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Forbidden (Almost) Tibet

CHINA | Wednesday, 13 August 2014 | Views [432]

Potala Palace at night, Lhasa

Potala Palace at night, Lhasa

WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY HAVE BEEN THINKING?  That Tibet was another Nepal or Bhutan?  Wasn’t Lhasa the heart of Tibetan Buddhism, paradise on the top of the world?  True, the Dali Lama hasn’t seen Lhasa since 1959 — but, still….

No, Tibet is truly China; has been since its “peaceful liberation” in 1951 — all the way back to pre-history if you believe the Mao-era propaganda.  Today there are several times more Chinese in Lhasa than Tibetans and except for the old city, Lhasa could be anywhere in China except the air is clean.  There isn’t much of it, but it’s clean.  There is only 40% of the O2 at 3700 meters (12,000 feet) than at sea level and even sleeping at this altitude is troublesome.


    Tibetan nomad woman

Oh, yes, there is the Potala Palace.  Towering over Lhasa this architectural wonder makes it all worth while, if climbing its 378 meandering, uneven steps in the thin air in lockstep with thousands of pilgrims and tourists doesn’t do you in.  Only a few of the thousands of rooms are open to the public and photos aren’t permitted inside but it is a wonderful place.  Even in the pouring rain.  This is where the present (14th) Dali Lama held court until forced to flee to India and where you can see the tomb stupas of many of his predecessors.  Somehow the Comminist Party fails to mention "his divine holiness" in any of the signage.  The attitude here is “Don’t ask; don’t tell” when it comes to China and the Dali Lama.


    Pilgrims, minorities in their own country

The other holy Buddhist site in Lhasa is the 7th Century Jokhang Temple, in the center of the old city.  Pilgrims flock from all over China to walk the Barkhor Circuit — some actually prostrate themselves — around the temple, clockwise please, adding karma points with each circuit.  Photos are forbidden inside the temple but you can make up for it with the faces of the pilgrims and the charming buildings of the old town.  We have seen and photographed enough similar palaces with the same kinds of rooms and artefacts in Bhutan that we didn’t feel short changed.  After all, one image of the manifestation of the Peaceful Buddha looks pretty much like the next.


     Summer Palace

If it weren’t for the fact that our asses were dragging due to the altitude, we might have felt there wasn’t enough to see for a two day visit.  Trust me, you will be ready for a lie-down shortly after lunch.  The Summer Palace and its gardens can wait for another day.


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