Lhasa (Day 7) – Potala Palace & Sera Monastery 27 June 2009

potalaToday we toured the Potala Palace – the seat of Tibet’s government and home of the Dalai Lama from its construction in the 17th century until 1959. What an incredible structure. It literally dominates the city, built on a hill in the center of the valley, and rises from the valley floor with imposing but graceful white- and red-washed walls. It is massive, quite beautiful, and very exotic. We climbed the hundreds of stairs on the front outside, and were allowed to take pictures anywhere outside. Once we entered the palace, no more photographs were allowed. Every surface, from floor to ceiling, is incredibly intricate, with finely filigreed molding and trim and brocades that are almost hard to believe, and the colors are vibrant and primary. Red does dominate, but the ceiling is yellow with bright blue beams, and green and gold are everywhere. The number of Buddha and bodhisattva and lama icons is mind-boggling.

potalaTwo things happened that caused us to have what felt like a private tour of the Potala: just as we entered, all other visitors were halted due to an impending visit from the mayor of Beijing, so the place was not at all crowded. Secondly, Achi’s brother had mentioned to two of the monk-caretakers who Achi was (former secretary and translator to the 16th Karmapa Lama), and as a result, they ‘hosted’ us throughout, explaining each room and purpose and image. Achi says this is the most thorough and meaningful tour of the palace he has ever received in his 4 visits here.

After lunch, we then drove to visit the nearby Sera Monastery, home of the most predominate lineage of monks in Tibet, the Gelug-pa sect. sera monksEvery Saturday the young monks practice debating dialectical subjects, so the courtyard was filled with shouting, laughing monks in a stylized dance. It is open to the public and was quite entertaining – the young doctor-of-divinity students were both clearly engaged in the arguments, and quite aware of the observers and enjoying the attention. I so wished we could understand them. One old monk was having a great time, sort of hiding between some trees and observing the younger ones.

For dinner, we were again invited to another cousin’s house, and feted marvelously! The food lineup was similar, with a few differences, but clearly they make *everything* out of YAK! And we were treated to a delightful performance of a folk melody by a young nomad girl from Amdo who is here with Achi’s niece’s husband – a thoughtful young man who is a liaison worker with nomads there helping to raise them out of poverty.