Getting the Lost Ticket
The day after the trouble we had getting a ticket to the Potala Palace, was the day we were set to visit. We had received a message from the guy who screwed up that he had a solution for Yi. When we got there, it turned out he didn’t have a solution.
To cut a long story short, there was a lot of shouting and phone calls while my girlfriend was left outside on her own. Our tour guide sacrificed his visit to the Potala Palace to go out and see what was happening. Eventually we got a ticket, but she wouldn’t be able to come on the same tour as us – she would have to go on the next one. It wasn’t the best, but this turned out to be a good thing in the end.
Inside Potala Palace
Potala Palace was the residency of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled in 1959. It now acts as a temple and storage for possessions once owned by previous Dalai Lamas.
Initially we have to ascend the steps to the palace itself. The Potala Palace is actually made up of two parts – the Red Palace and the White Palace. The White Palace is the former living quarters of the Dalai Lamas, and the Red Palace is devoted to worship (a.k.a. the upkeep and maintenance of several large Buddha statues, thangka paintings, scrolls and other religious artefacts).
Once we reached the top we first explored the White Palace. As I went in I started to take photos but was quickly rushed by a guard and told not to take any. Of course – this is a religious place.
The White Palace contained mostly displays of how the various rooms may have looked when the Dalai Lamas actually lived there. People were praying and donating money even in these rooms, leaving them in donation boxes and stuffed in various places around the rooms.
One thing I noticed was that people would often leave small 1 jiao or 5 jiao notes on top of the donation boxes (10 jiao is equal to 1 yuan) instead of dropping them in the box. I didn’t understand until later, when I saw someone place a 1 yuan note on the box and take a few of the smaller notes as “change”. It was a way of allowing poorer people to donate within their means.
After the White Palace we delved into the depths of the Red Palace. And this was where it got really impressive. I was a Dungeons and Dragons player when I was younger and this was the closest thing to playing that game for real. We were now wandering large underground rooms carved into the mountain, filled with treasures. There were several ancient Chinese scrolls containing Tibetan scripture and teachings; and huge statues of various Buddhas each carved out of exotic materials and adorned with various jewels.
The Tardis effect was more subtle this time. It wasn’t until we were deep within the Potala Palace, walking into a huge chamber with some of the largest Buddha statues I’d ever seen that I realised the place was even larger on the inside than it appeared from the outside.
Finally we ended up outside again. Various market stalls had been set up with souvenirs. We made our way back down and headed back into Lhasa. The group went to wander around Lhasa again, but I opted to wait for my girlfriend. After she got back we would meet up again and visit the Jokhang Temple.