National Geographic : 1955 Jul
16 Four Hundred Feet High on the Potala, a Daredevil Swabs Down a Sacred Lion Each day at dusk, Tibet's lonely boy King roamed the Potala roof, gazing through binoculars at life outside the palace. His limited horizon included the walled hamlet of Shi and the road leading to smoke-veiled Lhasa. He confided to Mr. Harrer that he often watched him working about his white stone house in the wooded garden at upper left. Each year coolies splash whitewash on the Potala's wings and clean its ornaments. ministers and tradesmen, nobles and peasants, all prayed and danced and sang. Crowds shuffled clockwise along holy walks girding the Potala, the cathedral, and city (pages 21 and 22). An accident marred the advent of "Fire Dog Year." A colossal flag pole fell in the Barkhor, killing three monks and injuring several others. Tibetans paled when they spoke of the evil omen. To them it augured distress, earthquakes, per haps a devastating war. During the 21-day "Great Prayer," the civil government retired. Stern monk proctors from neighboring monasteries ruled Lhasa with an iron hand. The Dob-Dobs, brawny monk policemen who blacken their faces and pad their shoulders to make themselves more terrifying, swaggered about the city. Intricate Sculptures in Butter The celebration reached its climax at the Butter Festival on the New Year's 15th day. Tsarong warned us not to venture into the unruly, hustling crowds. He stationed us with Mrs. Tsarong in one of his houses on the Barkhor. After sundown, monks towed towering sculptures of yak butter, pigmented with dark and vibrant dyes, into the Barkhor. Throngs gathered to admire the grinning caricatures of gods, the elaborate flower patterns, and intricate filigree work, fixed to pyramidal wooden stands 30 feet high.* Mrs. Tsarong explained that months of work go into the dis plays. Each monastery maintains a workshop where its own artists shape the cold-hardened butter. The Government awards a prize to the best entry. The gallery of art stood ready. As we watched, hundreds of but ter lamps and gas lanterns flickered in the darkness, conjuring a sem blance of life into the effigies. Sud denly we heard trumpet blasts and the deep rumble of drums. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Life Among the Lamas of Choni," by Joseph F. Rock, November, 1928.