In 2003 I signed up for a one-man "tour" though some travel agency to spend a week in Lhasa. I was lucky enough to get a Tibetan driver and guide, and clear weather on the top of the world. I obtained altitude sickness pills from my doctor (Loui) before I left, but still came down with nausea and headaches shortly after arriving in town. I sent the guide and driver away, and went to the front desk and asked for an oxygen pillow (which I read about in the guidebook). Instant cure, and even euphoria, although that might have been from the excitement of being in Lhasa. I set off alone, without my required guide or driver, for the fabled Potala Palace down the street. Because of the altitude sickness warnings and travel restrictions very few westerners were in the city, and I saw only several couples during my stay. My little hotel was near the Barkhor, where pilgrims from around Tibet circumnambulate the Jokhang, Tibet's national cathedral. I went on some great walks, exploring Tibetan neighborhoods with smiling people, yaks and little shops. I drank yak butter tea in smokey restaurants. My guide took me to two monasteries outside of town, which were fascinating and full of handsome young monks in red robes. I spent one day crawling around some of the 600 rooms in the Potala, filled with awesome treasures saved by Zhou Enlai from the Red Guards and their 1965 Cultural Revolution. Solid gold chortens hold the remains of former Dalai Lamas, and I visited the suite of rooms where the current god king lived before he left for India in 1959. The Jokhang was right down the street, and the roof, usually deserted, was a great place to sit and enjoy a panoramic view of the valley and surrounding mountains, with the Potala on Red Hill in the distance. Inside is a revered 600-year-old gold statue of the future Buddha, encrusted with precious stones, which the locals buried in a nearby yard 40 years ago when the Red Guards were melting down Lhasa's wonders. I bought too many things, including an "ancient" Buddha from some monk at the hotel, beaded chest plates, amber and coral necklaces, a yak fur cap, and a Buddha-head snuff bottle carved from coral. Lhasa is wonderful.Read More
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Potala Palace was the residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959.