To visit Potala Palace, you have to line up the day before for the next day’s ticket. Sleeping in, we missed out on buying tickets, some people actually start lining up at 5am, but we hear tickets are still for sale at 10am so we’ll sleep in a bit for another day =)
We took a bus up to Drepung monastery, and after a brisk walk up (which monastery isn’t set aside on top of a mountain?), we were welcomed by a massive gate and a ticket booth asking us for $60/person. One nifty way of travelling within China is that, they’ve always seemed to have a way to get in for free! So we turned away from the entrance and started walking along the local Tibetan village dirt roads up the mountain. At the top of the mountain we were greeted by our friends who showed us the way =)
The problem was, the main entrance way was about 3km downhill from the actual monastery, and there’s ticket hoarders everywhere!! We got halfway up towards the monastery past what resembles a small peasant shopping alley where locals sold their grossly overpriced wares, but were quickly spotted by an officer in a cowboy hat, so we had no choice but to walk backwards on the dirt road. Not wanting to waste our efforts, the 6 of us stepped off the dirt road from the shopping alley, and into a dried up river in an attempt to flank the monastery as the river cuts through the back end. As we all dropped down into the river, we heard this strange laughter that scared us a bit, but looking backwards we didn’t see anybody out there to catch us. So we beat on, hiking up along the river-bed where poop (human), old scripture paper and single shoes lay.
When we started making some progress, a familiar sight poked up from far above, a cowboy hat! We were spotted!! This time, he was angry and started yelling at us. With our last bit of hopes dashed, we turned backwards and stopped by the shopping alley. Apparently, a few others who were trying to escape the ticket were taking a break there and witnessed the whole thing! The loud laughter came from one of the small shop owners, and when we ignored him and continued walking, he called the cowboy to tell them we were coming!!!! After a couple minutes, the cowboy was still observing us from afar, when we looked his way and saw him…… RELEASING A DOG!?!?!??! The dog ran pretty darn fast down the hill, so we quickly turned backwards and hide in another monastery….. *phew*
Inside this monastery was rather interesting, as it is one of the few remnants of the Bon religion (the native religion of Tibet before Buddhism arrived) but is converted into a Buddhist temple. The coolest thing was, the thing was still under construction. What makes it interesting is the fact that, the temples are made of mud….but what makes it more interesting is how they pack down the mud into a solid structure. Armed with a small concrete ‘hammer’, well over 40 locals would perform this song and dance which I would say resembles “Stomp: The Musical”!!! So with their concrete hammers, they’d bust out a nice rhythm while singing some pretty decent songs. And it was like this ‘competition’, where one group would sing, while the others rested, then they would rebute with another verse! Really cool!! Except, it was possibly the most inefficient manner of packing mud we’ve ever seen, it may be the most entertaining. We stood watching for 20+ minutes.
So with our failed attempt at Drepung Monastery, we switched our sights to the Tibetan Museum. We were lucky, as a group of people from the Lijiang Museum were here that day and they got this extra-detailed explanation by the museum staff, and we tagged along =) The museum had some pretty cool stuff and we learned a lot, but you can’t help but notice the curator did a fabulous job at fabricating a very straight-forward heritage…
At night, we were fortunate enough to have found a Cantonese restaurant, and had some ACTUAL Cantonese food. We almost cried, but were too busy stuffing ourselves instead. This restaurant has a lot of charming little notes, and has good food! Other than the higher-than-usual price tag, it can’t be beat!