Lhasa is the capitol and largest city in Tibet. It is in a narrow valley of the Kyi Chu river. It lies at just over 11000 feet in elevation and is surrounded by peaks of over 16000 feet.
A rainbow over Lhasa. Rainbows are common over Lhasa during the fall. This in no way diminishes the diligence needed for photographer Galen Rowell to capture the famous photo of the rainbow over the Potala Palace. This was a more passive photo. From the upper balcony of the Yak Hotel.
Although the skyline of Lhasa is dominated by the surrounding 16-18000 foot mountains, the compelling visual presence in the city of Lhasa is the instantly recognizable sight of the Potala Palace. There are two hills in the otherwise flat city of Lhasa, Red hill and Iron or Chokpori hill. The Potala is located on Red Hill. Originally begun in the 7th century, it has been the seat of the Dalai Lamas, dating from the fifth Dalai Lama in the 15th century. This view, taken from the balcony of the Yak hotel on our first full day in Tibet is, while a common site, nevertheless always breathtaking.
.This view, taken from the roof of the Jokhang Temple at the center of old Lhasa gives a feeling for the surrounding peaks. The Potala reportedly has 700 rooms and chambers. Many treasures and relics remain in the Potala (although it is unclear what may have been taken by the occupiers since 1959). These include Chortens containing the remains of the earlier Dalai Lamas.
The topmost level of the Potala lies almost 1000 feet above the city of Lhasa. After 5 days in the city we felt ambitious enough to walk up the seemingly endless stairways. Many pilgrims (who seemed to be from remote areas distant from Lhasa) appeared to ascend without exertion. We were somewhat relieved to note that many of the urban dwellers were as breathless as we were on ascending.
The massive and imposing walls of the Potala reflect its history as a castle and seat of government as well as a protective fortress.
Other views from near the top of the Potala
The Potala is surrounded by a circuit or Khora which is circumambulated (always in a clockwise direction) in order to gain merit. There are 1008 prayer wheels as well as several stupas surrounding the Potala.
The Jokhang temple is regarded as the most holy temple in Tibet and is a site of pilgrimage for Tibetans from the entire country. Many people will travel literally hundreds of miles prostrating themselves every few feet on their way to the Jokhang. Its origins date to the beginning of Buddhism in Tibet. It was built by king Songsten Gampo in the 7 th Century to house a Buddha image (referred to as the Jowo) brought to him by Wenchen, one of two wives who introduced him to Buddhism. His rule corresponds to the beginning of recorded Tibetan history. The Jokhang is surrounded by the Bahrkor, a combination market and holy site of circumambulation.
The main entrance to the Jokhang. The large plaza is a recent Chinese addition.
One of the major symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. The wheel and deer representing the Wheel of Dharma which Shakyamuni Buddha expounded at the Deer Park in Sarnath India.
The entrance th the Jokhang where pilgrims come to prostrate themselves.
An inner courtyard of the Jokhang. Lamps are being filled with butter. Pilgrims will make an offering by re-supplying the large butter lamps illuminating the inner rooms of the temple with butter from their lamps.
One of the many golden roof decorations of the Jokhang.
Architectural details from the Jokhang roof.
This view of the Potala is was from the other hill in Lhasa, Chokpori. It is regarded as a holy place and for several centuries was the site of the Lhasa Medical University at which the advanced academic discipline of Tibetan Medicine was expounded. The university was destroyed by the invading Chinese and replaced by a profoundly disturbing television antenna. However, the hillside is covered with incised images and devotional mani stones (inscribed with the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, the mantra of Chenrezig the Bodhisattva most closely associated with and dear to Tibetans. The Dalai Lama is an emanation of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion) as seen in the photos below.