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Himalaya

Day 64: Shigatse to Lhasa

Shigatse, Tibet 
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Tashilunpo, second largest monastery in Tibet and seat of the Panchen Lama, second holiest man in Tibetan Buddhism. The narrow stone alleys give it a college feel.
Michael Palin - HimalayaWe join the crowd, who seem to be heading for the Maitreya chapel to see the Buddha. Migmar says that the majority of the pilgrims are from the rural east of Tibet and some may have travelled over 1000 miles to get here. Not only that, but they would try and make the journey once a year.

Everyone who goes into the chapel, man, woman and child, has to squeeze up one of three steep and narrow stairways, about as precipitous as ladders, that can barely take two people abreast. The steps on either side are for going up and coming down and the ones in the middle are reserved only for the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. Everybody struggles up and down. Quite happily.

Once up the steps the familiar sour smell of hot yak butter suffuses the chapel. Many of the pilgrims have brought butter and knives with them to cut slices, which they then drop in the copper bowls that contain the lighted candles.

Migmar explains that in Tibetan Buddhism the spirit leaves the body when you die and the more you can help the burning of the butter lamps, the stronger will be the light that will guide your soul to its next body.

The chapel has a powerfully devotional atmosphere. The lower recesses are dark and smoky, but a shaft of sunlight catches the face of the Buddha, 80 feet (24 m) above us. The lines of the eyes, nose and lips are beautifully drawn and, with elegant simplicity, create an expression of profound compassion. Buddha statues are usually made of stone, but this one, commissioned by the 9th Panchen Lama in 1904, is made of copper, which enabled it to be such a great size. And the size works: the expression, the long fall of the robes and the lotus leaf base combine to convey a feeling of strength, serenity and immutability.
Shigatse, Tibet 
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 64: Shigatse to Lhasa
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Shigatse
  • Book page no: 154

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