In this season of allergies and pollution in Chengdu, I fondly remember the blue skies over Lhasa:
Potala Palace, view from the roof of my hotel
Day 3 – continued:
Alexandra David-Neel, unflappable explorer and the first European woman to ever enter the city of Lhasa (which she also referred to as the Lamaist Rome) had this to say about her first glimpse of the Potala Palace in 1924, after 4 months of trekking through the wilds of Tibet:
The weather was clear, dry, and cold, the sky luminous. In the rosy light of the rising sun, we sighted the Potala, the huge palace of the lamaist ruler, still far away, yet already majestic and impressive….
As we advanced, the Potala grew larger and larger. Now we could discern the elegant outlines of its many golden roofs. They glittered in the blue sky, sparks seeming to spring from their sharp upturned corners, as if the whole castle, the glory of Thibet, had been crowned with flames.
Alexandra David-Neel, My Journey to Lhasa, p. 255.
Frank Lloyd Wright admired this building, an honor he bestowed on few structures not of his own design; I believe he had a framed photo of the Potala on the wall of his Oak Park IL studio. Certainly the 17th-century building growing naturally from the hill, its sloping sides echoing the mountains around it, must have satisfied his concept of organic architecture.
Built by the 5th Dalai Lama around the original fortress of King Songtsen Gampo, the hulking palace faces a large, empty square commemorating the peaceful liberation of Tibet of 1949.
This was one of the key monuments saved from destruction by personal dictum of Zhou Enlai; supposedly Mao wanted the ultimate symbol of Tibet leveled. Today, it is a vast repository of Tibetan history, not to mention priceless and unique works of Tibetan art. The sheer amount of sensory input one is expected to receive uring the one-hour-time-limit tour (foreigners 100 RMB entrance fee) boggles the mind. Still, our group bravely huffed and puffed our way up about 15 floors worth of stairs, past solid gold funeral stupas of past Dalai Lamas, historical cycles of wall paintings, and many other treasures.
Guardian snow lion, Potala entrance
Climbing to the entrance
It’s the altitude: the other members of my tour group; tour guide Tashi is on the right
Potala courtyard; the Dalai Lama’s private apartments were at the top of this building. During ceremonial performances, he would observe from the top center window.
In the afternoon, after the Potala (and lunch) we visited Sera Monastery north of the city. One of the three great state monasteries in Lhasa (the others were Drepung and Ganden) Sera once housed 8,000 monks. Today the population is about 400, who continue to attend the colleges of the once-great educational center.
After visiting the main hall of the philosphy college, we watched the drama of Tibetan Buddhist debate unfold, as students practiced their skills of philosphical question-and-answer before a crowd of camera-snapping tourists.
Architectural detail, entrance porch of assembly hall, Sera Monastery
Debating, Sera Monastery
Considering the question, Sera Monastery
Lhasa – parting glances:
Lhasa window, partly-demolished building near Jokhang
Garden bridge, Norbulingka Park
On the road – lake and hills after leaving Lhasa