Returned to cozy old Sims in Chengdu on Tuesday. Chengdu is hot, noisy, polluted and unattractive but Sims is a little oasis and it was good to be back! Yesterday I flew to Lhasa - the roof of the world and for me the icing on the cake!!
I was met at the airport by my (female) guide/minder, (who speaks reasonably good English), a car and a driver and brought to my lovely hotel in some style. For the first time I've got someone else doing my thinking for me and it's great! I'm just told when to appear and everything else (tickets, transport, how to get there) happens of its own accord!
From the airport we drove past large valleys filled with water - lakes that should have been rivers. The road, hugging the side of the mountains, was, fortunately, above the level of the water. So, freak amounts of rain in Tibet as well but, so far, the sun has shone and the sky is a deep blue. It is hot during the day but gets quite cold at night. The hotel is in the old part of Lhasa and I have a large, double room looking out onto a lovely garden.
Lhasa lies in a basin, surrounded by mountains - not particularly high ones because we are at 3,600 metres anyway, but making a very attractive backdrop in all directions. The altitude did cause problems yesterday but am feeling better today. Taking it easy, though.
This morning we visited Potala Palace, arguably the jewel in the crown of Tibetan sights. It's 13 storeys high and has over 1000 rooms and however big one imagines it is going to be, it's bigger! A vast and magnificent deep ochre-red and white construction, built on the side of the mountain and outlined along the top by the deep blue of the sky. There were, as always, hundreds of steps to climb and at this altitude, it was pretty gasp-inducing. Once inside, we were restricted to one hour only, so there was no time to linger. A succession of small rooms with immensely thick walls and with beautifully painted and carved decorations on the ceilings, door-ways, pillars and beams followed. They were absolute works of art - fabulous reception rooms and rooms containing huge statues of the previous 13 Dalai Lamas, of Buddahs and other deities, enormous stupas covered in vast quantities of gold and precious jewels. These were the tombs of some of the previous Dalai Lamas. There were ancient books and brilliant and vivid murals. Only a tiny fraction of the palace is open to the public and an hour wasn't really enough to see everything properly but there is talk of closing the Palace completely eventually because of the damage being caused by all the visitors. It's the most splendid sight but obviously fragile, started, as it was, in the 7th centuary. More splendours tomorrow!!