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Day 67: Lhasa

Michael Palin - HimalayaDrepung Monastery, once the biggest in the world, with 10,000 monks living and studying here in the mid 17th century, stands slightly outside the city, overlooking Lhasa from high ground to the northwest.

We disembark and begin the long climb up to the heart of the complex (Buddhism is a very steep religion), until we reach the impressive portico of the Prayer Hall. Monks' shoes, most of them modern trainers, litter the ground outside. I remove my own shoes and, pushing aside a heavy, patchwork curtain, its edges dirty black and waxy from continuous use, find myself in a candle-lit interior, the size of a small cathedral, with long lines of red-robed monks sitting cross-legged on their cushions, chanting prayers from small strips of text on boards in front of them. A number of novices race through the hall dispensing butter tea. One of them trips over Basil as he's photographing and both he and his load fly into the air and land with a resounding crash on the stone-flagged floor. No-one bats an eyelid.

At the back of the hall, behind the line of candles, is a chamber that contains huge plaster characters from the rich cosmology of Tibetan Buddhism. Incarnations of the Buddha and various Bodhisattvas (beings who have reached enlightenment but rather than enter nirvana have chosen to return to earth and help others) as well as fierce, snarling, pop-eyed, horned figures who are their protectors.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 67: Lhasa
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Lhasa
  • Book page no: 162

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