1936 - 1937 Mission Diary

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

6th September, Sunday. Lhasa.

see photographs below

We have had a most interesting day visiting the Potala (Dalai Lama's Palace) and the Norbhu Lingka (Jewel Garden) the Dalai Lama's Summer Palace in a, beautiful park a mile from the Potala.

Gould being indisposed with a chill was unfortunately unable to come.

The rest of us went to the Potala at 9.30 AM and for 2 hours wandered round hall after hall and shrine after shrine filled with gilded idols, or figures of ancient Dalai Lamas or still more ancient Kings of Tibet. The worst of it is that nearly all these chapels or shrines are very dark, lit only by feeble butter lamps.

We saw the Dalai Lama's hall of public audience, also the gallery where the high officials of Tibet drink tea every day at 9 A. M.

We saw the hall where the 1904 Treaty between Great Britain and Tibet was signed. Monks drawing complicated religious designs in coloured chalks were at work in another place.

We went on to the topmost roof of the Potala and saw the gold leaf covered pagoda like roofs of all the past Dalai Lamas' mausoleums. Finally we saw the last Dalai Lama's (the 13th incarnation) recently completed tomb and shrine. This is the most striking thing in the Potala. In many previous shrines we 'had - seen -masses of heavy gold butter lamps and jewel encrusted images, but this place must contain a fortune in solid gold and, fabulous sums in jewels. For the shrine consists of a Chorten 30 or 40 feet high, the whole of it covered not merely with gold leaf but with solid sheets of gold, in which are embedded all manner of precious stones, turquoise predominating. In front there were rows of gold lamps, cloisonnee and China vases, and one vessel entirely covered with pearls. Hung all round are rich silk brocades and other subsidiary jewelled images.

Unfortunately the lofty chamber in which this "chorten" is housed is too confined to enable one to get a comprehensive view. It should be housed in a large hall or cathedral. We were told that the whole cost of this marvellous shrine was raised by subscriptions from the officials and people of Tibet and Buddhists of other lands, and nothing came from the hoarded wealth in the Potala. We saw some wonderful draw-ing and painting still going on. Some 15 or 20 Tibetan artists were busy painting "Thunkas" or religious banners depicting the history of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama's life. These will be hung all round this shrine. They draw the design in Indian ink on cotton cloth stretched tight in a frame, and then apply the different colours in turn, all done freehand and out of their heads. The work is wonderfully neat and fine.

We saw the entrance to dungeons where political prisoners languish and saw outside the ordi-nary jail the whips with which prisoners are administered up to 1000 lashes, and the large square wooden frames fastened round their necks.

Then we saw the Government prin-ting house with thousands of printing or type blocks all carved out of wood.

We finally left the Potala and rode off to Norbhu Ling-ka where we were received by the Chikyap Khenpo, the highest monk official.

The Norbhu Ling-ka is a large enclosed park, perhaps half a mile square enclosed by a high and solid stone wall pierced by three gates. Inside are other walled enclosures within which are the gardens and pavilions built and occupied at different times in the past. There are three separate small palaces, one old, and two more modern built by the late Dalai Lama. In addition there is an exquisite little water garden with two Summer houses with lacquer decora-ted walls in which the Dalai Lama used to sit and meditate, on an island surrounded by water. In another enclosure are the cages, mostly now empty where birds and pets from tigers to monkeys were kept. The gardens are traversed in all directions by granite flagged paths on which the Dalai Lama used to stroll.

The enclosed park surrounding these specially laid out gardens, is thickly planted with fruit trees and willow and poplar trees. In the gardens all manner of tropical trees and shrubs flourish, and bright flower beds abound every-where in a way one would never expect at 11,800 feet.

We were shown round everything, all the beautifully decorated private rooms, bright with lacquer, silk cushions and hangings, jewelled images and even the Dalai Lama's golden turquoise encrusted tea cups.

Enormous Chinese cloisonnee' lions and elephants guard every door.

Half way round we were refreshed with tea (most excellent Darjeeling tea) and finally we sat down on a verandah shaded from the warm bright sun and with a lovely vista of flower garden, to a Tibetan "light lunch" of fourteen preli-minary courses before the piece de resistance of spaghetti and soup.

After this Yutok Depon took us off to the Body Guard Barracks for more tea.

There were three or four guards of 1onour to be inspected.

The Norbhu Ling-ka is altogether a most beautiful place with its wonderful oriental pavilions and lush fertility of trees and flowers. Of course the whole Park is skilfully irrigated with stone lined water channels.

Yutok Depon gave Neame some more particulars of the Tibetan Army, and in the evening Kusho Ringang who called, gave still more military information. A summary follows.

The Tibetan army has always been recruited on a feudal basis, so many soldiers having to come from each estate. Originally one soldier was required from each Tibetan measure of cultivated land (3 or 4 acres, it was understood), of certain military estates. Some 3000 regular soldiers in 6 regiments were thus produced. These regiments had good traditions and good regimental officers, i.e., up to the rairik of Rupon who commands approx 250 men. Meantime non-military estates were gradually taxed more heavily in cash or kind, while the military estates remained lightly burdened. At length in 1910--12 when the fighting with the Chinese culminated in their ejection from Tibet, more troops were needed and a 50 per cent increase in soldiers was demanded from the land. New regiments were formed. Later when trouble with the Chinese on the frontier of Kham arose in recent years, 1920 and on, more and more troops were raised, until now some 9000 regulars are raised where 3000 used to be. The new regiments have no traditions, and poor Non-Commissioned officers and Rupons, and are not nearly so trustworthy. It is stated that the Rupons (Captain or Major) are the back bone of the army who really know and are trusted by the troops, while the Depons (Colonel or Junior General) are inexperienced and are political appoint-ments and do not know their men.

The rank grades in the Tibetan army are:-

"Makme". Rank and file.

Chupon. Commands 10 men.

Ding-pon or Shen-ngo. Commands 25 men

Gyakpon. Commands 125 men.

Rupon. Commands 250 men.

Depon. Commands 500 men.

For regiments with 1,000 men there are usually two Depons.

Regiments, i.e., Depon's Commands are seldom grouped in higher forma-tions, because there is no higher mili-tary rank than Depon (fourth grade official). Grouping was tried 3 years ago in the frontier fighting, but jealousy between Depons produced failure. The only higher control now is by the Com-missioners of Kham, of Dzasa rank who can in emergency issue operation orders to the 9 regular and 11 militia Depons in Kham.

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 V p.2




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Neame [Potala]


Neame [Potala]

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Neame ditto


Neame ditto

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Norbu Lingka


Norbu Lingka

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Norbu Lingka


Norbu Lingka

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