After we had all recovered from our short bout of altitude sickness, we had a couple of days to explore Lhasa. Word of warning, even though it doesn’t feel hot the altitude and thin atmosphere in Tibet means that a lot of UV hits you, I found this out the hard way and got really bad burns on the top of my head because my hair is really thin, so if you have thin hair or no hair I recommend you put a hat on or suffer the same fate as me where the top of my head was practically peeling off.
The first thing on our list of things to see was the Potala Palace – I get a bit of anxiety when I am in a place that I have wanted to visit for so long; I begin to panic that something is going to stand in my way of seeing it first hand, as a result I was chomping at the bit to get to the Potala Palace and see inside.
Due to how popular the Potala Palace is, when you go on a tour you’re given an assigned day and time that you can visit. At this point I think it’s worth mentioning that as a foreigner it is very difficult to get to Tibet – you have to obtain a travel permit, I had to do this even though I was a resident of the PRC, I even had to have written consent from my employer to say that they didn’t have a problem with me going, you also need to have a tour booked to obtain the travel permit. We booked through a lady called Nancy at Access Tibet who made the process as easy as possible, it was still more difficult as a resident of China to enter Tibet than it was to enter North Korea, and that is saying something.
It is illegal to board a train as a foreigner with the intention of entering Tibet (Xizang) without the proper authorisation, so don’t try, the penalty will be high and you’re guaranteed to fail anyway. Any train going into Tibet is packed with Chinese armed police officers who will check your documentation and passports just after you board and just before you pass into Tibet.
Our guide for the trip was a guy called Zedan, his English was brilliant, he was a laugh and a very nice and informative Tibetan bloke. He took us to the Potala Palace, Sera Monastery, Drepung Monastery and Namtso (Namco) lake, the rest of the time we were free to roam around the city of Lhasa.
On the first free night, Taylor was still feeling a bit under the weather so Tommy and me went out for a bit of exploring on our own. We went to the outskirts of the city and perhaps strayed a little too far for comfort as we were getting a few disconcerting looks from police officers who were going by. After a bit of exploring, the sun was starting to go down so we made our way back, on the walk back to the hotel we saw a small shop selling beer, snacks and cigarettes; outside the shop were a couple of pool tables so we decided to grab a few beers and play for a while, it was a really great and memorable night.
The following day, Zedan took us to the Potala Palace, the building itself was amazing, painted in the typical white, red and black – each colour has a meaning, if I remember correctly white represents intelligence, red represents peace and the black represents power, you will notice that around each window is a black boarder, this is believed by the Tibetans to stop evil spirits entering the building. You will notice that these colours are not unique to the Potala Palace but many buildings in Tibet. The Potala Palace contains some of the country’s most important historical relics, ancient buddhist texts and tombs of former Lamas. The modern palace was renovated in 1645 by the 5th Dalai Lama and was the residence of the current Dalai Lama until he fled Tibet in 1959 during the Tibetan uprising, he remains in India to this day. I won’t bore you with the details of everything inside the Potala Palace, mainly because I can’t remember everything but I will provide you with pictures, and I can assure you that I don’t think I have ever been in one single building that holds so many important relics.
Will post more on Tibet soon, lots of photos to go through, it’s such an effort!