Woke up a little earlier than I had to. It was raining hard, so I didn't feel like exploring so I worked on email for a bit. Breakfast was a great improvement - we could order anything we wanted instead of the usual bread, jam, and fried egg. Even so I just had a couple bowls of curd - it sounded (and was) good. We piled into our new car - a very beat up old van, I guess the luxury days are over. We drove to the Potala Palace but the van is so ugly that they wouldn't even let the driver in so we had to walk up the hill. Hard work at altitude, but I think much more satisfying. Inside the Palace is a little dark, gloomy, and overly cluttered with statues. It is however still magnificent. The workmanship and overall unity is incredible - maybe even sublime.
The highlights of the tour were the fifth Dali Lamas tomb, and the roof top. The fifth Dali Lama was responsible for having the palace built back in the fifteenth century (actually he died before it was finished, but his regent hid the fact that he was dead for seven years so the palace could be completed without having to deal with the politics of a succession). His tomb was nearly forty feet high and incorporated nearly 8,000 pounds of gold and more than 10,000 pearls and gem stones! From the roof you could see the various gables, decorated towers, and golden peaked roofs. All that plus the view out to the snow covered mountains, and the sun had decided to come out!
After three hours we left the palace. We departed through the main gate and down the front path - it's here that you really start to get a sense of how grand the building is. It's immense and seems to be a jumble of different styles - some gold peaked roofs, one curved wall, various rectangular sections just stuck in - but somehow it works nearly perfectly. The only building I can think to compare it with is Ayia Sofia in Istanbul - and that might just be the color scheme. The total effect is of perfection in such a casual way that it might have been attained accidentally. The building is also giant - thirteen stories and over 1.3 million square feet - until the advent of the 20th century sky scraper it was one of the highest building in the world. From the square in front of the palace mount you really get the picture - the steep hill that is capped with its red and white architectural crown - awesome.
I was expecting to be disappointed by the Potala Palace after my first sight of it yesterday, so it enchanting presence was a very pleasant surprise. There were some bad parts though. Like I already said it's dark, gloomy, and cluttered. Even worse the omission of any mention of the fourteenth Dali Lama, the guides can't mention him, and the missing pictures are painfully obvious (the XIV Dali Lama lives in exile in India and the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge his existence). Still a very busy and pleasant morning. We had an hour and a half off for lunch so I went to my room and worked on email and my journal (since I found internet access last night). After an hour I went out for an ice cream, but it was so bad that I decided to go back to the Snow Land restaurant for a brownie. The brownie was good, but not very brownie like, more like a flat piece of cake.
In the afternoon I went with Nima (our guide) to the Sera Thekchenling Monastery. Half of our group decided to skip the monastery so there was just three of us. This was my favorite monastery so far. It has beautiful buildings that are reasonably spread out, a giant white tanka wall (to hang the cloth tankas during festivals), lots of trees, and an incredible view of the Potala Palace and the mountains in the distance. The chapels in the monastery weren't all that exciting - basically just more of the same. We went through a lightly wooded courtyard where the monks were doing their evening debates - this was interesting. The monks were mostly paired up with one monk sitting down and the other monk standing up. The monk standing up would stomp on the ground, clap his hands and lunge at the sitting monk while shouting a question at him. Anytime the standing monk didn't like the answer he would stomp and clap and draw the attention of the surrounding monks. It was all a very noisy and active display - all good fun too.
After wandering around for an hour and a half we returned to the hotel. I was feeling pretty burned out so I settled down to finish up my journal entries. After an hour I headed out to go to the internet cafe, but it was full. I wandered back down to Barkhor square again. Without any set idea of where to go I just drifted with the crown and ended up on the pilgrim circuit around the Jokhang Temple. It was crowded and interesting. I checked out some of the stalls (tourist items, religious paraphernalia, and everyday Tibetan goods), just soaked up the atmosphere, and tried to memorize the amazing sights as I hadn't brought a camera - at one point there was the Potala Palace framed by the narrow pilgrim's path and the pilgrims, all lit up by the sunset. After finishing the circuit I wandered back to the email place and got on the net for an hour. Afterwards I had dinner then returned to my room to try and fight off sleep long enough to get my journal and photos sorted.