National Geographic : 1955 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine to the Potala. He invited me to landscape the gardens of the Tsedrung, a special mo nastic order that staffs the Dalai Lama's en tourage. If I produced picturesque results, he hinted, I might be asked to rearrange the Dalai Lama's private garden. I was just beginning the work when a For eign Ministry official sent my hopes tumbling. "Henrig-la," he said, with obvious distress, "the English doctor has certified that you are well enough to travel. The Government says you must leave at once." Aufschnaiter and I pleaded our case to the Foreign Ministry. We had learned the art of Oriental diplomacy-pretend to acqui esce, but use every stalling tactic. What would happen, we asked, if my sci atica returned? What if I collapsed on the road? Above all, who would finish the irri gation channel and the Tsedrung's gardening? The appeal was taken under advisement. I do not know what happened, but no one ever said another word about expelling us from Lhasa. Summer arrived, as usual, on the eighth day of the third Tibetan month. Fortunately the day was hot. The Government's lay officials trooped to the Potala, peeled off their fur lined robes and fur hats, and handed them to servants. Then they put on light summer silks and summer hats, drank ceremonial tea, and returned home. If sleet had been falling, they would have performed the same ritual. In Tibet, seasons change according to the in constant lunar calendar. And so does rigidly prescribed dress. Trumpets Announce Migration A few days later I heard silver trumpets on the Potala roof. From monasteries in the valley came echoing blasts. The chorus pro claimed the Dalai Lama's annual migration from the Potala to his summer palace at the Norbu Lingka (Jewel Park). Townspeople hurried from every corner of Lhasa. When I reached the Western Gate, spectators stood six deep in the private lane between the Potala and the Jewel Park. Plumes of dust and incense heralded the cavalcade. An army of monk servants strutted by, carrying the Dalai Lama's silk-bound gear and favorite birds. There followed mounted musicians, baton-twirling drummers, cowled members of the ruler's monastic household, his giant bodyguards, and the commander in chief of the army. Then came the Living Buddha's yellow palanquin. It was borne at a swift, smooth pace by 36 colorfully robed servants in scarlet fringed hats (page 24). Everyone of importance accompanied the venerated King to Norbu Lingka. The entire Government followed the palanquin in order of rank, riding horses with saddles of gold. It was an unforgettable spectacle, the pro fusion of gold and silks and jewels drenched in vivid sunshine under a cloudless sky. Lhasans Love Picnics Summer lay ripely upon Lhasa. Peach blossoms glazed the parks with pink. Blue and yellow poppies bloomed on the valley's hillsides. This was the picnic season, Lhasa's favorite time of the year. Entire families strolled from town each day to enjoy lazy pastimes on the riverbanks. Clicking dice games end lessly amused the men. At dusk, votive in cense smoldered on the darkening shore. My swimming and diving fascinated the picnickers. Few Lhasans know how to swim, because the Kyi River is unpleasantly cold and treacherous. I suspected that I was in vited on many excursions as a sort of vaude ville act. But my ability proved a blessing. I managed to save three persons from drown ing, among them the 14-year-old son of For eign Minister Surkhang. The episode led to an intimate friendship with the family. The Tibetans had by now accepted Auf schnaiter and me as citizens of Lhasa. We were consulted on every conceivable type of problem. Aufschnaiter completed the water channel, greatly increasing the irrigation potential in the plain bordering Lhasa. The Government then asked him to repair the creaking old elec tric plant which powered the mint near Lhasa. Coolies who brought the boxed parts from India 20 years earlier did not appreci ate the delicate nature of their cargo. It was Page 19 Potala, Towering Like a Skyscraper, + Wears a Silken Banner for the New Year In the manner of grotesque animated dolls, priests dance in slow motion at the climax of Tibetan New Year prayers. Gold and silver threads encrust the appliqued images of Buddhas on the silken tapestry, so heavy that 50 monks are needed to hoist it in place on the south facade. Only during these rites -two hours each year-is the banner displayed. Spectators line the outdoor stairway to the palace.