June 19: Tibetan Prayer Wheels, Chinese Food, and Such
September 28, 2006
We met in the hotel lobby at 8 am and made our way to the summer palace of the Dali Lama. As we waited outside the gates for the guides to make our arrangements the locals who were just setting up shop were calling out, advertising their wares. One of the biggest tourist products was the prayer wheels that the more traditional Tibetan locals used.
A prayer wheel is a stick with a rotating wheel at the top with a weight hanging from one side. In Tibetan culture when one is not working one should be praying, even when walking. For this reason many of the older people carry prayer wheels and spin them as they walk or sit. The prayer wheel can be the size of a rattle or up to three feet long. I guess it depends on your dedication to your faith.
The sign that greeted us upon our entrance indicated that this facility had been ‘liberated’ and now the Norbu Lingka gardens are open for public enjoyment. Genuine monks inhabit the grounds but men posing as monks asking for ‘donations’ can be found outside the walls. The grounds consisted of interconnected gardens and a variety of temples and lodgings. The interior walls were adorned with intricate tapestries and paintings depicting the history of Tibet and religious iconology.
We all went to a local restaurant for lunch where we were served Chinese style food.
After lunch we went to the Potala Palace. As we were waiting in line to get in, local women selling various souvenirs and jewellery swarmed our group. While ignoring them and looking away I felt a prick in the back of my leg. Upon turning to see what it was I found a Tibetan man kneeling behind me intently pulling a hair from my leg while a whole group of people pointed and giggled. The inhabitants of China in general have very little body hair and apparently find mine quite entertaining.
The Potala Palace itself was built on a large hill in the centre of Lhasa. No buildings were built any higher than 3 or 4 floors as to avoid obstructing the view of such a holy place. The current Palace is the result of several phases of building, the oldest of which date back 1300 years. The palace was home to the rulers of Tibet and is the final resting place of many of the Dali Lamas. Tombs and statues are made from hundreds of kilograms of solid gold and adorned with gems. The walls were painted depicting the history of Tibet and stories of their religion.
After a whirlwind tour of the Potala Palace we drove to the bazaar in the centre of town. The market was enormous, filling streets and alleys for blocks. Stalls filled the streets selling lower quality and fake goods while the more expensive merchandise was in the stores themselves. I stuck to the stalls, which were much cheaper and more likely to haggle. There are no prices on goods, the merchants will simply try to sells their goods for as much as people will pay for them. Because I’m an obvious tourist their initial prices are very high, so the bartering skills I learned in Beijing came in handy. None of the local merchants spoke more than a few sentences of English so communication was limited to hand signals and calculators, which was more than enough.
The group met up at a restaurant in the bazaar and we all showed off the goods we had found while we waited for supper to be served. Yet again supper was Chinese food style, but I didn’t eat much because of the staggering heat.
After getting back to the hotel we went to a local store and bought a bunch of beer and invited the group of German scientists to our room to watch the world cup soccer game.