He's not at Home

One of the places I’d been keen to see while we were in Lhasa was the Potala- palace, seat of power and the Dalai Lama’s residence, except that he’s not at home and hasn’t been for 52 years since fleeing the country to escape the Chinese in 1959. It’s an incredible place to visit, there are over 1000 rooms within its imposing black and white frontage that dominates the city. The gold Buddhist statues, some weighing up to two tons, intricate decorations and bright wall hangings contrasted greatly with the modest collection of rooms that the Dalai Lama used to inhabit. Everything is ready for his return, including, bizarrely a packet of toffees, perhaps he has a bit of a sweet tooth. Our guide for this visit was amazingly knowledgeable and answered all our questions, it can’t be an easy job, as a Tibetan trying to explain the last 50 years of his country’s history which has been dominated by the Chinese invasion and occupation, whilst at the same time trying not to get on the wrong side of his Chinese bosses.

Trying to find the Jokang Monastery, I got caught up in a group of people who I thought were also heading in that direction, after 10 minutes of walking I realised that actually, this group were part of a much larger mass of people doing a kora, or pilgrimage around the Jokang compound  itself. I joined in with them, walking steadily as they murmured prayers and mantras, spinning prayer wheels and carefully stepping around those who were prostrating themselves. It was a very moving experience, made even more intense once I went inside the monastery with its yak butter lamps, burning incense and press of people approaching each shrine, keen to get the best view. Not a place for the claustrophobic or those with respiratory problems.