Sound of Lhasa
    2013-09-16 11:25:57       Web Editor: Xiong Siqi

Potala Palace [Photo:]



If you think about traveling to a place of mystery, adventure and natural beauty, perhaps the perfect choice is Tibet. The mountains, the plateau, the religious environment and the Tibetan people - all of these aspects make for a wonderful trip. Tibet Autonomous Region's capital city, Lhasa, is the spiritual, cultural and economic center of the region; a place you cannot miss when traveling to Tibet.

Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Let's follow Siqi to explore the wondrous Lhasa.

It's the beginning of a brand new day today in Tibet. Many people call this place the roof of the world. And why not; with an average height of over 4000 meters above sea level? Some people always say you can get the best view from above.

Lhasa in Tibet means place of gods. And indeed it's been a destination for Buddhist pilgrims for centuries. But you haven't truly been to Tibet if you haven't seen the Potala Palace. In stories and legends, we've heard of the holiness and mystery of Tibet. And perhaps it stems from this ancient palace. Its red and white walls, and its golden roof shine in the sunlight which bathes Lhasa.

Potala Palace [Photo:]

Potala Palace at night [Photo:]

At 8 o'clock early in the morning, the gate of Potala Palace is already full of visitors and pilgrims. I saw some young tourists packing tents; they told me that they slept here last night as they waited to buy tickets.

Tourists waiting to buy tickets [Photo:]

"First I went to Guangxi from Sanya by ship and then went to Yunnan from Guangxi by bus. From Dali in Yunnan province, I started to travel on foot. I walked about 7 hours the first day. I have either been walking or managed to get a lift all the way here. It took me almost 20 days to travel here."

Millions of people come here every year to witness the Potala Palace's grandeur. It stands over 110 meters in height and has over 13 stories, 1000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues. Formerly used as government offices, now it's mostly admired as a religious and historical centre.

Pilgrims turning scriptures [Photo:]

In the middle of 7th century, Songsten Gampo, ruler of the Tubo Kingdom had the Potala Palace built for Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty, who he was soon to marry.

The complex is made up of two sections, the red palace and the white palace, which together consist of about 1000 rooms. The red symbolizes power, and the white symbolizes peace and tranquility, just like the palace.

The Potala Palace is a model of Tibetan architecture and a major national cultural monument. But it stills preserves a special place in people's hearts today. Devout Tibetans from far and wide journey here by vehicle, motorbike, on foot and even on their hands and knees.

Besides Potala Palace, there is one other sacred place in the heart of Tibetan pilgrims. That is the centre of old Lhasa, its heart - the Jokhang Monastery.

The Jokhang Monastery [Photo:]

The monastery was constructed by the Tubo King Songsten Gampo in the 7th century. It's the oldest temple in Lhasa. For many Tibetans, it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. When Songsten Gampo married a Nepalese princess and later a Chinese princess, princess Wencheng, they both brought sculptures of Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism to this place. The King then ordered Jokhang Monastery to be built to house these holy sculptures.

The Jokhang Monastery [Photo:]

Nearly all Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism was introduced into Tibet in the 7th century from India. Today the power of religion still runs strong and people gather outside the monastery every morning to prostrate at the main gate. By doing so, it's believed they collect good merits for the next life. The Tibetans are one of the most devout people in the world.

Debating Buddhism scriptures [Photo:]

The Jokhang Monastery claims to be the centre around which the city of Lhasa developed. With the growing number of people circling the monastery, prostrating themselves, the famous Barkhor Street was formed.

Today, Tibetan people still follow this custom, moving clockwise spinning the prayer wheel around the monastery at dawn and dusk. It appears the street still whispers the stories of old Tibet.

Here in Barkhor Street, there's a place you don't want to miss,which is the Gengqung Tea House, the oldest sweet milk tea house in Lhasa. The name of the tea house means light. After praying around the monastery, Tibetan people usually come here to rest. For Tibetan people, the sweet tea house is not only a place to drink tea, but also a place where they can chat with each other and share information.

Gengqung Tea House [Photo:]

When I came here, the tea house was already full of people. I waited around 15 minutes to get a seat. I shared a table with four Tibetans. One cup of sweet tea costs 7 jiao, roughly about 5 cents. I was surprised how familiar people could be with one another; I thought the people sitting beside me were a family. But later after talking with them, I realized they had just met one another only a few minutes ago. Basang Tsering, a Tibetan, told me they come here almost every day if they are free.

"We usually come to drink sweet tea about 9 or 10am every day. It's our habit. If I don't come to drink in the morning, I feel like I've lost something. In the tea house, even if we don't know each other, we still chat and share information. Sometimes, people also talk business here. It's a kind of social place for us."

Nowadays, Barkhor Street is also a hive of market activities in which visitors can buy all sorts of souvenirs.

Here you can buy cloth to make typical Tibetan costumes similar to what the local women wear and also typical Tibetan accessories.

Most places on the street are related to the religion, mirroring the unique aspects of Tibetan culture.

Barkhor Street [Photo:]

Walking in Barkhor Street, besides traditional Tibetan art stores, there is a contemporary Tibetan art gallery in which you can see a mix of traditional Tibetan art and modern art; this is the Gedun Choephel Art Gallery. Paintings on the wall include traditional religious themes, blended with abstract or post-modern artistic elements in presentation. Tsering Drogha works in the gallery.

Gedun Choephel Art Gallery [Photo:]

"The artists think it is very interesting to blend the ancient arts with modern artistic elements. For example, this one is an oil painting with a religious theme. You see this one utilizes an abstract painting style. And this one is a sand painting. After seeing those paintings, many people wanted to buy them. And what's more, most of the artists are Tibetan."

Talking about Tibetan art, typically people would think of the Thangkas or the murals that are on top of the monasteries, in the rooms or on the walls. But nowadays paintings in Lhasa have taken on a new face. And the work that surrounds me now is a perfect example of how tradition meets modernity here in Lhasa.

For a taste of local culture, you simply have to sample the local foods.
Most Tibetans still prefer to eat traditional foods. And the Makye Ame restaurant on the street can provide you with just the place to do so. It's a fine spot for a good view of the city as well.

Makye Ame [Photo:]

When I arrived here at 2pm, the queue for people waiting to be served was so long it stretched outside the door. I queued up for almost half an hour to get a seat. The most recommended foods here are of course the yak steak, roasted mutton, local yogurt and yak butter tea.

Makye Ame [Photo:]

Like other cities in China, Lhasa at night is also a dynamic city. At the square in front of Potala Palace, Tibetan people gather to dance. It's similar to square dances in other cities, but the music and dance here are typical of the Tibetan style.

Watching the happy locals dance, I cannot help but think that the Lhasa of today is definitely a blend of the past and present, ancient life and the modern world.


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