Tibet 2016 - Potala palace

2016-10-11 Lhasa, Potala palace, elevation 3658m

I was rather disappointed to find that we ended up doing only half of the kora of the Potala. I would like to have done the entire circuit. The rushing through the Potala that is now mandatory provides the reasons I dislike the current tourist setup. It means that explanations from your guides are gabbled; they find it difficult to repeat stuff that for those that haven't heard; and there's a pressure to move on, move on, move on, the whole time. I was surprised that we did not go up to the roof. Previously, I remember going up to the roof. Just as well I I've got pictures from there many years ago.. This time, it was just through the main Potala rooms and then back down to kora or sighting spots. We did go to a little lake at the back of the Potala with some very good views of it which I haven't seen before.

Jompa is a fantastic guide. She helped me with what portion of the kora we did. Of course, the fact that I, a foreigner, and obviously a tourist, with caucasian hair colour, western dress, but having a mala and doing mantras was an instant passport to family groups, particularly those headed by a matriarch, as most were. They asked me what I was doing; asked Jampa what I was doing; and the general reaction was 'oh he's a foreigner, how can  he know about this stuff'.  It wass quite fascinating, and it happened five or six times. One notable encounter was where the woman of the family, while carrying a balloon and toy in one hand, and her mala in the other, showed me how to use a mala, and how to do mantras, properly. Using the mala involves rolling the bead inwards over the finger with the thumb. This is its use, whichever hand is used. The woman was very insistant, and would not leave it until I had demonstrated that my mastery was complete. All in all a quite wonderful time. I just wish it had been complete.

So far this time I've done kora round Johang, kora round Sera monastery, and half kora round Potala. I did feel I was starting to get into the mantra a little in the third and last of these koras.

Picture of the day

Breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, dinner in Girona

View over Girona from the city walls
Two and a half weeks before Easter, I found out about an event that was being held over the Easter weekend, in Santa Coloma de Farners, Girona, Spain. After deciding I wanted to go to it, I consulted the excellent site at http://www.seat61.com/. This is very reliable source of information about train travel. He suggested a train journey that allowed one to breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, and dine in Barcelona. This looked pretty good, so I booked up all the tickets. 

The journey was made up of three rail journeys: from Milton Keynes to London by Virgin Pendelino train; Eurostar from London to Paris; and then TGV from Paris to Girona. A bit unusual to have Virgin the slowest, and shortest train. The journey was planned to be 11 1/2 hours, but was delayed in the south of France, and into Spain. As a result it was was about 12 1/4 hours, plus one hour change in time zone. Still the original idea of breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, and dinner in Girona held.

I had planned my journey so that I had most of the day after travelling in Girona. This is a city with a history stretching back to roman times, and a substantial surviving medieval area. The old town is surrounded by city walls. These provide a very interesting walk, with quite a lot of up. This was my main activity for the Thursday, apart from getting from Girona to Santa Coloma de Farners in the late afternoon.  Girona is a very pleasant place, with friendly people, and relaxed traffic. Throw in good weather while I was there - both before and after the retreat - meant it was a very relaxing and enjoyable place to be in.


I am now in the hills above Sils, about half an hours train ride from Girona, plus half an hours taxi ride. I am at the Kagyu Sayme Deshi Ling monastry for a short retreat.

This area is outstandingly beautiful. Flowers, trees, shrubs of all sorts all buzzing with life. This life ranges from bees the size of my thumb, to butterflies smaller than the nail on my little finger. And ants. And ants. And ants.....

The monastery itself is an exact equivalent of the UK version of the big house plus home farm (buildings, not (much) land), all repurposed now of course.

Tibet 2016 - Lhasa

2016-10-10 Lhasa, Sara monastery, elevation 3681m

Shrine at holy spring, Sara monastery kora

We visited Jokhang temple today. Very unusually it was closed to pilgrims. This meant that we could see what the inside of the temple was like. In the past it has been impossible to move inside the temple without elbows in every part of ones anatomy. The space and time available was unprecedented in the experience of those of us who had visited there before (including Jamin, our tour leader).

We went on to Zhanghung monastery, also in the old town of Lhasa. Like every nunnery I have encountered, the immediate sensation on walking into it was that of joy and quiet happiness. Most of the nuns we saw were writing prayers, and bundling already written prayers into prayer wheels. Being here provided a point of real stillness during the day. Thoroughly enjoyable.

This afternoon we are going to Sera. As I have visited Sera many times before, and have got multiple hundred photos of the debating there, I'm going to do kora round Sara. Jamin, the tour leader, has arranged for another guide for me. This guide, Jompa, proved to be a very good guide. I have only ever had one guide who was better - in Mongolia. Both shared some characteristics: female; young; very, very knowledgable about their subject; and able to cover ground, uphill and on the level, like a mountain goat. Jompa is very knowledgable about Buddhism. She showed me the holy spring at the back of the monastery. I made offerings at the spring. This was a bit of a complicated affair to get to the place where the water came out. I had to crawl under two very large, but very low branches of trees, and over slippery stones. Then it was quite an elaborate ritual of getting water from the spring; straining it into a container; then moving over to the little shrine (to one of the Taras); and putting some water into each of the offering bowls that were there; then washing face and hands; and having water poured over my head - and boy was it cold. It was very touching. It confirmed my view that Jamin had selected Jompa very well indeed. So we did kora and then she showed me into some parts of the monastery. These included some parts which were not part of the standard tour as I remember it. In talking about Buddhism, she reinforced my view that it is better to be selective about one chooses to believe in.

Tibet 2016 - Lhasa

2016-10-09 Lhasa elevation 3657m
Near the Barkhor, Lhasa
We flew to Lhasa this morning. Our hotel is in the centre of the old Tibetan quarter. It is close to the Barkhor and Joktang monastery. I am faily sure I have stayed here before, but if so it was a longish time ago. I haven't worked out exactly when that would have been. As usual on the first day in Lhasa, the program was very gentle. We sorted ourselves out at the hotel and then spent some time in the Barkhor. Then to dinner at a restaurant run by a Tibetan family. This is one of many Tibetan businesses that our tour leader (Jamin) has mentored and sponsored during his 15 years living in Tibet.  

All very nice to be back in Lhasa. It has grown substantially since I was last here. Then the Chinese part of the city was about half the size of the Tibetan area. Now they appear to be about the same size, and growing rapidly. 

Nobody seemed to be affected by the altitude, which is what I expected from a bunch of experienced trekkers. It did make a change from previous trips though.