(Ed. note: before beginning, if I offended anyone’s sensibilities with my description of the lavatory experiences on the train, please forgive me. Terry has kindly offered to proofread my contributions in the future, before publishing.)
Amazing. We are in our room at 5:00pm, totally exhausted from our day, the last day we will have here in Lhasa before we fly home tomorrow. What have we seen? An amazing assortment of things, fascinating in every way. To recap, we were met by our guide, Jiamyang and our driver, Basan who took us to the Shambala Palace where we had booked a room last May. We chose the Palace because it is traditional, not modern and decorated in wonderful Tibetan fashion. However, no reservation, no room. Not to worry, we can put you in the House of Shambhala, our annex. Off we go, Geoff on motorcycle with our bags and I on foot with Jiamyang. Our room is obviously for overflow guests–we have to climb a ladder to the roof then take another one down the other side to our abode for the evening. They promise to have a better room tomorrow. We don’t care, we are in Tibet, tired but looking forward to the adventure that awaits us.
Our first site is the Potala Palace, the home of government and former home of the Dalai Lama. We are allowed in only some rooms but get the sense of the place and understand that it is holy for Tibetans. (Ed. note: There are over 2000 rooms in the palace but they are the living and working quarters of police, fire and bureaucrats, not open to the public.)
Hundreds if not thousands of pilgrims circle the Palace daily. Next, we visited Jokhang Temple, where a line of chanting pilgrims also circles the Temple daily, twirling prayer wheels or prostrating themselves every few yards to cleanse their souls. There is a path built into the main sidewalk that follows the pilgrims as they circle this temple, so it is easy to walk with them and observe without getting lost. Outside the temple but under cover the floor space is at a premium with so many people prostrating themselves over and over again. Jamyiang explained the process to us today but neither of us have knees that would allow us to do what the Tibetans do many, many times.
The heart of the Barkhor district is full of tourist market stalls, antique shops and daily services for locals.
(Ed. note: This woman wouldn’t let us go until I bought something – and if she is to be believed, I was her first paying customer of the day – at about 2:30. Given how many stalls there are, I tend to believe her. I bought a small amulet with the first mantra sybmol on it for 15rmb – $2.50. Solid silver, of course! Look at the beads etc. in the background and imagine this. The street market is about six blocks long, there are up to 4 rows of these stalls across the “pedestrian mall” and they all sell variations on about 6 themes – beads, scarves, embroidered bags, various clothing items made out of yak or sheep material, prayer flags and hanging religious symbols. I have no idea where this stuff winds up but you see many of the vendors continuing to make it as they sit there, depending on what they are selling.)
We see whole carcasses of yak and sheep on display, shops devoted to yak butter and prayer rugs, tiny grocery shops and cafes.
Our guided tour for the day over, we head to the roof-top patio of of the New Mandala Restaurant where we have a few cold Lhasa beers, yak meat momos (dumplings), vegetable pakoras and spicy papadams, and watch the people down below. It is a colourful parade of Tibetans in traditional dress next to many Chinese tourists and only a few Caucasians. We also notice that the Chinese government has generously provided almost all businesses with the National Flag to fly and thus show their support for them.
We have some minor difficulty adjusting to the higher altitude and so head home early and crash.