Day 13 part 1: Potala Palace

We finally have our fourth tour member!  He’s a Chinese man from Taiwan who studies immunology at UCLA (small world!).  (If I remembered all that correctly.)   He’s very nice, if a tad incapable of filtering his…enthusiasm.  While we are pretty flexible, James seems a bit more…aggressive.

We went to the Potala Palace in the morning.  It seemed very important to get there at a designated time, I think because you have to reserve your entrance time beforehand and you only have a limited  duration to actually be in the palace.  But the whole time we were there, I couldn’t figure out how anyone would know your entrance time.  I think it was all a hoax.  Even so, James wasn’t the picture of patience when we wanted to take some shots of the facade of this incredible building.  It looks ancient and harsh and foreboding and vaguely Siberian – built on a little mountain so it towers over the city that grew around it.  I would say that it is one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen.

Potala Palace.  You have to walk up all those switchbacking steps, so it took a while because it’s like we have emphysema and mono in this altitude.

Potala Garden

Tibetan stone tablets, just laying around everywhere.

Rest stop on the way up.  Amazing I got my hand steady enough with all the wheezing.

Dripping palace wall.  Apparently they are not conservative with their paint application.

We finally got up to the entrance, but Tsering didn’t really seem like she knew much about it, much to James’ chagrin.  I guess we were used to just wandering around and looking at things with her, but James got fed up and eavesdropped on an apparently fabulous Mandarin tour.  He was so excited that he couldn’t really even tell us what they were saying, but he managed to inform us that it was WAAAAY better than Tsering.

Colorful palace ceiling.  (UCLA colors, woohoo!)

The Palace is amazing.  It was home to the fifth through the fourteenth Dalai Lamas.  However, the streak ended in 1959 with the Chinese occupation of Tibet forcing the fourteenth Dalai Lama to flee and create a government-in-exile in India, where it still operates today.  Of course, we didn’t learn any of this information on the tour because the Chinese government wouldn’t like the tour guides to be talking about such controversial issues.  Of course, we didn’t really learn any information at all on the tour from Tsering.

Palace Doors

The visual stimulation in the palace is unbelievable.  Monks walk around filling candle holders with yak butter, which acts as wax.  Real monks.  Real yak butter.  (ha!)  When your eyes adjust to the murky, candle-lit atmosphere, you spy dark, opulent rooms.  But this isn’t the Renaissance-era decadence you’ve seen at Versailles or St. Peters or Schonbrunn in Vienna.  These are riches from the remote Tibetan plateau evoking a time one thousand years older than anything you’ve known in Europe.  For example, there are tombs of pure gold, almost as big as the rooms that contain them, holding the remains of past Dalai Lamas.  You can feel in your marrow what a different and amazing world this is.   Despite the presence of thousands of other tourist crowding shoulder to shoulder (well, chest to shoulder if you’re me), you always feel like you’re peeking in at a secret world and if they just knew you were here you’d be escorted out by the military.  The very light has such texture and soul that you would guess that the waves hitting your rods and cones are the exact same as those that hit a Dalai Lama’s centuries ago.  Like those light waves waited for hundreds of years in this place just for you to process them, and now finally they can crumble into nothingness.

Of course, they don’t allow photography to be taken indoors, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

No indoor photography – but you can enjoy some outdoor shots!

The palace from the side.

We became convinced that the Palace had some sort of magical Floo-type network for the monks to travel, or at least some awesome system of trap doors and hidden passages.  We watched one particular monk make miraculous appearances in almost every room – we would see him in a corner behind the tour railing, yards behind us and the doorway we were walking through, but we walk through and BAM, there he is ahead of us, solid wall behind him.  I’m telling you, the Buddhists have figured out superluminal motion.

I’m sure we took longer than our allotted time and nothing happened, proving my earlier suspicions about these time limitations, and then we were off to Jokhang – up next!

View of Lhasa behind the palace.

People’s prayer scarves and money offerings, left for the monks to collect.


12 Responses to “Day 13 part 1: Potala Palace”

  1. 1 Clay
    March 27, 2010 at 10:50 am

    “The very light has such texture and soul that you would guess that the waves hitting your rods and cones are the exact same as those that hit a Dalai Lama’s centuries ago. Like those light waves waited for hundreds of years in this place just for you to process them, and now finally they can crumble into nothingness.”

    That is possibly the most scientifically romantic paragraph ever written. Niiiiice.

  2. March 27, 2010 at 11:05 am

    love your blog. thanks.

  3. March 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    You paint such a lovely picture with your words (and images) and I like the details in your stories. I can just imagine the mysterious monks disappearing and then reappearing! Would LOVE just for a day to have all access to that place and explore all the hidden passages. Oh, and thank goodness for no shots of sick cats! 😉

    • March 30, 2010 at 12:25 pm

      thank you! i agree – in my mind the palace is like hogwarts – hidden staircases and moving doors. makes me wonder if really in my head i think buddhist monks are magicians. but really, if there were real magicians in the world, i think it would be the monks.

  4. 7 Sam
    March 30, 2010 at 8:37 am

    i always forget about the james.

  5. 9 Karen Shea
    March 30, 2010 at 10:09 am

    WONDERFUL escape from my desk job! Thanks! (Kristy’s mama!) So glad you got the soldier photos without getting arrested – mmm, a Tibetan prison must be really nice!

    • March 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm

      i agree, it’s probably really nice. in fact, its probably exactly like the palace – neat dark rooms with rich fabrics. darn, i wish we had done something to get locked up! (or, more appropriately, i wish we had gotten caught doing something to get locked up!)

      • 11 kristy
        March 30, 2010 at 7:14 pm

        luckily our tour guide samantha was there to defend your honor. Please refrain from telling my mom all the things we could have gotten arrested for in China hahaha

  6. 12 Karen Shea
    March 31, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    James’ worst day ever is actually one story I HAVE heard – can’t wait to see your narration. Sounded like Hell on earth.

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