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All over Tibet we would come upon piles comprised of rock and other things, all carved with Tibetan scripture.

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The Potala Palace. The top of the brown section is the home of the exiled Dalai Lama.


Potala Palace

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I don’t know what it’s like now, but in 1987 a traveler could enter the grand Potala Palace and explore every part of it, including the private residence of the exiled Dalai Lama. The Tibetans themselves entered the palace with great reverence, restricting their activity and maintaining postures of humility. But we were dumb foreigners and at that time completely unaware that there was a man known as the Dalai Lama who had to flee the Chinese occupation of Tibet for fear of imprisonment or worse. We traipsed around the Dalai Lama’s private quarters taking it all in while the Tibetans kept themselves at the entrance and did not enter. Sometimes when you travel you don’t know the real significance of what you’re seeing. The fuller impact of your experience can come much later, as was the case for me in Tibet.

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Prayer Flags

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Prayer flags are printed with Tibetan scripture and hung in auspicious places where the wind slowly shreds the fabric, thereby sending the prayers into the world. Given this bridge over the Lhasa River, you have to wonder if maybe some of the travelers and pilgrims left prayer flags because they were hoping to make it safely across.

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Tibetan Women’s hair

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The Tibetans were particularly sensitive about being photographed so I did my best to respect that but there were times when I quickly photographed the things I found captivating, such as the 107 braids Tibetan women wove into their hair, along with the chunks of turquoise and bloodstone.

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Barkhor Square, Lhasa, Tibet, 1987

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From my travel diary:

The neatest thing happened to me today at noon. After writing, and feeling lost and confused, in the Toots Restaurant, I walked to the Kirey Hotel across the street to sit in the sun and enjoy a cup of yak butter tea (1 Maio) and a cigarette. As I sat, a man who I noticed an evening prior ambled over kind of purposeful and sat down nearby. I knew he wanted to talk but I wasn’t quite sure if it would happen. Just then a “crazy” Tibetan woman came over and dumped her little bag of treasures onto the table in front of us. There was a package of cigarettes, a tube of red lipstick, a jar of something and the jar shape looked like the Ponds Cold Cream my mother used to use, a couple of large, shelled nuts, a string of rock sugar (one was making sharp angles in her cheek as she sucked on it), and several worn playing cards. She was mumbling, rambling, wandering liquidity. I said, kind of without any pre-thought, “Here’s the crazy lady.”

Well that was the key and this fellow started a monologue about THE EDGE, topics including sanity vs. insanity, teachers of wisdom, sensitive people who go insane, clairvoyants, the death instinct, his desire to be wise, what a person of wisdom attains (mainly detachment from their ego so that praise and criticism do not matter, and never talking about one’s self), the feminine power, etc. Somewhere in his energetic, crazed rambling the old Tibetan woman disappeared, but she left two cards on the table: the queen and the five of diamonds. I pointed it out. He grabbed the five, said it was his because on a wisdom scale of 1 to 10 (ancient Chinese belief that when one gets to #11 they are enlightened) he was at #5 with a lot of work to do still. He said the queen was for me but I didn’t feel it was. He put the five of diamonds in his pocket and I gave the queen to a young Tibetan boy. We parted with me telling him how much I enjoyed our talk, that it was a nice way to start my day.

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Lhasa, Tibet. 1987. Shot taken from the roof of the Jokhang Temple.

Lhasa, Tibet, as it appeared in 1987. Shot taken from the roof of the Jokhang Temple. Notice in the far background on the right side of the frame the magnificent Potala Palace–home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama before he was forced into exile.

Lhasa, Tibet

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