Asia | China | Tibet | Lhasa – The Potala – a true Winterpalace
The Potala is the Winterpalace of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa – that is, if he would be living in Tibet. But even being in exile in Nepal, it is still referred to as the Dalai Lama’s palace.
After having admired it from the outside and wondering what it would look like for days, I’m finally going in to find out for myself.
While the mountains around Lhasa are blinking with newly fallen snow, it is scorchingly hot when I climb up the stairs to the Potala, only to find that I’m on the wrong side of it!
Seen my condition this morning (rather weak, another attack of the bowels, almost didn’t make it to here!), not a very smart thing, but there I go again, up the stairs in the sun…
It is absolutely worth it, and as soon as I pass the entrancee gate I forget the climb up and am just grateful I didn’t stay in bed… the large courtyard is busy with people milling around and for more than half covered with huge colourful fabrics depicting all kinds of larger than life deities and buddhas. They are being repaired before they are put up for display on their huge frames.
Another flight of stairs goes up to the Palace itself. Every room and corridor has colourful paintings on the walls and minutely decorated pillars holding up the roofs.
From the roof there is a beautiful view of Lhasa with the surrounding mountains blinking in the sunlight. It also gives you a slight idea of how big this complex really is, especially as you look down on the windows below.
A impressive three dimensional wheel of life in gold and bright colours is displayed behind glass. No photos permitted though. In the several chapels there are innumerable buddhas in all sizes and shapes.
But the real wonder comes looking at the tombs. Most Dalai Lamas are burried here in these stupas in the Potala. The stupas are over 10 meters high, completely covered in gold and decorated with gemstones, coral and turquoise stones bigger than a men’s fist.
Whereas with most of this kind of ancient treasures you have to use your imagination to get the picture of former glory and grandeur, here you are just staring at it in all its glory. It is all there, glittering in the soft light of the butterlamps and is truly awesome…
Again, no pictures, orders from the Chinese government, strictly enforced with the help of videocameras in every corner and some military roaming around the Potala.
Outside the first of the tombs an old monk is meditating and praying in the light of hundreds of small butterlamps, seemingly oblivious of the military men. Tibetans come and sit for a while with the monk before going on.
I sit and watch it from a small distance and am fascinated by the peace and quiet the monk is radiating.
Again, no pictures, but this time because I would really feel like an intruder on these people and their rituals.
After roaming some more around the rest of the Potala, I’m coming out into the sunshine again on the other side and slowly start to descend. Still slightly dazed by what I’ve seen, I look several times back in wonder and amazement, glancing on those high and mighty walls that hide such treasures…