1936 - 1937 Mission Diary

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

August 24th, Monday, Lhasa, 11,800 feet,

see photographs below

16 miles.

This has been a most notable day, the first entry into Lhasa for all the British members of the Mission. Lhasa has been in the past, and still is to a great extent, one of the secrets of Central Asia, so far as Europeans are concerned, for the Tibetans still maintain the strictest supervision on all European visitors, and very few are allowed to reach Lhasa.

The most phlegmatic person could hardly avoid a thrill, when marching up the Kyl-chu, at the first sight of the Potala, the palace of the Dalai Lama with its gilded roofs glittering in the bright sunshine of these high altitudes, at many miles distance.

The Political Officer, Sikkim, had a brave escort of brightly clad attendants all in their best clothes, numbering some forty or more counting clerks, chaprassis, saises, guides and Tibetan Officials picked up on the way.

We had to time our march so as to reach the various re-ception places at a fixed hour. We passed the great Drepung Lamasery, the biggest in Tibet (with 7,000 lamas) at about 10-15 A.M. after coming some 12 miles; and near there were met by Kusho Mondong, a Lama Official, who in 1913 was taken by B. J. Gould, then Trade Agent and now Political Officer with three other Tibetan boys to England to school, at Rugby. Although over 20 years since he had returned to Tibet, Mondong still spoke good English.

Soon after this we saw the "slaughter house" of Lhasa, merely an open field by the roadside where yaks, cattle, and sheep are killed despite the Buddhist religion for consumption by the inhabitants of Lhasa.

A mile or two further on we were met by representatives of the Tibetan Government, also Monks or Lamas, and were conducted into a Park or public garden where ceremonial scarves from Government, Regent, Kashag (Cabinet), etc., were received, and other scarves presented in return. We were then regaled with Tibetan tea and bread. The costumes of the Tibetan officials and their servants were magnificent and appropriate and suited in every way to the surroundings.

The Lama Officials wear comparatively dull claret coloured robes, but with brightly gilded red lacquer hats. They ride smartly caparisoned mules or ponies with gay saddle cloths. Lay Officials wear brightly coloured and embroidered Chinese silks. The servants have most marvellous red feathered and taselled round fringed hats, like a great lamp shade!

The whole setting, bright sun, oriental costumes, old world oriental garden and pavilion, with lacquered chairs for us, and cushions on the ground for the Tibetans was remarkable. The old world courtesy politeness, bowings and compliments of the Tibetans, Officials as well as servants is charming.

After drinking tea we mounted and moved on, always with the most impressive sight of the Potala on its steep hill before us.

We were next received by a guard of honour of a regiment of soldiers and of police, the soldiers under their Depon or General, and the police under the Chief of Police.

They presented arms, etc., quite creditably, but their appearance was ruined by the incongruity of Khaki uniforms and above all khaki wolseley helmets in this oriental settings.

It is inconceivable why these hardy Tibetans should have imposed on them such a foolish head dress as this 'topee' One regrets to say that the result was a comic opera appearance .Which gave one a shock. There was also little uniformity in boots, puttees, rank badges and other minor points. These would not matter in a hardy fighting race, if dressed in their own costume, but when they ape this European turn out, the effect is bizarre!

We then rode to our residence and camp at Deki Ling-ka where our Official Tibetan guides showed us the rooms in a sort of summer pavilion with a nice garden in which tents are pitched.

All this way we rode facing the imposing Potala, and also in view of' the Medical College on the second hill of Lhasa.

The whole valley is extraordinarily fertile, lush and green, with irrigation rivulets everywhere, vegetables, ripening crops and groves of trees. There is a considerable stream of pack animal transport moving to and from Lhasa. Villagers turned out in crowds to watch us. The dirt of the villagers, the frequency, of goitre, and the many pock marked and in some cases imbecile faces are noticeable.

The climate now is mild and warm, minimum temperature of 55 F or above, and maximum of a little over 70 F.

We had fine views of the Drepung and Sera Gompas, two of the "big three" of Tibet, whose lamas have great influence on the policy of the country. The third, Ganden Gompa, is a day's march away.

On arrival at Deki Ling-ka, we sat down to what we were told was to be a "light lunch". There were thirteen solid dishes of horse d' oeuvres of meat and vegetables of various sorts highly spiced. Then followed in succession 3 or 4 entrees of hot spiced meats, mushrooms, tripe etc. Finally came in the usual main course of Tibetan spaghetti in soup, of which one is expected to consume three or more large bowls. To drink there was Tibetan butter tea, and ‘chang’. Chopsticks were used to eat with.

We arose, gorged, after an hour and a half.

Presents from the Government, Shape's (Ministers), etc., were then brought in, consisting of whole sheep, eggs, butter, grain, flour, etc. Yutok Depon the most influential Tibetan General brought the Government presents in person. The Official guides then bade a ceremonious farewell for the day, and we were free to decipher telegrams, discuss policy, etc.

There is much unpacking of stores, kit, etc., and presents before we are ready to receive the many visitors we must expect.

Except for a faint smell of rancid butter pervading everywhere (no doubt from the large presents of butter) and a curse of midges or flies in the evening, this a very pleasant camping place.

Author: Philip Neame [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 III p.7




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