Potala Palace

Trip Start Feb 24, 2006
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Trip End Dec 31, 2007


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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Today we went to Potala Palace...normally a place as exotic
as Potala would deserve a very long entry, but as they refuse to allow
photos, claiming its interior contents are too valuable, I have few
pictures to post and little desire to describe in detail the
inner-workings of the place.  I was pretty upset at this, finding it
ridiculous to not allow photos as I have taken photos in places far
older with treasures far more valuable.  Well, regardless, it's a
beautiful place actually divided into two palaces, the red and the
white.  The white palace is/was the winter living quarters of the Dalai
Lama (before his exile) while the red palace holds all religious
functions (before most religions were banned). The two combine to equal
about 13 storeys which reside upon a hillside making it look more
fortress than palace.  It has over 1000 rooms and houses rare cultural
relics, but probably the most distinctive quality about the place are
the candles and lamps.  They all use yak butter oil because it's
cheaper, more abundant and creates less pollution.  The butter oil
gives the palace a soft, dark yellow glow and a highly distinctive
smell.
 
After touring the palace, I would argue the outside is
far more impressive then the inside to the non-religious, or more
precisely non-Buddhist observer.  Of course there were some amazing
relics inside - golden and jewel-encrusted statues and tombs, delicate
holy scriptures and beautiful thankas (paintings).  However, the
hypocrisy of the religious leaders hoarding vast treasures, much like
the Vatican of the Roman Catholic Church, while many of the religions
followers are encouraged to live a life free of riches and material
pleasures didn't escape me!  Religious debates aside, due to
construction we were limited in our viewing areas and due to massive
crowds (mostly damn tour groups) we were rushed through the Palace,
leaving a rather disappointing taste in my mouth of the place. 
Anyways, after the brief tour, we walked the palace grounds via the
kora (the pilgrim's circuit) and enjoyed watching the pilgrims spinning
prayer wheels in attempts to gain good merit.  On the backside of the
palace was a nice park with a large lake that reflects Potala's image. 
We took some nice photos and strolled through the park, having a good
end to a slightly disappointing outing...however, I'm looking forward to
tomorrow as we will visit Sera Monastery and its famous debating monks!
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