What a day! This is why I wanted to come to Lhasa. We made two visits to scared places: Norbulingka, the summer home of the Dalai Lamas and the Potala, the winter home of the Dalai Lamas. Both places were inspirational and gave me new insight into the culture of the Tibetans and the Buddhist religion. It is completely impossible for me to share with you via this dispatch what I saw and learned so I encourage you to research these places on the web or even better plan a visit here! However, here is a brief overview and some pictures of the outside since no photography is allowed inside the Palaces.
NorbuLingka was the summer Palace for the Dalai Lama. It was built in 1755. Each year from mid-March to the end of October the Dalai Lama would move residence from the Potala Palace for the hot summer. It is a beautiful, peaceful and quiet campus of over 340 rooms in many buildings surrounding by flowers, grass and flowing water. It is easy to see how mediation could happen here.
The winter palace was the Potala Palace. It sits on Marpo Ri hill, about 400 feet above the Lhasa valley. The Palace is 13 stories high and towers above everything in Lhasa. Early legends tell of a sacred cave that was the dwelling place of the Bodhisattva Chenresi (Avilokiteshvara). The cave was also used as a meditation retreat by Tibetan Emperor Songtsen Gampo who then built a palace on the hill in 637. The present Palace was built around this cave in 1645 during the reign of the fifth Dalai Lama. There are two separate Palaces, the Red Palace and the White Palace. Red is where the Dalai Lama lived and served as the religious center of the Palace and the White was for the government offices of Tibet. It took over 7000 workers and 1500 artists and craftsman to complete the Palace. It is built using mud, wood and straw mostly!
There are so many people touring the Potala that you are limited to one hour. We quickly strolled through room after room after room. Each one more breath taking than the previous one. They held statues, living quarters, meditation rooms, beds, chairs, gold models and then the most stunning of all, the pagodas which hold the remains for eight previous Dalai Lamas. Just thinking of the history represented by the murals, carvings and the very vessels was amazing.
In each room a Monk sat quietly on a bed of quilts observing the visitors. Occasionally he would ask for someone to remove a hat or not touch a mural but mostly he sat quietly often chanting prayers. At one point I saw a mother cat her her two kittens. I foolishly asked about the history of the cats ... well consider where I was! "They are here for the mice." I was gently told. Anyway, nice work if you can get if for a cat!
The views of Lhasa were excellent from the Potala. All in all it was a great day and we were acclimatizing! Tomorrow more tourist activities before leaving Lhasa on the way to Shisha Base camp.
Please remember - Memories are everything