Day 14 part 1: Norbulingka Palace

Lhasa is a very cool city.  Such a big difference from everything else we’ve seen in China (and everything we’ll see after, I imagine.)  Lhasa has evolved to welcome trekking travelers into its warm embrace of english-speaking, pancake-and-pizza-and-spaghetti-selling, fake-north-face-gear-peddling glory.  But the English menus and fleece jackets can’t hide the fact that we are in a world far different from anything else we’ve known.  The signs of buddhist faith cannot be missed: they are people walking down the street spinning prayer wheels; they are prayer flags flapping happily from buildings and mountains; and they are paintings of white ladders decorating rocky hillside symbolizing ascendance to enlightenment.

Like the city, the Tibetan people are very different from Chinese people we’ve seen.  They have darker skin and squarer, more angular faces.  They thrum with this earthy…realness.  Even the children running around seem to have the ancient secrets of their culture hidden just under their skin.  They seem wise beyond their years, even as they run by screaming “HELLO!”  (One little boy sprinted past us with his friends, jumped off the curb, and during a mid-air twist he shouted “I’M SORRY!!!”  We imagined him later, realizing that he said the wrong phrase and smacking his forehead, heartbroken that he wasted a chance to practice the English he learned in school.  Such is the enthusiasm with which children yell hello to us.)

Tibetan portraits for you to decide if my descriptions are adequate.  Some are repeats – deal with it, if you will.


This morning we went to Norbulingka Palace.  It was used as the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace until the Chinese government occupied Tibet in the 50s.  It is like a big compound, with different temples and residences of the different Dalai Lamas.  It is so big that tour guides offer to drive you around on a little tram.  I was kind of confused because 1) I thought we already had a tour guide, so paying for another one didn’t make a ton of sense; and 2) James was so adamant about buying this option that I didn’t even really feel like I had a choice.  In the end, however, the guide spoke amazing english and had incredible information about the Palace and all the other questions about Tibet and Buddhism that Tsering couldn’t answer.  We’ve been shown what we are missing with Tsering and we lament, we bewail, that the brilliant Nobulingka tour guide isn’t coming with us for the rest of the trip.

Looking out at the street from the entrance to Norbulingka.

Outside of the current Dalai Lama’s former residence.

We walked through the residence of the current Dalai Lama before he went into exile.  It’s a provocative experience to see where this man slept, this man who is so important to this religion and who was forced out of his country.  You see the different gifts given to the Dalai Lamas from the heads of state of other countries (some U.S. president in the 40s or 50s gave him a television, if I remember properly).  As we walked through a Panchen Lama’s residence (Panchen Lama = second-in-command beneath the Dalai Lama) there was a painting of a cat above a doorway that was a gift from Great Britain or someone, and I, very reasonably, asked: “Did he like cats?”  I don’t even know if the guide answered due to Kristy’s wail of laughter, so entertained was she by the apparently outrageous questions.  All I wanted to know was, why would they give him a painting of cats?  Thanks, Kristy.

Lama Fountain

Flowers outside the residence.

At temples and other religious buildings people leave their bills and coins everywhere.  Here, they’ve taped and glued the money to a stone pillar outside.

Entrance to someone’s residence or a temple or something?

Temple roof.  Burning juniper and rosemary as offerings.


6 Responses to “Day 14 part 1: Norbulingka Palace”

  1. April 6, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    truly love your posts. thanks.

  2. April 7, 2010 at 7:06 am

    Man, that IS a whole other world. So colorful! No wonder Tibetans are so happy! Look at the beauty that surrounds them! Amazing. I WILL have to visit someday! 🙂

  3. April 20, 2010 at 5:24 am

    Thoroughly enjoyed the photographs and your writing. Hope to make it to Lhasa some day

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