August 4, 2007: Lhasa - Potala Palace and Drive to Ganden
We slept until well after 7 am. We were supposed to meet in the hotel lobby to go to the Potala
around 9 am. We had breakfast and then went downstairs to meet our guide. He was not there, but
Mingma, the owner of our travel agency, took us to the Potala. We went to the side entrance where
the tourists enter. Mingma said we had reservations, but he wasn't sure whether we would be able to
get in ????? And then he said we would be waiting for a couple of other people....and then he said we
would be waiting for our turn....Anyway. Two and a half hours later, we finally got in and apparantly
only through bribes! The feeling could not escape me that he was a Tibetan guide and not a Chinese
guide and because of that we had to wait. During the waiting time, we were watching the pilgrims
doing their Potala kora. There was one guy who repeatedly passed us prostrating, i.e. lying face
down, arms outstretched, getting up, making a few steps to where his fingers touched the ground and
lying down again, etc. etc. Anyway, once he passed the tourists, he got up, came over and begged for
money. Then he walked back a couple of hundred yards from where he came from and started his
prostrating again. In the two and a half hours we were there, he probably passed 5-6 times and asked
for money. Now there is a pilgrim believing in capitalism!
We finally got through the gate into the outer yard of the Potala. From here, we went up the stairs
towards the bottom of the White Palace. There was the main ticket booth. The bribe was paid and we
got our tickets. 400 Yuan for the bribe! I still cannot believe what Mingma said. Either it was the
Chinese/Tibetan thing or he simply did not make a reservation for us although he had three days time
to make it.
Mingma left us and we walked inside the White Palace to the roof of the White Palace where one can
find the living quarters of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas. There was a throne room, a reception room
and a bedroom. I remembered part of the book "Seven Years in Tibet" where Heinrich Harrer looked
up to the roof of the White Palace and he saw the Dalai Lama watching him. Great views from up
here! Unfortunately, no photographs allowed inside the Potala.
Then we went into the Red Palace. On the top (third) floor of the Red Palace are its main attractions:
The Chapel of Jampa (The Future Buddha), the Tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama and a golden, three
dimensional Mandala. There are some more Chapels on the third floor and also the Tombs of the
7th, 8th and 9th Dalai Lamas. Down we went to the second floor which housed several more chapels
and then the ground floor of the Red Palace where the Main Assembly Hall is located. Also on the
ground floor was in my eyes the biggest attraction of the Red Palace: The Chapel of the Dalai Lama's
Tombs. This Chapel is dominated by the 14 meter high Choerten of the Fifth Dalai Lama, gilded with
3700 kg of gold. Flanking it are 2 smaller choertens containing the remains of the 10th and 12th Dalai
Lamas who both died as children. Eight more choertens which represent the eight major events in the
life of Buddha. Very impressive!
It only took a little over one hour to visit the Potala. We exited the Red Palace on the back side, went
around to the front and walked back to our hotel. We finished packing and had a late lunch. Then we
discussed our plans with Mingma and Selam who did not show up in the morning and was still drunk
at that time... We also met our cook and finally left the hotel around 4 pm in a little bus heading for
Ganden. We made another stop for the cook to buy fresh food. By that time, Selam was completely
drunk. On the way up top Ganden, he passed out. Our driver and our cook were rolling their eyes.
They were very uncomfortable. And I was not too happy either. As we were going on a trek passing a
couple of 5,000 meter passes, I was not feeling comfortable with Selam. He was completely
irresponsible and I was actually worried about him not making it through the trip. The day before,
when we walked up to Drepung he was already tired after only some walking.
After an hour or so, we left the valley floor and drove up to Ganden. The road had one u-turn after
another, but was brandnew. Almost at Ganden, there was a flat area and a couple of other tents of
hikers were erected there. That is where we stopped. After our driver and our cook put up the tents,
we told the driver to take Selam with him back to Lhasa and bring us another guide the next
morning. I also talked with Mingma on the phone and he agreed. By that time it was 6:30 pm and all
of a sudden it started to hail and rain. It only lasted for about 10 minutes or so. Then our driver left
and took Selam, who told me that he was "very sad". I am sure he did not remember anything the
next day. Once they left, the sun came out and the views were absolutely beautiful.
Our cook made us a delicious dinner. Yaksteak, rice and veggies. Yummy. He had been on several
Everest expeditions and was at Everest ABC this year from March through June. He certainly knew
what he was doing!! Sunset was spectacular.