29.05.2014: Tibet Tour: Lhasa

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Thu, 29.05.2014: Lhasa, cloudy/sunny, 24°C

Our breakfast was two boiled eggs with small, crispy Tibetan bread and tea. After breakfast we left to drive to Potala Palace.

We had two days for the sightseeing as a group and there were 4 main things to see. However, there was a problem with the planning because two of the sights (Drepung Monastery and Jokhang Temple) were better in the mornings where there would be debates and more rooms open for viewing. This wouldn't have been a problem except we were due to go to Potala Palace this morning and the tickets couldn't be changed because we have a timed entrance at 11-20am!

Kirsten was really annoyed and stressed out but we managed to alter our plan so that we could go to Jokhang Temple on the morning of our extra day here in Lhasa and would be allowed to go in without our guide. Bar and Claudie didn't have that luxury because they were flying out.

We walked from our hotel along the bust main streets of Lhasa which gave us our first real view of the city.

Lonely Planet describes Potala Palace as "a fortress-like structure that is dormant and a reminder that the Dalai Lama has been forced to take his government into exile. It is a modern irony that today, the palace hums with large numbers of chattering Chinese tourists staring with wonder at the building the generation before them tried, in vain, to destroy!"

The palace was commissioned by the 5th Dalai Lama. Construction work began on the White Palace in 1645 and was completed 4 years later. The Red Palace was built afterwards but the Dalai Lama died in 1682. So his death was concealed for 12 years to allow its completion.

Every Dalai Lama since, has used the palace as his residence so it is a huge attraction with so many people wanting to see it that there have to be timed tickets to prevent overcrowding.

Thousands of pilgrims were walking clockwise around the outside walls and turning the prayer wheels. We had to go through airport-style security to get into the inner courtyard and did not have long for photos due to our timed tickets.

We only had one hour inside and had to rush around to see everything. There were the tombs and thrones of most Dalai Lamas from the 5th to the 13th. (The current Dalai Lama is the 14th.) The tomb of the 5th Dalai Lama is 12.6m high, studded with precious stones (diamonds, pearl, coral and turquoise), and gilded with 3,700kg of gold! There were a huge amount of Buddha statues.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any photos inside the buildings and could only take them outside in the courtyard. We were in so much of a rush to see everything before our time was up that we didn't have time for photos! Our guide told us that she would be fined 1,000 Yuan ($170 US) for every minute we went over our one hour!!! Yikes!

Afterwards we walked back into the old part of Lhasa where we went for lunch -a very bland vegetable fried rice and greasy spring rolls with noodles. Then Bar and Claudie went to Jokhang Temple for 45 minutes whilst we walked around the nearby streets and went on a tour described in the Lonely Planet.

We turned the very large Mani Lha Khang prayer wheel, went to see the Jampa Lha Khang shrine and then down an alleyway to see the Meru Nyingba Monastery with more shrines.

On our way back to meet up with the others in front of the Jokhang Temple, Kirsten accidentally tripped up a female pilgrim and she went flying. She landed on her face!! Poor woman. But she just carried on with her pilgrim walk making a hand sign that said she was OK. (Well, at least that was how we interpreted the hand sign!!!)

Our next stop was Barkhor Market which we thought would be a street market but it was just a large 3 storey shopping mall. We had a quick look around but none of us were really interested. Our guide said we had the rest of the day free and the four of us decided to go and get photos from a viewpoint we had seen from Potala Palace.

From our research, we knew that it would cost around 10 Yuan ($1-60) for the four of us in a taxi which would only take a few minutes. Outside the mall we found some pedal rickshaws but they wanted 10 Yuan each! So we flagged down a taxi and I sat in the front to act as guide and get us to Chagpo Ri.

We paid the 2Y entrance fee and climbed up the steps to get great shots of the palace. I was just taking a video of a deer at the viewpoint when another tourist decided he wanted a photo with him and the deer. When he tried to pick up the deer, it head-butted him - good for the deer! It had antlers too!!

Afterwards we got another taxi and went for expensive coffees and cakes at a bakery. Wow!! It seemed a life time since we had had cake! Then we walked back to the hotel following a small map that we had, through the narrow alleys and stopped to talk to a group of women making hair extensions. One of them could speak a few words of English and the rest was hands!

We got back to the hotel at 5-45pm. Kirsten worked on the photos whilst I spent 2 hours trying to catch up on our written diary and finding out all the names of the places we had seen so far! Of course, I used the kettle to make us a cup of tea to keep us going!

The two of us took a taxi back to Potala Palace to take some sunset shots. We were a bit too early but were allowed to take photos of the policemen guarding the square who stood so still we thought they were statues!

Then some music started playing through loudspeakers and we watched a fountain display to music in front of the palace. As it got dark, Kirsten and another woman tried to dash between fountain displays to get reflection shots of the Palace in the pools of water. As soon as the fountains started again they had to dash back to get away from the jets!

By the time we got to the Italian restaurant we had been aiming for, it was closed. Everywhere closes at 9pm here. Kirsten decided on a chicken burger from a fast food place that was closing down but still served us and I bought another yoghurt from the shop near the hotel. Not much, but at least we had Toblerone chocolate and gummy bears left!! Such a healthy diet after all the vegetables of late!

Tibet Tour Part 3 - Lhasa (Potala Palace, Fountain display)