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Day 65: Lhasa

Michael Palin - HimalayaThough for a while suffocation seemed more likely than sleep, I actually pass a reasonable night beneath my sarcophagus of blankets and when I wake a pale morning light is leaking into the room. My bags, still packed, squat around the doorway where I dropped them last night, looking mournful and expectant, like neglected pets.

With an enormous effort of willpower I heave myself out of bed and across to the window. The curtain opens jerkily to reveal a mottled sky and an horizon of crumpled, grey mountains framing dusty, undistinguished, largely modern buildings.

A view that could only lower already jaded spirits, were it not for one thing. Away to the northeast, rising gracefully above the city, like a mountain in its own right, are the white walls, russet towers and gold-tipped roofs of one of the most dramatic and serenely powerful buildings in the world, the Potala Palace.

It's probably a couple of miles away, but even at this distance and this oblique angle it is mesmerizing, especially to one brought up with its black and white likeness in a volume of The Children's Encyclopaedia. To be honest, I was never quite convinced of the existence of the Potala Palace. Because its size and shape was so unlike anything I'd ever seen in the West, I always assumed that it was something mythical, an ambitious piece of artistic licence.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 65: Lhasa
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Lhasa
  • Book page no: 157

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