Tibet Adventures: Chapter 3 – Potala Palace

We’re climbing the steps at Potala Palace, and indeed they are a challenge. Olena and I are panting as we ascent ever more slowly, and my dad is just a few steps behind. Considering he had another restless night, he’s doing very well. Even with a full night’s sleep and plenty of food, each of these 360-something steps feels like ten.

While we climb, I’ll fill you in on a bit about this place. The Potala Palace was built in 1645 under the 5 th Dalai Lama. After its completion it was traditionally the residence of the Dalai Lama for generations, until the current 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet to live in India in 1959. Since then, it’s basically become a museum for tourists, though some monks
do work and worship here.

Now we’ve reached the top of the steps, and our fatigue is for the moment forgotten. The view from up here in incredible. I’ve been to many mountainous areas of the world, but there is something unique about Lhasa’s landscape as it mingles with the city. None of the buildings is very tall, so it’s the mountains that dominate the scene. It’s as if someone has painted a beautiful brown-gold mountain scene and added a small city as an afterthought. It’s remarkable that this city has been around for so long because it seems to have only expanded outwards and not upwards.

Entering the Palace, we come upon yet more stairs. Every time we round a corner it seems like there is another set of stairs. “It’s like at Disney World” my dad says from behind me, “They torture you by making you think you’ve made it, but there’s always still more hiding around the corner!” I agree, and suggest we make a stop to rest. The others go on ahead of us, and I figure we can catch up…

We’re waiting on the steps going down the other side. It turned out, we couldn’t catch up. At the top of the palace there was a fork in the road, and the group went one way and my dad and I went the other. In an attempt to catch up, we snaked our way through the palace, passing by other tour groups speaking at least three different languages.

I curse myself for losing the group and I’m a bit sour at Olena for not waiting for us, but to be honest we have already seen a few places like this. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but once you’ve been to a monastery in Tibet, others are remarkably similar. I’m of course not saying that they’re not each unique and wonderful in their own way, but you end up a bit jaded when you’re travelling through them so quickly. Our guide is impressively well-informed and tells us about many of the statues – this one of the female aspect of the Compassion Buddha, this one of the 6 th Dalai Lama – but it all starts to blend together. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to absorb all of this in a week-long trip. Yesterday I started writing down little facts at Drepung Monastery, but I’ve since given up. I’d rather just enjoy the sights and move on, rather than feeling like I’m in school.

Ah, here they are. After twenty minutes of waiting and a dozen attempts at contacting our guide on WeChat, we spot our group coming down. Reunited, we head down the stairs with our group.

Ah yes, our group. Let’s take a look at them, shall we? We have representation from all over the world – USA, Ukraine, China, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, England, Wales, and Ireland. It’s quite a mixed bag but we get along pretty well. The middle-aged couple from England like to go off on their own during tours, and the Australian guy is around our age. Olena and I usually sit next to the Chinese-English 20-something couple on the bus, and we they’re very nice too. There’s even one other vegan on the trip from the USA, so we can commiserate about the lack of food options sometimes!

Now we have a few hours off before going to the Welcome Dinner. It’s a bit late in the trip for a Welcome Dinner in my opinion, but I understand that it’s only because the itinerary got switched around. This was actually supposed to happen yesterday, but the plans changed. Time to go back and rest for a bit!

We’re in a taxi with our new vegan friend, on the way back from the Welcome Dinner. We left early, because we felt absolutely terrible. Olena and I had thought it was a fantastic idea to split a rum and coke earlier today, and that was a terrible decision. If you visit Tibet, just avoid alcohol altogether.

The dinner was ok, but anything that was vegan was doused in oil. This didn’t help the way our stomachs felt, and overall, we were just dead tired. After the steps of the Palace, time on the bus and all the other walking we have done today, we just had to call it quits and leave early. There was apparently some kind of show, but we can hear about it from the others. No point forcing it if we’re feeling this badly. Let’s just go back and get some sleep… Tomorrow we finally head in the direction of Everest! Stay tuned!

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