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Himalaya

Day 66: Lhasa

Lhasa, Tibet 
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Lhasa. On the roof of the Jokhang, the most sacred temple in Tibet where the Dalai Llama took his final exams in 1959. Apart from the gilded statuary, there is a fine view of the Potala Palace (right, background)
Michael Palin - HimalayaA low, piercing sunlight bounces back off the flagstones and at first it's difficult to see 30 or 40 figures, hidden in the deep shadow, prostrating themselves before the walls of the temple. Most have bed-rolls, on which they flatten themselves, using pieces of cloth or cardboard beneath their hands to push themselves forward. Then they stand, hands pressed together above their heads, in front of their faces and then in front of their chests, before prostrating themselves and beginning the whole process again. Many of them, Migmar tells me, will have begun their prostrations outside Lhasa, with some coming from up to 600 miles (960 km) away, and taking two or three years to get here.

They fight for space with pilgrims from out of town, with matted black hair and deeply grooved faces, who pause on their devotional walk around the temple to pull juniper branches from plastic bags and feed them into the two small kilns whose smoke drifts across the square. They believe the pillar of smoke that rises from these fires creates a conduit between the earth and the sky down which the Buddha can travel. A very old lady with prayer beads in one hand and a stick in the other inches painfully slowly past the temple entrance.

The Jokhang Square seems to be the social, as well as the religious, heart of Lhasa. There are Tibetans from the east with complexions like old, weathered wood, pale Chinese immigrants, Muslim stallholders in white skull caps and farmers wrapped up in greasy sheepskin coats, wearing Stetsons with curled-up brims, looking almost identical to the people of the high Andes. Bored soldiers sit at strategic points, supposedly keeping an eye on things. One is having his shoes shined while trying to figure out the controls on a new radio, another sits, with great concentration, picking hairs out of his chin with a pair of tweezers.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 66: Lhasa
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Lhasa
  • Book page no: 160

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