaving the Jokhang Leanne and I wandered around the pilgrim circuit of Barkhor that is lined with market stalls. Many of the people in this region are beautiful in their unique way and it was enjoyable to soak up the atmosphere. We are certainly a spectacle whenever we are on our own. Leanne keeps getting her photo taken by local tourists and I keep having people who want to be close to me, and wanting to follow along as I’m walking. This is sometimes accompanied by mouth opened expressions with eyes gazing up at me. I’m not sure if I should feel complemented or offended. Either way it is a strange experience.
That evening we celebrated the 30th birthday of one of our travelling companions from the UK. What a cool spot to be celebrating a landmark birthday. We went for drinks at a pub on the top of a nearby hostel that has incredible views towards the palace.
Monks debating at the Sera Monastary
Yesterday Leanne and I found our way to an incredibly comfortable café with great coffee and cakes and free WIFI. At noon we went to the Potala Palace. We climbed up the hill to its entrance and went inside to visit a number of its ornate and remarkable rooms. There are over 1000 rooms here and visitors are given only an hour to see inside, so we saw only the most important sections. The massive gold tombs of some of the former Dali Lamas are particularly impressive. No photos are allowed to be taken inside but we will remember it well.
In the late afternoon we went to the Sera Monastery to watch the afternoon debating of the monks. It is thoroughly entertaining. As they make their points they often follow up with a swinging loud hand clap into the face of those they are arguing with. We were desperately hungry after finishing our excursions and had a quick fix from a local fast food restaurant. Later Leanne and I wandered to a Potala view point to watch it light up at dusk and then watched a water and light show in the main square before going for tea and snacks at a nearby top floor coffee house overlooking the palace. As usual we had a highly entertaining interaction with the people working there with all of us laughing as we each tried to use the few words we new of each others’ language.
Today is a free day, and I might go with others out of town to visit a monastery high up in the mountains while Leanne is looking forward to a day of relaxing. Tomorrow we will start making our way through some of the highest passes in the world as we make our way towards the base of Mount Everest.
Photos are posted here: http://mcwilliams.ca/photos/China