Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple

I had all the effects of the altitude. Shortness of breathe at time when I moved to quickly, loss of appetite, peeing every 5 minutes regardless of the amount of water I drank and terrible sleeping patterns if I could sleep at all. It was not just me, everyone suffered in their own little world and NOBODY complained. We talked about it sure. "He did you sleep last night? Shit no." "Peeing much? Every 10 minutes", "Go on ahead I will catch up" That was the phrase that was heard most often. A double check and you knew it was just a breather break they would be alright. This was day 3 and I felt great. Now to climb the 330 steps of the Potala Palace...shit!!

The Potala Palace is the standing icon for Lhasa, Tibet, Buddhism  and the Dalai Lama. It was the home to the 14th Dalai Lama, the one we know of today, until he fled to India during the 1959 uprising. It is a powerful symbol and somewhat overwhelming to come upon it for the first time. There are two palaces, one red and one white which are easily viewed from the street.

As with most places in Tibet there were no pictures allowed inside. The climb was not difficult along the winding steps but the thin air make the going a bit slow without being obstructive. As you climbed the views became more impressive, naturally. Directly in front of the palace is a park with a huge monument dedicated to the Chinese "liberation" of Tibet. The park is surrounded by two small lakes that I soon discovered was one large lake before 1959. The Chinese decided to destroy the peaceful view from the palace and erect a concrete bastion of a daily reminder of who was in control. I was a guilty as every other person of wandering in the park completely unaware of it's historical implications towards the Tibetan people and their Buddhist beliefs. Naturally it was beautified with fountains and nightly light shows but the giant memorial to the "liberation of Tibet" is the centre piece that can not be ignored.

Meeting rooms, prayer rooms, viewing and vantage points, peaceful courtyards, Buddhas and the wonderful kaleidoscope of colors that are Buddhism were everywhere. Walking throughout the palace give me a great sense of history and also a real sense of sadness once as the enormity of the Tibetan situation hit me smack in the face. It was then I realized that my trip could go south quickly. I could travel Tibet and enjoy it's history, culture, food, natural beauty and the warmth of it's people or I could have a huge hate on for the political situation. I chose the first option but kept aware with open eyes and ears to learn as much as I could from the second.

The Jokhang Temple is in the middle of Old Lhasa and it is surrounded by Bakhor street, an island if you will. It is one of the oldest Temples in Tibet and it's importance was immediate with the number of worshipers everywhere. What is an impressive temple? I have entered over 20 temples in various locations in China and they are all impressive. Some are larger and more ornate but the feel of The Jokhang Temple was different. Most have had a smattering of worshipers but Jokhang was surrounded by a community and you cold sense this was the centre of town, Old Lhasa for centuries.

Our guide left us here and we had the rest of the day to ourselves. I spent a bit of time with my fellow travelers but we slowly wandered from each other doing or own thing. I was learning new photography tips from Sylvie without me being annoying. I started to try to look at things a bit differently and used my depth of field a bit differently. I noticed my photos were improving if I took my time. The incense in this temple was strong so I kept outside.

** Today the temples use extra incense because "the Chinese eat so much garlic and they stink so the smell must be covered". Our guide held nothing back when it came to his disdain for the Chinese.

Inside the palace it was a bit of a shit show with so many people. It was outside that caught my attention. People of all ages, shapes and sizes praying, worshiping, reading or just being a part of the crowd. Yes, there were quite a few snap happy tourists but everyone was met with warm smiles. These people were in their happy place and the surrounding distractions were anything but. It was an impressive sight and I spent the better part of 2 hours just handing around. As I do in situation like this I keep the camera at a minimum, although I do use it, and try to be in the moment. I watched a variety of methods of prayer and worship, chanting and even a bit of singing. I honestly felt any stress and daily anxiety drift from my body. I could have fallen asleep along side everyone with a care in the world.

I did the next best thing, I met my new friends and went for a beer.

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