9Mountains & Monastaries: Exploring Tibet
For National Holiday, China’s Fourth of July, I had a week off from school, which I spent traveling with friends through Tibet. We flew into Lhasa and visited the Potala Palace, home of the exiled Dali Lama and the symbolic seat of the Tibetan government. The exterior was by far the most impressive aspect of the palace. It’s set on a hill in the middle of Lhasa, and it can be accessed only by climbing a large stone staircase—at 13,000 feet, not an easy task for a Westerner whose lungs are accustomed to sea level!
Touring the Potala Palace and the Tibetan monasteries was fascinating. The facilities were quite primitive, with the main source of light being yak-butter candles. The chapels’ interiors were incredibly colorful, decorated with statutes of Buddhas, past Lamas and other important Buddhist iconography. Prayer scarves were draped everywhere, and money left by pilgrims fluttered about.
The aspects of the chapels I found most striking were the menacing statues that represented the active, but wrathful, side of the Buddha. These fat figures were either bright blue or red and had huge fangs, crowns decorated with skulls, and wide, mad eyes. They were a stunning contrast to the serene Buddhas I was used to seeing and were unlike anything I’d ever seen in a religious environment before.