In the morning we went to the famous Potala Palace. This was the home of the Dalai Lamas until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959. It was originally built in the 7th century but remained mostly in ruins until the 5th Dalai Lama rebuilt the palace in the 17th century. Since the 17th century the palace has had additions and been maintained very well. The palace is built of wood and stone and divided into two parts. The white part is where the Dalai Lama lived, and had the offices for Buddhist and political affairs. The red portion of the building is halls, chapels, and libraries.
The palace is on top of the red hill and next to the Lhasa river. The palace majestically overlooks the city at 300 meters above the city and the building is 13 stories tall. The only way to enter the palace is to walk up the numerous steps into the palace. We went nice and slow but all had a good laugh about how short of breath we felt (due to the already high altitude). The other women had also just finished hiking for miles along the Great Wall, but two of them were also feeling the affects of the high altitude like Megan.
The views from the top, of the mountains and Lhasa city, were stunning.
We toured the inside of the Potala Palace and were stunned by the beauty. We were unable to take photographs inside of the palace, but we did find two postcards of the inside (images below). The inside of the palace has 698 murals on the walls describing important events. Both the red and white portions are filled with painting and wood cravings with incredible details.
There are also many Stupas inside the palace. These stupas are the burial places of many Dalai Lamas. The stupas are very large and made out of sandalwood and coated in gold foil, they are extraordinary to view. The largest stupa belongs to the 5th Dalai Lama and it is very large. It is almost 49 feet tall. It is decorated with 3,721 kilograms of gold and 20,000 jewels and diamonds. We were stunned to see such a large and elaborate stupas. It is incredible and the only one like it we have seen.
The libraries in the palace were remarkable but not organized like any other library we have been inside. The scriptures are kept inside cloth boxes as they are actual scrolls of scriptures. This part of the library is called the spirit tower. The scriptures are written in gold ink, and said to be decorated as beautiful as half the world.
The other room is the largest hall in the red palace. It held official and governmental ceremonies when the Dalai Lama was in residence. This photo shows the colors and detailed carving in the wood that we saw throughout the entire palace.
In the afternoon we went to see the Sera Monastery. This is considered one of the three great university monasteries for Tibetan Buddhism. The buildings themselves have been rebuilt many times over time. There is a building that is high up in the mountains that the monks can hike to for some solitude. The trail of which they walk has murals drawn onto the stones.
The gateway into the monastery was beautiful and had a detailed mandala on the inside. There are also stunning sand mandala in the Monastery. These are made by hand by the monks and are incredible pieces of art. Megan has built a lot of sand castles in her life, but couldn’t imagine a task of this size. The bright colors, details and size of these mandalas were astonishing.
We were able to take pictures in some of the buildings of the monastery, including a library.
Currently about 300 monks live and study at the Monastery. One of the ways which the monks study is to debate the Buddhist doctrines and philosophy. Lucky for us, they do this at schedule times every day and visitors are allowed to watch. Christopher (who has a degree in philosophy) thought this was one of the highlights of our time is Lhasa! In the courtyard the monks were divided into three groups for the debate, the most senior monks in one group, intermediate, in another, and beginners in a third. The most senior monks appeared to be having a leisurely discussion without many gestures, while the younger monks were much more animated and fully using a system of gestures. These are the senior monks:
The monks is Lhasa (exclusively) use gestures when they are debating which makes it even more amusing to witness. There is a questioner and a defender. The defender sits on the cushion on the ground. He has to answer the questions with a time limit to respond. The questioner stands and asked questions aimed at tricking the defender. The questioner claps his hands loudly as he ask a question. The loudness of the question stresses his self assurance at the question. If the defender gets the question correct then the questioner ask another question. However, if he gets the question wrong the the questioner makes three circles around his head and yells. He will even make a dig at the defenders knowledge of basic Buddhism. Even though we couldn’t understand the language, it was obvious that most of the debates were in good fun.
In the monastery there were several newer stone and brick stupas which resembled the gilded ones we had seen in the Potala Palace.
After a rest at the hotel we went out to see the Potala Palace at night; the view of the palace was stunning. We enjoyed walking in front of of the palace and marveling at the fact that we were actually standing in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, China.
On the other side of the street from Potala Palace was a park with a fountain light show. We walked through the park and enjoyed the show until the cold rain had us fleeing for cover.