The Potala Palace is AMAZING!!! It had been one of my favorite exotic, seemingly-so-far-away magazine pictures I’d ripped out and taped onto my wall back in Tucson to keep me motivated during our two years’ saving for this trip and it was even better in person than it was in that awesome photo.
I’m not too sure about the strategery in planning for us to visit this iconic place the day after our arrival to nearly 12,000 ft and then proceed to climb some 2,000 stairs after having our water held at security (which we found to be because they are selling drinks at the top). When even walking down the street is enough to have you needing to catch your breath, that didn’t seem like a great idea. But, since we didn’t keel over dead (yet) with Acute Mountain Sickness I guess we’ll call it all’s well that ends well and say damn it was awesome to see the Palace up close and to stand atop this monumental piece of history.
We watched 7 Years in Tibet last night as prep to get in the mood and to again TRY to wrap our heads around just what this place means and what has transpired here. Despite armed troops at every turn (which, btw, we noticed this afternoon were standing stationed under the shade of a blazing red Coca-Cola canopy…seemed like an awkward sort of message or commentary?) it’s still pretty hard to conceive of the full situation here. For personal safety’s sake, I’m going to err on the side of caution and keep my mouth shut about it though.
What I CAN say is that Tibetans (at least the thousands-some that we saw today!) are awesome and chill and you should see their faces light up as they do their circumambulations around the gigantic palace and spin their prayer wheels and you say Tashi Dele – hello in their language – with a smile and a nod. I love the older ladies especially; I never knew a face could get so wrinkly! And when a smile creases through those wrinkles…I love it!
We toured through the Jokhang Temple today too and man was that a trip and a half. Sadly I mostly only retain things if I have a photo of them and there was no photography allowed so even as we were there, it had this fleeting, mist- and smoke-filled sensation of walking through a strange dream, surreal and devout.
The lines, oh the lines of pilgrims, just waiting to peek their heads into these little caves of Buddha images or deities or so much else. The smoke of the juniper thick in the temple made my nose sting and my eyes water but I tried to take it in as best I could before ducking back out of that strange world of posturing Buddhists up and back down again to the ground, up and back down again to the ground. There were the turquoise, diamond, and gold tombs of the former Dalai Lamas from centuries ago, the people throwing or tucking small bills of offering into seemingly every corner, nook and cranny in the place, wide-eyed or nirvana-stoned eyes of a Buddha staring at us or wildly into the center of the room at nothing…
So many customs that I’ll never understand whirling around me: ancient raisin-like women with high cheekbones pouring butter into these huge vats of candle offerings to keep the fires burning…the constant murmuring of sutras and prayers and hands together tapping foreheads, chests, wooden beams…touching heads down to this or that. I was lost and knew I’d never make sense of it and only today did I truly realize just how steeped in the Buddhist religion Tibetans are. It will undoubtedly take me decades after this trip to wade through all I have seen and heard and experienced and try to make sense of it or really learn what I’ve learned in these days on this trip.
And tomorrow we go on, and on, and on. I feel like I’m doing a terrible job at keeping up with the lessons, but the world is my classroom and learning has never been so fun or so scenic. I love this.