The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on December 12, 1976 · Page 199
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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 199

West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 12, 1976
Page 199
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Page 199 article text (OCR)

TIBET COTIL'ED Former U.S. Secretary of Defense lames R. Schlesinger attends a briefing at Drepung. Silk hangings and other beautiful artifacts abound in its chambers. The bedrooms were surprisingly small for so important a personage. In one, the bed was short and bunklike because the Dalai Lama was supposed to sleep in the "lotus position." Everything else in the Potala. however, was on a grand scale. And the grandest bv far was the tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama. Its base stood in a room 40 foot square and contained his personal possessions: precious gifts and favorite books. His embalmed bodv had been coated with clav. lacquered and covered with golf leaf. This human statue sat clothed in silk robe' in the posture of Buddha. Over it hung a silver cone that extended for three stories, or 70 feet, to the roof. The entire structure was studded with turquoise. amethvts, lapis lazuli, coral, diamonds and rubies. Bird-watching in Jewel Park The roof area where this and the other five tombs emerged under their gold canopies was an open court of great size. Small wonder that the seventh Dalai Lama chose to build a summer retreat away from the tombs and ghosts of his predecessors. He picked a garden site among the lush foliage in Lhasa Valley and named it Norbu Lina or "Jewel Park." Here Dr Schlesinger did some pre-dawn bird-watching, his favorite sport. Norbulinka, as it is also spelled, was conceived as a series of pavilions and pools within a walled park. Successive rulers added teahouses, garden paths and shrines. The 13th Dalai Lama had two cars imported from India, piecemeal on yak-back, so he might drive around the park. The 14th added a fountain and a small movie theater. The main residence. Chense Pho-tang. proved to be a gracious. Victorian-style mansion with flower-filled window boxes, a shaded veranda and Tibetan geld symbols on the roof. Far more livable than the Potala, it had comfortable, overstuffed furniture and beautiful cloisonne lamps. Here again, the 14th Dalai Lama's private quarters were just as he left them. Even the clock remained the time it was when it ran down in 1959. Emissaries from America We walked around the gardens that are now a public park. We picked crab apples, conversed with the ladv from the Committee for the Preservation of Monuments and imagined ourselves to be emissaries from another country, another culture which we were. Departure the next morning was before dawn to take advantage of the best flying weather. What are the possibilities for other Americans to visit Tibet in the near future? Onlv the Chinese can say. The airport is complete and functioning. The Lhasa guest house is large and comfortable. On the other hand, no postcards have vet been printed. silk canopy held bv silver dragons. The bodv of the statue a mixture of gold, iron, silver, copper and zinc looked like pure gold. On his head was a crown of gold leaves and turquoise. His figure was bedecked with necklaces of pearls, turquoise and coral. Anv single object in this building, whether statue, painting or jewel, would be considered a treasure in a Western museum and guarded securely. In Tibet there were no guards, no electronic surveillance, just the local people, visitors like us and our guides. Rooftop view of Potala From the roof of the Jokang we had an unobstructed view of the majestic Potala, palace-fortress of 10 Dalai Lamas. The Potala dominates the Lhasa skyline the way the Acropolis does Athens and. like it. is one of the architectural wonders of the world. But it does not sit on top of its mountain; it seems to grow out of the rock itself. Its immense height is accentuated by walls that slope inward and windows that narrow at the top. Against its brown and white facade hangs an 80-foot-long "curtain of heaven" woven of yak hair that appears to add even more height. The original structure was a shrine built on the side of Mt. Potala by King Tufan in the 7th century. With the decline of the Tufan Dynasty, weeds took over. Then in 1645 the fifth Dalai Lama started construction of the present palace. It took 50 years to complete. Much of the work was done by pilgrims bringing one stone slab at a time until the structure stood 1 J stories high, 460 yards across and contained 990 rooms. The next day's experiences in the Tung Ka People s Commune were also an interesting blend of the old and the new. The commune consisted of 265 households and 1113 people who, before 1959, lived as nomadic herdsmen and serfs in the Lhasa Valley. They 'were forced to sleep with yaks and dogs," according to Mr. Celi, chairman of the commune's Revolutionary Committee. "At the time of liberation by the PLA People's Liberation Army, all the people were given private land and in 1960 they voluntarily formed communes with mutual aid teams. Since then we have embarked on socialism and an ever-improving agricultural yield." 'Welcome to our commune' Men. women and children dressed in their holiday best lined up to greet us as we drove into the commune. They stood applauding and repeating, "Welcome, welcome, warmly welcome." The commune's meeting hall had the usual large photographs of Marx. Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Chairman Mao. Benches around the perimeter were a toothless smile and gestured for us to follow. We did huffing and puffing. Drepung had many of the same beautiful artifacts as the Jokang the lacquered pillars, silk hangings, narrative frescoes and jeweled Buddhas. Even the fire extinguishers were covered in quilted brocade. We climbed to the immense courtyard that is still used for dance festivals and mystery plays. Up more steps to the chanting hall. Up more steps until we reached the senior monks' apartments at the top of the monastery. The view was breathless and so were we. Our gentle host revived us with tea, apples, pears and a discourse on how there is freedom of religion in Tibet but the voung know about life in a monastery (he was 6 when he entered), so they don't want to become monks. Our last full day in Lhasa was spent retracing the Dalai Lama's traditional iiving arrangement half the year in the Potala and the summer half in Nor-buiinka. Ancient Tibetans who approached the Potala to pav court to the god-king prostrated themselves on each of the 250 front steps. We drove in jeeps up the hill at the back of the palace to about the lOth-floor level. A curator greeted us and took us to the Dalai Lama's private apartments. Everything was in place, just as it was when the 14th Dalai Lama fled in 1959. His clothes were laid out. His gold and jade cups stood on a carved table. The 30' x 40' sitting room and smaller audience chamber were outfitted with freshly filled bowls of holy water and the many deities he needed to carry out his religious duties. These rooms were carpeted and the walls and ceilings covered with tapestries because, as we were told, thev were unheated and could be very cold during the fierce Tibetan winters. The 14th Dalai Lama is said to have kept a telescope in one of his bedrooms so that between studies and pravers he could watch the common people in the streets of Lhasa. padded with carpets and on low red and green tables we were served dry, salted lima beans, fruit and suya fyak butter tea). Pretty girls, their hair braided with yarn and wearing turquoise, coral and silver earrings, kept refilling our cups. Mr. Celi and fellow committee members kept their broad-brimmed hats on indoors. They wore woolen coats with one arm out of the sleeve and some of them had highly polished boots. Mr. Celi wore the Tibetan equivalent of basketball sneakers. He reeled off the statistics of the grain yield so many catty per mu. He said it exceeded the national average but could be better. He told of the number of tractors 'one) on the commune, the threshing and winnowing machines, of the one primary school, one clinic and night school. Then he led us outdoors. Living off the land We walked through the irrigated fruit orchards, around the vegetable plots and out to where men and women were pitching hav and threshing wheat with a gas-powered thresher. Next we were invited to step inside any of the mud, stone and timber houses in the compound. At first view they seemed like extensions of the animal pens, but inside the rugs were thick, pots gurgled on the clav stoves, one light bulb shone dimly and family photographs smiled down from the walls. Parents spoke proudlv of sons in the army and daughters in school. Driving back to our guest house and Lhasa proper, the road skirted the fields and fruit orchards belonging to the largest monastery in Tibet, Drepung. At one time 10.000 monks inhabited its hillside buildings. Now. only a few hundred remain. They support themselves by farming collectively and with small state pensions. A 65-year-old monk met us at the foot of a long flight of stone steps. He was wearing "holy" russet-red robes and little gold leather boots. He smiled 9

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