Lhasa is possibly the most amazing place I've ever visited. Its been quite expensive to come to Tibet, and after we debated it heavily, I'm so glad we decided to do it. Already it is the trip highlight for me. South East Asia was fun, China has been an interesting and challenging country to travel in, but Tibet has been a mind blowing experience, from its scenery, to its culture, to its people.
We started our first day in Lhasa with a tour of the Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple with our guide Pempa, and our tour buddies (from Amsterdam nonetheless) Evelylne and Erwin, who we are so fortunate to be travelling with as they are great people. Whilst travelling in Tibet you must have a guide with you at all times. While this sounded stifling when we first heard it, it turns out that we have our free time, and that having a guide as great as Pempa is, really helps you to understand a lot more about Tibetan culture than we may have if we'd just come on our own (which is illegal anyway..).
I cannot tell you what is like to stand in front of a building as imposing as the Potala Palace, home of the former Tibetan Government and countless Dalai Lama's. The Palace is divided into the Red and White Palaces - white for Government and red for religion. Nothing I have ever seen can compare to the ornateness and holiness of the Palace. Walking through it with Tibetan pilgrims (some who have crawled to Lhasa from Eastern Tibet) was an experience I will remember for a long time. Seeing the meeting rooms, reading rooms, meditation rooms, bedrooms, thrones, and tombs (one containing over 3000 kg of gold!) of the Dalai Lama's (dating back to around the year 1200) was an incredible experience. The insight into Buddhism from Pembo made the experience all the more interesting. It is such a complex religion which is rather magnetic and really shows in how the Tibetan people deal with everyday life - so accepting, so humble and so kind - despite the pressures they are under.
In the afternoon we visited the Jokhang Temple (established by one of Tibets most revered Kings and learnt more about Buddhism and Tibetan history. In the following days we visited the Norbulingka Palace (the summer Palace of the Dalai Lama's and the Sera Monastry - one of the three pillars of Tibetan Buddhism. The highlight here was witnessing the Monks debate Buddhist teaching as part of their study in the courtyard - their passion and humour was infectious.
We left for Shigatse early the next day en route to Everest Base Camp. Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet and is more Tibetan than Lhasa, which has been infiltrated with Chinese after the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.