The official diary of the Gould mission to Lhasa sent by the British government. Read more about the mission diary.
Chapman went unofficially to the Potala early this morning to photograph a gorgeously be jewelled costume that is worn by thirteen young officials on this day only. It is supposed to be the actual raiment worn by the former kings of Tibet. Over somewhat tattered silk robes each wore two long necklaces, one of amber, each stone being bigger than a golf ball, and the other of coral. In the centre of the breast was a circular gold and turquoise ornament about six inches in diameter. From each side of the head were suspended more ornaments; one, a bar of gold about 18 inches in length studded with a row of ancient Tibetan turquoises was so heavy that it had to be supported in the hand. Two of the thirteen who were chosen by the Regent for special ceremonial duties, wore high crowned scarlet hats while the others wore a smaller silken head dress.
Yesterday was the priestly celebra,tion of the new Year: today there is a similar ceremony for the laymen. The abbots are not present; the debate is conducted by doctors of divinity; the dancers carry swords instead of battle axes; and there is a short devil dance. After the ceremony all the officials went up to the roof of the Potala where there was much blowing of comets and of the long deep-toned trumpets so typical of Lamaism. On this day only in the year the Shapes and Dzasas must wear the “geluchey” dress with its black pleated skirt, multi coloured silk brocade coat and white cockleshell hat perched on top of the head. Minor officials wear the usual brightly coloured silk robe reaching almost to the ground and wide flat topped hats edged with fur. Even the servants wear silk.
Soon after midday all the officials came down the wide southern steps of the Potala to see the pole trick. All the morning the people of Lhasa have been assembling to see this acrobatic feat, the performance of which is a tax annually imposed upon different villages of Tibet. By midday several thousand people have collected. On the flat top of a neighbouring roof are a group of ladies of quality dressed in sombre coloured silk robes and wearing the usual triangular Lhasa head dress of coral and pearl. Further along some women wear the tall hooped head-dress of the Tsang Province. Here are a group of buxom nuns in small yellow conical hats. They are exchanging pleasantries, with some blue uniformed
Nepalese soldiers who, like most people today, have been drinking considerable quantities of chang. Sitting on the ample steps of the Potala are the poorer people: a party of tousle-headed Kamba shepherds wearing coarse sheepskin robes; some monks with close cropped hair and voluminous mulberry coloured dress; some beggar women spinning prayer-wheels, and in front is a small boy with a mask over his shoulder shrilly importuning the crowd for alms.
Suddenly there is a stir above and a couple of men come rushing down the steps dragging by its legs the carcase of a yak with its sharp-horned head swinging from side to side and effectively clearing a way for the officials, some of whom, having seen this performance many times before, ride away through the crowd. At the foot of the steps a crazy looking pole held together with yak-hide thongs has been erected. It is about fifty feet in height. All at once there is a hush, and a man, looking and probably feeling, singularly like a sacrifice is swung astride a rope preparatory to being hauled up to the top. While he is only just above the heads of the crowds he starts chanting, and drinks a cup of tea which is handed up to him. On the summit of the pole is a small platform, on which there is just room to stand, and a vertical rod of iron. To begin with the man, chanting all the time, stands for a moment on the platform, but a strong wind makes this precarious and he is obviously not too confident. Then, tying a bobbin-shaped piece of wood on to his stomach, he fits this over the top of the metal rod and starts to spin round and round. After he has repeated this several times he is allowed to return to terra firma where he bows down three times and offers thanks that his ordeal is safely over.
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 XIV p.4