Arriving at Lhasa airport meant an immediate ascent for my body to 3,600m from 1,400m in Kathmandu. After the previous two weeks in India the first thing I noticed was the fresh clean air but even before that I was blindsided by a stunning view of the Himalayas from the plane.
The hour bus ride to Lhasa from the airport also provided beautiful views of the mountainous region and valleys we drove through, I did not know what to expect but this was breathtaking, or was that the thin air?
The effects of altitude were not as immediately dramatic as I expected but still quite noticeable. I did not sleep at all the first night with a 12hr headache. I had to walk in slow motion for the first two days or I became dizzy and out of breath. Good thing I got a fourth floor room in the hotel with no elevator!
The cleanliness and infrastructure were quite a pleasant change after India and Nepal but came with a conflicted feeling knowing they are due mainly to the heavily present Chinese big brother.
The second day was spent doing a low physical impact tour of Jockhang temple and acclimating but not without some great distant views of what I came here to see.
Potala Palace was first built in the 7th century by King Gampo. It was expanded In the 17th century by the 5th Dali Lama to become the chief residence of the Dali Lamas but it was not completed until after his death. During the 1959 Tibetan uprising the 14th Dali Lama fled to India and has been in exile since.
Like all iconic landmarks you see photos of them and have a good understanding of their significance but seeing them in person is another thing altogether and Potala is no exception, words and pictures cannot do justice to the grandeur.
My ability to climb the steps to the top was a very real concern less than 48hrs after arriving, a real struggle but well worth it for the history and many elaborate rooms, tombs and temples within.
I'm not exactly sure where my fascination with this building came from but I had wanted to see it and experience Tibet for many years, a journey well worth it and another Buddhist country I instantly felt a deep spiritual connection with.