It's raining now here in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital city. Summer is the rainy season so that's not unexpected, though knowing that didn't prevent me from getting soaked as I took a walk this afternoon.
The last couple of days have been busy visiting the sights around town. Yesterday we saw some of the goings on of the Shoton Festival at the Norbulingka Palace - the summer residence of the Dalai Lama's - including part of a performance of a Tibetan opera. It all seemed very colorful.
We also paid an afternoon visit to the Jokhang Temple, the holiest site for Tibetan Buddhists and the focal point of the many pilgrimages here. The building was first built in the eighth century and though much of it has been destroyed and rebuilt over the years, it still has an ancient and very powerful feel to it. All around the building are Tibetans making circumambulations, some holding and spinning prayer wheels. Others spread themselves on the ground doing prostrations in devotion to their faith.
We've also visited the Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama's. Yesterday we stopped in front for a short time for photos, but today we toured the interior. It's a very impressive looking structure, composed of white and red colored palaces. Inside we were shoulder to shoulder with Tibetans of all ages and various forms of dress who showed their devotion to their spiritual leaders by prostrating themselves, adding butter to butter lamps and by leaving donations. One family, ranging in age from a small child to an elderly woman, was very elaborately and beautifully dressed. I imagine that this must be the trip of a lifetime for them. Inside, I watched as they would bow their heads, touching their foreheads to a pillar or other structure and then utter a prayer. It was very moving.
In front of the Potala is a large public square. It seems rather devoid of life, with Chinese tourists dressing up and posing for photos in faux-Tibetan costumes. The real focal point of Tibetan life is the square in front of the Jokhang Temple, which would seem to be the epicenter of Tibetan life, which (along with the surrounding Barkhor area) sees a constant flow of people flowing through.
This afternoon we also paid a visit to the Sera Monastery on the outskirts of town. Among the notable things we saw were monks debating in the a courtyard, slapping their hands to emphasize the points they were making. There seemed to be almost as many tourists watching and photographing as there were monks, so I wonder how much was real and how much was show, but it was interesting to see.
Regarding the altitude here, it really hasn't been much of a problem except when it comes to climbing steps. I think the other people in my group have been feeling the same way. Visiting the Potala today was a particular challenge as it's built up on a hill and one must walk all the way up. I even left my big camera at the hotel as no photos were allowed inside and I don't think I'd have made it all the way with the heavy bag to drag along.
I had planned to post four photos with this entry, but for some reason the picture uploading window stopped opening after posting just two images (the Potala Palace, top, and the Barkhor Square, next). So, two images it will have to be, I'm afraid. Although I can post entries into my blog, for some reason I am unable to access the blog itself, so I have absolutely no idea of how the blog or the uploaded photos look.
So, that's it for now. I have two more days here in Lhasa before we head west on the high Tibetan plateau. As always, stay tuned.