We arrived in Lhasa at 5pm and our tour guide took us straight to the hotel. We ate dinner at the hotel after checking in from their balcony with a view. It was a stunning view of Potala Palace. It felt unbelievable that we were actually eating dinner in Lhasa, Tibet!
On our first day we met with our guide and the three other people on our tour group. We met three American women whom had just graduated from college. They have been friends since childhood and were spending a month traveling China. We greatly enjoyed spending the next two days with them.
After introductions we walked to Jokhang Temple, which is considered the holiest destination for Tibetan Pilgrims. It is a four story building that was built in the 7th century by Songtsan Gambo. The roof is made of golden bronze tiles that reflect the light and immediately gives the feeling of being in a special, holy place.
The building is made of carved and painted wood. Everything inside and outside is decorated elaborately. It has stunning craftsmanship and attention to detail. The carving and painting together is unique to anything we have seen in Asia yet.
The inside of the temple is a labyrinth of chapels to gods and bodhisattvas, each filled with burning candles of yak butter and incense. We were unable to take photos inside of the temple as it is an active temple in which people were worshipping. The halls are covered with detailed murals through the temple that tell the stories of their religion. The inside was narrow but tall, and the dimly lit interiors were covered with both colorful carvings and cloth tapestries and detailed hangings and coverings, all in a range of earth tones.
The entrance had four figures of protection around it, one for each cardinal direction. These four figures are traditional protection for Tibetan people and we saw them multiple times.
Our next stop was Romoche Temple which is a Buddhist Monastery. The present building was built in 1474 but there has been a monastery at that site long before then. The original was burned down by Mongol invaders. It also has the figures of protection for the cardinal directions at its entrance.
Again, we were not allowed to take photos inside of this temple. The inside was a similar labyrinth of chapels with candles and incense. Inside the temple was a large, gold mandala. Mandalas are a symbol that represents the entire universe. It is a circle with many layers, some spiritual and some for protection. Here again we saw the 4 cardinal directions and their protectors. The mandala can be depicted in many forms but this temple has large gold, 3D structures of mandalas.
This temple was surrounded by a covered walkway with prayer wheels on the outside.
We ate lunch with our new friends on the tour and had the afternoon to relax or walk around old town. Megan was really thankful for the easy afternoon as she was feeling awful from altitude sickness. Lhasa is 11,999 feet (3656 meters) above seal level making the air 35% to 40% thinner than air at sea level. Megan enjoyed an afternoon nap to try and fight off the headache and fatigue of altitude sickness. Chris, who only had a mild headache from the altitude, read some of his book.
We ate dinner in old town, a short walk from the hotel, in a nice vegetarian restaurant. We shared a traditional noodle dish and steamed buns with a season vegetable fillings while overlooking the square. We finished the evening with soft serve from a Chinese fast food chain, Dicos.