Visiting the Potala Palace is quite a challenge, we made our first attempt the day before yesterday and were, however, refused entry, all allocated tickets for the day, had been sold, we were told… and no, they couldn’t sell us a ticket for tomorrow.
Eventually after much animated charade type discussion we discovered that to obtain a ticket you must queue outside a small window located just inside the large wooden gate to the west of the Palace, then sometime after 11am each day a limited number of ‘tokens’ can be purchased (after passport and accommodation details are recorded). These tokens can then be exchanged for tickets to enter the Palace the following day!
And so today we got up very early and joined the pilgrimage, (our visit coincides with the Dali Lamas Birthday) walking slowly clockwise from the front of the massive façade, turning right past butchers preparing carcasses and wooden carts piled high with yak butter and cheese… young women sold juniper from brightly coloured cloth laid beside the cobbled paths. The circuit is intensely meditative, small handfuls of juniper sprinkled into each of the dozens of smoldering alcoves in the palace wall, a thoughtful turning of each of the hundreds of prayer wheels lining the route.
And finally hours later, through the massive wooden doors, draped in prayer flags and silk scarves and up the steep stone steps to the Palace itself, I loved the golden rooms – the morning sun streaming into rooms painted saffron orange (where the Dali Lama used to met with ‘heads of state’ until 1956) and the opulent tombs of the 5th, 6th and 7th Dali Lamas (solid gold, studded with turquoise, coral and pearls towering above you… I was really surprised they were so ‘intact’).
Surrounded by a steady stream of pilgrims clutching all manner of containers, tins, bottles, plastic carefully spooned yak butter onto candles and pushed crumpled notes through wire and draped white silk scarves across the laps of the various Buddha incarnations…