May 16, 2009:
On our second day, after our very rough first night, we were ready to begin our tour of the Potala Palace. Even though we weren’t feeling 100% we could not miss our chance, since you need a ticket ahead of time in order to visit the palace. Only 500 tickets are issued each day and it is very difficult for individuals to get them. Our tour guide had secured ours for 10:20 AM that day and we were ready. All foreigners are required to show their TTB (Tibet Tourism Board) permit plus their passports in order to get in. Good thing that your tour guide will be in charge of your permit from this point forward as you will need it everywhere you go!
The Potala Palace sits atop a hill in the middle of Lhasa and is a powerful site from every direction. You have to walk up a lot of steps to get to the main entrance, but because of the altitude it will be difficult for most everyone. I was embarrassed at how slow I was moving, but our guide was very understandable and walked at a similar pace even though he could have ran up there with ease. I was in need of a break after every 20 to 30 steps!!
Once at the top the views were truly amazing and unforgettable! No wonder they built this palace (home of the Dalai Lama in the winter) here!!
No photography was allowed inside and I had a guard quickly tell me in gestures ‘no camera’ when I thought I could take a photo on the roof of a group of employees singing joyfully as they were repairing the roof. So unfortunately, not so many photos of the Potala Palace. The whole tour of the Potala Palace was very surreal. This is where the Dalai Lama had lived in the winters before his exile to India. When we saw the Dalai Lama’s bedroom I was thinking, “this is so unreal, am I really here?” Even though the Tibetans are known as a peaceful people, they weren’t always. They once had a very powerful army. And the palace includes torture dungeons, including a cave full of scorpions where some prisoners were punished.
Tibetans are very religious and you will encounter many Tibetan Buddhists walking clockwise around the Potala Palace, Barkhor area, or the entire city of Lhasa chanting “om mani padme hum” (six syllables: a prayer for the six beings: om=gods, ma=demi gods, ni=humans, pad=animals, me=hungry ghosts, hum=hell) while they spin their prayer wheel clockwise in their right hand or count 108 beads with their left hand. There are also larger prayer wheels at the monasteries that you can spin as you walk by. Notice in the photo above both the small wheel that the woman is carrying and the larger wheels she is spinning. The prayer is written on the larger wheels in Tibetan.
After seeing the palace the altitude sickness was kicking in for me and Heidi. We headed back for the hotel because neither of us had the strength to continue. Our guide had been used to this and we agreed to meet again after a couple of hours of rest.
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