The Holy City of Lasa
Trip Start Nov 10, 2010
11Trip End Jul 31, 2011
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Where I stayed
When arriving at Potola palace and taking the token "money shot" with the 50 RMB note we began our tour. My first impression was that it was very well preserved and clean. However, it hasn't been the political center for Tibet since the exile of the Dalai Lama and is classified as a cultural center. There weren't as many pilgrims visiting as I expected. Definitely not compared to the other monasteries I've seen. After visiting the white section of the palace I learned a few things. Linda's history lesson via tour guide: Potola Palace was originally the palace by King Songtsen Gampo who ruled the TIbetan region. The King than gave the palace who was the first Dalai Lama that merged both the political and religious life of the Tibetan people and believers together. Thereafter Potola Palace is the resting place of the Dalai Lama's 1-13. The humbling thing about Potola palace is the studying and meditation rooms of the Dalai Lama. One would expect something more lavish for such a holy person. This was my experience via the Vatican. However, the rooms were small and very bare except for religious hangings. I was also delighted to learn about the 2 paths to Tibetan buddhism enlightenment - tantric study and sutra study. Tantric is through meditation and self enlightenment. This is the fastest path to enlightenment. Sutra is through the reading and studying of scriptures and through performing rituals. This is a longer but safer way to Enlightenment. Also, there is no such thing as gender in Buddhas or Goddesses because one can be reincarnated as a male or female in each life.
It was interesting to see rooms that were dedicated to tantric study. Past Dalai Lama's built cities made out of metal from what they saw during periods of tantric meditation. I forgot what this is called but you can google it. Potola Palace is just a pretty awesome place to be but it's best if you are not in a tour group b/c you are timed on how long you can be in each section of the palace. It's about an hour in the white section and an hour in the red. It's pretty cool to see the hall where the next Dalai Lama will be seated and also to see the different mausoleums for each Dalai Lama. One neat fact was that the 6th Dalai Lama resented being chosen as a child. He supposedly fell in love with a girl he saw at the Makyeame building ( I went to the restaurant that is now there) and wrote poems and love stories thereafter.
After having lunch in Lhasa we went to take a tour of Jokhor temple. This is probably the most holy temple for Tibetan Buddhists. There is a statue of the original buddha at 80 years old given by the Chinese Princess who married the King Songtsen when she arrived to Lhasa. This was supposedly blessed by the original Buddha himself and thus a holy statue. This is one of the reasons why pilgrims from all over Tibet and from China come from car, plane, bus, hands, and knees to Lhasa, to pray to and see this statue. The devoted pilgrims surrounded the temple and went around in circles performing the 3 step bow over and over again. It was out of this world. This is purely to show a sign of devotion to their beliefs. Young or old, man or woman, all come here with their prayer wheels spinning and their minds focused on mediation for something my non-believing ass cannot fathom. It's truly a blessing to be able to see this. I was more inspired and grateful to see the pilgrims and their reactions and experiences than seeing all the holy statues themselves. There was a point when it was just the 4 of us on the tour and the tour guide in front of the holy buddha. The tour guide noted that any other time of the year or even the day this area would be completely crowded and it would be hard to catch a glimpse of the statue. We stood right in front of it without a second thought and I imagine that the pilgrims outside would have given so much to be able to stand in front of that statue praying for a whole 5 minutes without any interruptions. They should have been there and not me. To me, it was just another statue. From the top of Jokhor temple you can see all the way to Potola Palace and also the rows of pilgrims praying from the front. This doesn't even capture the pilgrims on the side and behind the temple.
After the tour the four of us (Americans and Singaporeans) took a walk around Bakhor street. Basically, this is the street around Jokhor temple. There were tons of ornate jewelry, prayer beads, spinning prayer wheels, beanies, gloves, scarves, blankets, prayer flags, and other religious tokens. Besides travelers, the main people walking around the street were Tibetan pilgrims or locals (not sure), doing a religious walk around the temple. I saw friends saying hi and holding hands and mothers holding babies while praying. It was a very humbling and graceful walk.
After purchasing our random items (dharma key chains and Tibetan jewelry for me) we decided to go explore other parts of Lhasa. What some people don't know is that 5% of the Lhasa population is Muslim and there is a mosque in Lhasa. Lhasa is a pretty small town so we figured we could find it. We went through random alleyways and passed a small fruit market where people sold spices, meats, fruits, and ginormous wheels of yak butter ( Yak yak yak yak). While we were searching for the mosque I suddenly hear my sister screaming and someone pushed down the Singaporean girl and stole her camera from her hand. The Singaporeans went running down the roads of Lhasa screaming and my sister and I in tow. They eventually corned the young guy who pushed her face down into the grown and he peacefully handed her the camera back and he ran off. The ironic thing about Lhasa is that there are tons of police everywhere but they don't do much. They just stood around and told her she should be more careful with her things. The Lhasa people don't react much either. They cleared a path in the roads for both the thief and us to run. No one thought to stop the thief when we were clearing yelling. Who would have thought that of all the cities in China or Tibet or anywhere, the place most likely to be robbed during day light with a group of people would be Lhasa! Go figure. After this frightful experience we ended up at the restaurant across the street from our hotel. After a few shots of Jack Daniels, a couple of Hoegardes, and Tibetan Barley beer, the night ended with laughter reflecting on the crazy experience from beginning to end. This included our random conversations in the SUV, our deathly night at the EBC and crazy day in Lhasa. I wouldn't have traded it for the world.