National Geographic : 1916 Mar
THE WORLD'S STRANGEST CAPITAL BY JOHN CLAUDE WHITE AUTHOR OF "CAS'I'LS IN TIIE AIR." IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, APRIL, I9I 4 LHASA, the Place of the Gods, well deserves its name, as anything more beautiful can hardly be im agined than the vision of the sacred city set against its magnificent background of snow-capped mountains. Whether seen on a brilliant day, under a cloudless sky, during a thunder-storm, painted in soft, glowing tints by one of the wonderful sunsets seen only in Tibet, or by moon light, when with outlines softened and toned down, the Potala stands out like a phantom castle in ghostly splendor from among the shadows of its surrounding trees, all aspects are equally lovely. My readers are referred to the pano rama of Lhasa, published as a supple ment to this number of the GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZZINE. The Potala is by far the finest build ing and eclipses all others in the beauty of its appearance. The present Potala was commenced in 1645 by the Grand Lama Nag-wang Lob-sang-gya-tsho, on the same site as a former building' erected by Srong-tsan-gam-po, the king who founded the Jo-kang in the sixth century; and there is no doubt, I think, that the city is an ancient one and was in existence more than 1,200 years ago, although we can find no records giving any authentic historical account. A DOMINATING STRUCTURE The Potala dominates everything in Lhasa. The enormous mass of build ings, partly monastery, partly palace, and partly fortress, is built on a rocky ridge which stands out in the center of the valley, commanding the town and domi nating the whole situation. Its architec ture is magnificently grand, bold in out line and design; it towers above every thing, with its gray white walls and but tresses, its immense flights of steps and terraces dotted with red-robed monks ascending and descending from religious ceremonies; its dull madder-red temple walls, with carved and painted windows, showing behind black brown yak's hair hangings, surmounted by its gilded roofs and set in almost park-like surroundings of trees and meadows, with snow-capped mountains on all sides and the Kyi-chhu, the River of Delight, running clear in many channels through groves of willow or poplar. It is indeed a fitting shrine for the heart of any religion, and with such sur roundings it is difficult to understand how the present form of Buddhism (Lamaism), as practiced in Tibet, could ever have sunk to the depths of degra dation it has reached. It is devoutly to be hoped that some reformer may arise to cleanse it of its many superstitions and to reinstate the simple tenets of its founder. A DISAPPOINTING INTERIOR But the interior of the Potala is curi ously disappointing, as it consists prin cipally of a mass of dark passages and cells, a certain number of halls and flights of steps. Among the larger halls were several striking ones, especially that in which was the gilt tomb of Nag-wang-Lob sang Gya-tsho; the dome of this hall ex tended upward through several stories. On the tomb there was a great deal of metal ornamentation and the whole formed a fine piece of work. On each side of the principal tomb were similar ones of smaller dimensions, those of Dalai ILamas less notable. In another room of fairly large dimen sions the walls were lined with shelves from floor to ceiling, each shelf closely packed to its uttermost extent with im ages of Buddha. There must have been thousands of all metals-gold, silver, copper, brass-and many were of very beautiful workmanship. In another chapel there were hundreds of golden butter lamps.