1936 - 1937 Mission Diary

The official diary of the Gould mission to Lhasa sent by the British government. Read more about the mission diary.

November 23rd, Monday.

see photographs below

Today the Regent returned to Lhasa, while Richardson and Norbhu went, officially, to present scarves to him, Nepean and Chapman rode out to photograph the procession.

Rising at 6-30 A.M. (with a temperature of 18 F. in our tents) we rode out in the chill morning air There was not a cloud in the sky; already the warm glow of the sun reddened the snow on the western mountain tops.

In the valley the early-morning light was still more attenuated by having to pierce a pall of smoke over Lhasa city where housewives were already lighting their dung fires and burning fragrant incense to Buddha. Looking eastward we were amazed to see the Potala looming mysteriously above the haze, unsubstantial, like some fairy castle conjured up by a magician and poised precariously above the earth. All at once the sun's rays lit up the golden shrines or the summit, and the outlines of the building emerged, now to assume the solidity of a vast mediaeval castle.

Even at this hour could be heard the deep droning boom of the ten-foot-long monastery trumpets, and a monotonous beating of drums and cymbals.

As we rode along we passed many of the pious at their morning oblations$, Although it is scarcely seven o'clock the beggars have already reached their stations - unless they have slept there all night. From one patchwork of rags goitrous face appears with protruding tongue (in Tibet the usual sign of respect), while an emaciated arm with fist clenched and thumb raised importunes us for alms.

Here are a party of swarthy nomads from Hor states visiting from Kham, or the Holy City for the first time, to see the Potala and especially the shrine of the late Dalai Lama. They are dressed in rough sheep skins and the women folk have their hair done in innumerable tiny plaits; on top of their heads are what appear to be several large yellow apricots each surmounted by a cherry; actually they are ornaments of amber and coral representing the savings of years. They are doing the holy morning walk, a longish circuit round the Potala. Each turns the inevitable prayerwheel as he walks, and with downcast eyes murmurs the interminable formula - OM MANE PADME HUM (the jewel is in the lotus). Several people lead tame sheep on yak-hair traces; many small dogs follow, usually with collars of tinkling bells round their necks. Some of the, sheep are so accustomed to the proceeding that they follow without leads.

Here is a group of those whom we disrespectfully call 'curbcrawlers'. Bare-headed, dressed in coarse clothes with a leather apron in front, and flat wooden 'shoes' on their hands, they prostrate their way round the holy walk. You see them lie flat on the ground with their hands outstretched in front of them, then they rise, bring their hands together in an attitude of prayer, take a step or two forward - just so far as their hands reached, and ,so it goes on, and their sins (one hopes) are purged away.

Among the crowd of worshippers dressed much like the rest but usually preceded and followed by several servants, you may meet a member of the Cabinet or even the Duke himself but not this morning. Like ourselves, today, all officials will be going out to, pay their respects to the Regent.

He has been away from Lhasa nearly six weeks visiting monasteries. His chief task was to assist in the ceremony of placing the golden ornaments on the roof of the great monastery of Samye, which has recently been rebuilt.

We are going as far as a village called Singdonka, four miles to the west of Lhasa to film the procession as it mounts the steep village street. There is more traffic than usual today. Much of it is the Regent's baggage sent on ahead. Here is a train of sleek mules with his tents and camp furniture. Here the road is blocked by a herd of sleepy slow-moving yaks returning to Lhasa for more barley-meal or wool. Respecting their sharp horns we leave the track and canter along on the grass where the hoar frost glitters purple in the thin sunlight.From the bordering marshes skein's of Bar-headed geese rise and fly across the road with harsh cries, followed by lines of chestnut yellow Brahminy ducks.

In honour of the Regent a line of stones has been put down on each side of the road, and, at every few hundred yards, improvised incense burners have been built of sods. When the Regent passes, azalea and artemesia leaves will be burnt to produce clouds of white smoke. And up above, quick to realize that something unusual is about to happen, are Lammergeyers and Vultures wheeling in great circles with apparently effortless wings. Passing Drepung monastery, we reached Singdonka at eight o'clock. We had been told the procession would pass the village at about half-past eight. But as time means very little in Tibet we expected to wait an hour or two before anything happened.

More lines of mules pass, their loads covered with cloths of the Regent's colours - golden - yellow bordered with scarlet. Some servants with broad red hats like lamp shades appear in a cloud of dust to clear the way. They are followed by a group of monk officials in mulberry coloured robes and gold-lacquered hats. More officials pass, then a tiny incarnation lama aged about four, is led past on a pony. He is dressed splendidly and wears on his hat an exquisite ornament of turquoise and gold. Slung across his back is a gold charm box containing a Buddha almost as big as himself.

At last the procession itself comes into sight. Women who were flailing barley beside the river drop their wooden flails and hurry to the roadside where a dozen incense burners start belching forth smoke.

It is difficult to see the procession clearly for the cloud of dust it raises. Leading it are mounted standard bearers dressed in cloth of silver and high witch-like Mongolian hats. Following them are fifty or sixty mounted monk officials wearing gold lacquer hats or large yellow fireman-like helmets of wool. Nearer the Regent's palanquin are the higher officials in gala attire. The Shappes and Dzasas in embroidered yellow and blue brocade robes; lower officials in resplendent silk costumes with pleated black skirts and little white cockle-shell hats. The Regent’s horses are gaily caprisoned. The palanquin is carried by men in green coat and scarlet hats; the Regent himself is not visible.

Most of this, incidentally, was seen through the cinema camera's finder. As soon as the Procession had passed we packed up our gear and, giving the procession a respectfully wide berth, we overtook it and were ready again when the Regent stopped at a gaily coloured tent for tea and rice.

The official reception took place a mile from Lhasa in the walled garden where our Mission was received on its first arrival at Lhasa. The guard of honour, drawn up on the open plain, was the centre of a great crowd of people who had come out from the city. The Chinese representative, who had also come to present a scarf, joined, indeed actually led the homeward procession. He was escorted by several mounted standard bearers, a few heavily armed Chinese soldiers, and the local bazaar band disguised as his retainers.

Now that the Regent and the rest of the Kashag are once again in Lhasa we may expect things to happen – but slowly, as is the way of things in Tibet.

DIARY PART X (November 23rd to December 13th.)

November 23rd, Monday.

Tering Rimpoche came to lunch. A high monk with a ready smile and most expressive eyes, he is a brother of the hospitable Tering Rajah of Gyantse. He was formerly in charge of the Sikkim monasteries, but after some trouble there he recently revived a small monastery on the Tering estate. He has come up to Lhasa to visit f riends Major Hamal, the Nepalese representative in Lhasa, came to tea. After an injudicious mixture of liqueurs he became very communicative. He does not like Lhasa.

Author: Frederick Spencer Chapman [see handwritten annotations in Diary by Hugh Richardson in MS. Or. Richardson 2, Bodleian Libary, Department of Oriental Collections, University of Oxford]

Page Reference: Pt IX p.3

Taring Rinpoche


Taring Rinpoche

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Taring Rinpoche


Taring Rinpoche

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