Saturday, 21 December 2013

Lhasa in Tibet

Potala Palace, Lhasa ©Solange Hando

Set into the hill and rising to 13 floors, the Potala is often described as a soulless museum but as you wander through the maze of courtyards and halls filled with amazing treasures, the whole history of Tibet unfolds in front of you. You cannot linger long in this bustling place but when you gaze at the robes of the exiled Dalai Lama, draped ghost-like on his empty chair, you sense a deeply spiritual place and a shiver down your spine.

Meanwhile, outside the walls, Tibetans walk around the palace, praying and prostrating as they perform their daily devotions. No one takes much notice of the 'liberation' monument erected across the road: Tibetans or tourists, all eyes are on the Potala.

Prostrations in front of the Jokhang, Tibet ©Solange Hando

There may be heavy security in the old town, even on the rooftops, but life goes on despite it all and every morning, Tibetans prostrate in front of the Jokhang, the most sacred temple of all, the gentle chant punctuated by the clapping of wooden boards and tinkling of prayer wheels from a resilient people.

Barkhor Square, Lhasa ©Solange Hando

The Barkhor Square leading to the Jokhang has long been a breathy sort of place with tall Buddhist poles and giant incense burners where devotees place fragrant bunches of juniper and the occasional handful of barley flour. The mountains look on under a crisp blue sky.

There is however ongoing 'modernisation' in the area and these images were taken prior to the start of the work. If you visited recently, any comments will be welcome.

Traditional debate in Sera monastery, Tibet ©Solange Hando

On the outskirts of town however, the Sera monastery is still a pleasant peaceful place where a few tourists come to witness the afternoon debate. No politics but otherwise, it's open topics, no raised voices but plenty of clapping and arm waving as red-robed monks welcome the opportunity to express themselves, gathered in small groups and taking turns to listen and speak.

Mandala in Sera monastery ©Solange Hando

There's a sprinkling of monastic buildings at the foot of the hills, with whitewashed walls and gilded pinnacles, religious statues brought to the monastery to be blessed and brightly-coloured madalas to help with meditation.
Yaks graze in the nearby field while in the distance, the Potala beckons, as imposing as ever as it climbs up a lonely hill.


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