National Geographic : 1955 Jul
My Life in Forbidden Lhasa The Dalai Lama stepped from the cathedral. He looked straight ahead, his almond-shaped face inscrutable beneath a peaked yellow-silk cap. For the first time I looked upon the god-king, the 14th incarnation of Tibet's patron god, Chenrezi. The 11-year-old boy gazed down upon thousands of bowed heads. To them he was a living god. The grave little King paced slowly along the array of grotesque images. Abbots sup ported him, their hands beneath his arms. The highest officials of the State followed. It was an electrifying tableau. The Dalai Lama withdrew into the cathedral. At once a religious madness seemed to seize the throngs. All night long we heard cries, weep ing, and laughter, punctuated by the hoarse shouts of Dob-Dobs. Next morning the butter images were gone from the Barkhor, melted down for use in lamps or magic potions. Theirs was a single night of splendor, as if to remind mankind that beauty is temporal. The festive season ended, and Lhasans set tled into routine. Pilgrims marched back toward the thawing northern plains. Unexpectedly Aufschnaiter joined the ranks of the employed. The Government commis sioned him to construct an irrigation channel. I helped measure the course, but could not work because of my plaguing sciatica. Fountain Fascinates Tibetans Idle days in Tsarong's sunny garden gave me an idea. I designed and supervised the building of a fountain. Tsarong was de lighted. No one had ever erected a fountain in Lhasa, and his guests never tired of watch ing the sparkling jet. I found another way to occupy my time. Several noblemen engaged me to give lessons in mathematics and English to their sons. Lhasa maintained only one school for the nobility, a Government institution where the boys were taught accounting and manners. One day the High Chamberlain called me Hands and Knees in the Dust, a Pilgrim Worms His Way to a Happier Life Wearing wooden gloves lined with iron, this zealous Lamaist earns merit by crawling the length of the sacred trail rimming Lhasa. Inching sidewise and always facing the Potala, the monk marks his progress with incessant prostrations. A leather apron protects his knees. He carries a bag of parched barley flour for lunch. Some devotees go home at night; others camp on the five-mile trail, a journey of several weeks by creeping. Wealthy Tibetans may hire prostrators, but the merit thus earned is not so great.