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Himalaya

Day 66: Lhasa

Lhasa, Tibet 
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Walking with Migma in the Barkor, one of the few areas of Lhasa where the traditional Tibetan houses are still preserved. In foreground, a prostrating pilgrim.
Michael Palin - Himalaya'Thursday', the mat in the lift reminds me, as I descend from my seventh-floor eyrie, in which a mobile radiator with one broken wheel is engaged in a life or death struggle with the air of the Tibetan plateau.

We make for the Barkor area in the heart of the old city, where a rabbit warren of side streets leads off a main square. In fact, the rabbit warren once included the square, which was cleared less than 20 years ago, ostensibly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (as the Chinese renamed central Tibet), but also, some think, to allow the army easier access to the potential trouble spots of the Old Quarter.

A wide, granite-paved approach now leads up to the Jokhang Temple, the most ancient and holiest site of Tibetan Buddhism. Some of its remarkably modest stone walls date back to the mid 7th century, when Queen Bhrikuti, the Nepali wife of Songtsen Gampo, the unifier of Tibet, set up the temple on what was considered to be a powerful geomantic point representing the heart of a supine ogress. Much changed over the years and in the 1960s it was commandeered as a barracks for the PLA. Today, the Jokhang is once again a religious building.

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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 66: Lhasa
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Lhasa
  • Book page no: 159

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