The most comprehensive account of the fabled city ever written in English, Old Lhasa: A Biography weaves an accessible, detailed, and compelling tapestry of the history, religion, and culture of Lhasa. Along the way M. A. Aldrich shares with readers his infectious enthusiasm for Lhasans, the everyday features of their lives, and their indefatigable resilience.
The scope of Old Lhasa extends from the minute to the momentous. We explore small customs of great antiquity still seen in the Tibetan Quarter, such as the twirling of hand-held prayer wheels, the billowing smoke of juniper incense, and the coral jewelry adorning the hair of herdswomen. We visit the vital monuments of Tibetan civilization: iconic palaces, temples, and monasteries, such as the magnificent Potala Palace on Marpo Ri, the veritable Jokhang Temple at the heart of the city, and the superbly resurrected Gandan monastery on the mountains outside Lhasa.
A natural raconteur, Aldrich brings to life time-honored legends and charming anecdotes about kings and lamas, ministers and tricksters, which reveal the hidden significance of easily-overlooked side alleys, shrines, and stone houses clustered around the city’s most important pilgrims’ route, the Barkhor. He recounts the stories of the great Yarlung dharmarajas bringing Buddhism to Tibet, the rise of Lhasa in the seventeenth century as the premier city of the Himalayas, and the progression of the Old Lhasa calendar and its pageantry of festivals as witnessed by Tibetans and foreigners.
Old Lhasa is not only richly informative for armchair readers, including English-speaking Tibetans in the diaspora, but also useful for intrepid travelers planning a trip to Tibet. The sights of Lhasa are a mesmerizing kaleidoscope which easily overwhelms the visitor. Aldrich offers the readers a basic understanding of complex matters – various Buddhas and bodhisattvas, famed lamas and lineages, religious rituals and temple architecture — for a meaningful appreciation of the city. On a streetwise level, he urges visitors to go forth and sample barley beer, yak butter tea, and momos in the local pubs and to join Lhasans in the twilight hours as they perform their circumambulations and reverences.
Following his two well-received books on Beijing and Ulaanbaatar, Old Lhasa is the final book in Aldrich’s trilogy on Asian cultural capitals. He is a retired lawyer who has lived in East and Central Asia for more than thirty years.