Sunday, September 7, 2014

Goodbye Tibet!

When we last left our intrepid (NOT!) travelers, they had just returned from Shigatse and were becoming acclimatized to the altitude. Sadly, the next day was their last! So much for the acclimatization.

The original itinerary had us just hanging out in Lhasa till our flight left. But the flight was at 3-something pm so I felt we could squeeze in some sightseeing. I asked the guide if we could go to Norbulingka, the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama. And while he could not make it as he had been allocated to another group on that day, he found a peer guide who could take us.

Unlike Potala Palace, Norbulingka is flat. It is set in a park and there are multiple palaces where the Dalai Lamas spent their summers. We didn't see all of the park, just some parts and then visited a couple of the palaces. We saw the one that was in use till the current Dalai Lama built a new one. And the new one that he occupied for just a few years till he escaped to India.


The expanses are wide and the park is beautifully landscaped.

The entrance to the Summer Palaces.

This building was for performances that the Dalai Lama and Lhasa citizens could attend. Opera, music, etc.

Looking at the palace building. As with all the buildings, there is no photography inside so all the photos are of the outsides of the buildings and the park. The interiors are more open than the ones in the monasteries and have more light.

Each palace has a meeting room where the Dalai Lama held meetings. These are also shrines because that is where he worshipped. We didn't go through the living rooms of the older palaces - just mostly the audience chamber and shrine. The Dalai Lama was the head of state so these audience rooms would be where he met with foreign dignitaries. The decor is mostly Thanka paintings and cloth hangings along with beautiful images of the Buddha and other deities in Tibetan Buddhism.

The palace of the current Dalai Lama (pictured above) is different. It is built like a modern home with rooms for living, prayer and sleeping, along with the audience hall and other public rooms. The furnishings have been preserved. There are couches, an old radio set with knobs, credenzas and tables with items that were donated by foreign leaders. The Dalai Lama also had cars - some of which were gifts.

Since the Dalai Lama was brought to the monastery as a young child and then was raised by lamas, his family didn't get to see him very much. One of the poignant things we saw was a small room where his mother slept when she visited him.

In the audience hall, there are murals on the wall - as there are in many of the monasteries and palaces. But this one is different. The current Dalai Lama is portrayed in a mural here. It is the only place where you can see a picture of him. He looks young and serious. Tibetans revere him. When we were there, there was an older woman who was genuflecting in front of the mural. She touched our hand and pointed to the mural and made sure we saw it. We couldn't speak to her but we communicated that this was a special place.

I am glad we had the time to see this. It was very different from the Potala Palace and yet had the same spiritual feeling.

Beautiful ponds are part of the park.

Lush landscaping with paths for walking, shaded by trees.

Lupines in bloom in the park.

After this, we still had a few hours so the guide suggested we go to see a carpet factory. Since Tibetan carpets are quite famous, we thought this was a good idea. It wasn't a high priority on our list but I thought it would be nice to see the carpets being woven - being of a fiber-y bent. But, it turned out that the carpet factory was just a showroom. The actual weaving is done outside Lhasa. We looked through the carpets on display and were not in the mood to buy. The prices were also not that great compared to carpet prices in India. But a small carpet caught our attention and we ended up buying it. The showroom quickly folded it up and strapped it and made a little bag for it. We were able to check it in on the flight back so saved on shipping. I was also able to bargain the price down to the cash I had on hand so didn't pay the credit card transaction fee.

And then it was time to head to the airport and fly back to Shanghai. All too soon our adventure ended.

We had a connection at Xi'an on the way back - there are no direct flights from Shanghai to Lhasa. It was amazing to me how much easier it was to walk in Xi'an. I walked off the plane pulling my carryon behind me and had no trouble walking at my usual brisk pace. It really brought home how much the altitude had affected us.

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