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Pala Manor: Display of Tibetan Aristocratic Household

Pala Manor GatewayLocated just four kilometers southwest of Gyantse county, the Pala Manor, also known as Phakue Lhakhang, is one of the top twelve manors of the former Tibetan nobility. It has been the only fully-preserved aristocratic manor of old Tibet, its building structure and content kept largely intact compared with over fifty years ago. A visit to this Manor will give you a valuable insight to lifestyles of different classes of people in a former Tibetan aristocratic household.

The temporal Tibet used to be an old-fashioned society just some fifty years ago, with distinct boundaries between various social strata. At the high end of the hierarchy stood the aristocracy, the monks, and the bureaucracy, who, though combined making up but a tiny portion(some five percent)of Tibetan population, possessed all the arable land, pasture, forests and rivers, as well as the overwhelming majority of livestock, in Tibet. Ninety percent of the population was comprised of khal pa and du chung (both classes of people devoid of any means of production and personal freedom and having to lease land from the landlord to make a subsistence living, the former being relatively less dependent on the landlord), while the remaining five percent were pure slaves. It was common for the former aristocratic families to own large estates, with a manor standing on the land serving as the residence and administrative center of the landlord.

The progenitor of the aristocratic line of the Pala family was a Bhutanese chief. Civil strife in Bhutan caused him to move to Tibet with his family. In due course he rose to an important position as a local official, and gradually joined the aristocratic ranks. By the end of the 19th century, by virtue of their wealth and position, the family had owned a total of 37 manors, 15,000 mu of land, 12 lots of pastures, 14,000 heads of livestock, and 3,000 serfs, becoming one of the top twelve major aristocratic families of Tibet. The ebb and flow of fortunes over some 300 years saw five members of the family rise to prominence playing important roles in Tibet’s feudal government known as the "Kalon" (a senior member of the top administration), enjoying wide influence. Pala Manor is just one of the number of manors owned by the Pala family. 

The best preserved manor of former aristocratic families of Tibet, Pala Manor is still in good conditions, largely unchanged from the days of its former host, and has become an attraction that proves popular with visitors from all over the world, because it offers a valuable insight into the old-time lifestyle of Tibetans in an aristocratic household.

The building is a three-storey structure with 57 rooms, including sutra hall, sunlight room, reception room, bedrooms, room for playing mahjong games, etc. The rooms are richly decorated with exquisitely carved beams and painted rafters. Traces of influence of culture of inland China are visible in the carvings, paintings, and furniture items placed.

The visitor will be especially amazed by how luxurious life was for the host of the manor, as the original contents of the rooms have largely remained on show. Exhibits include examples of rare food, dish wares, rare wine and very precious fur clothes. Among the items are an ox horn that was used for filling highland barley wine, fine porcelain bowls for containing ghee, an ivory mahjong set, glass cups, tins of biscuits and whiskey imported from Britain. In the sun light room, walls are draped with tiger and deer skins. A gold saddle and two gramophones that were manufactured in Britain are further evidence of the wealth of the former lord. Other foreign imports ranges from soy sauce and vinegar to more elaborate items such as ivory fans and wristwatches as well as cosmetics that were used by the Pala family’s womenfolk. There is even a modern gymnasium with facilities for table tennis, badminton, and other physical training equipment. And jewelry fashioned from sapphires, turquoise, rubies, agates, diamonds, and various other precious stones are seen on display. All these things would have been luxuries some half century ago, which were, however, taken for granted in the Pala household.
Pala Manor sutra hall
Pala Manor entertainment room mahjong game
The window of Pala Manor's sutra hall. The colored glass was imported from Britain.The entertainment room, showing the host and guests playing a set of mahjong game.
Pala Manor sitting roomPala Manor collection of treasure items
The sitting room of Pala Manor.
The collection of treasure items of the former host on display.

Now that it is not difficult to imagine the luxury of the lifestyle of the old Tibetan aristocracy, the life of the serfs of the manor constituted a contrast to the luxury of the lords. The Manor is a reminder of the old days when the nobles held slaves in thrall. The dwelling quarters of the serfs are arranged in a courtyard, which are all overcrowded, low, narrow, wet and dark rooms that are little more than cages. Totally fourteen serf families (over 60 people) were accommodated in the courtyard whose entire usable floor area is no more than 150 square meters. In most rooms, there were little amenities other than a bed. While the hard labour of the serfs helped provide their masters with a grand lifestyle, they themselves were reduced to enduring a rather inadequate standard of living that could hardly be imagined in a modern society.
Pala Manor servants' dwelling places
 The servants' dwelling places, all dark, narrow, overcrowed rooms, constituting a sharp contrast to those of the master of the Manor.
The Manor also gives a picture of how cruelly the unfortunate serfs were treated. In the passage of the main building are arrayed whips, anklets, shackles, punishment cells, and other kinds of torturing instruments. Punishments of the old days included whipping, slapping in the face, cutting nose, breaking leg, etc.

However, there has been an earth-shaking change since the Democratic Reform of the 1950s, by which land as well as other means of production was redistributed equally to the Tibetan population. The standard of living for the serfs has improved by leaps and bounds. Many new houses have been erected in the Paljor Lhunpo village where the Manor is located, the residents being mostly the former serf families to the Manor. Take the Kyados, one average family in the village, for example. Before the Reform, the family of four was accommodated in a small room of merely 11.35 square meters in the Manor. But now, the family owns twenty-three mu of land, six cows, a horse, twenty sheep, two bicycles, a tractor, etc., and lives in a new house with a floor area of 460 square meters.

The days of aristocracy, along with the extreme inequality of the old Tibet, are gone. But the Pala Manor is still there, reminding us of what life had used to be like in the old days for the privileged and the downtrodden classes alike, and of what has taken place in the past decades.
 Lasted editor by Jianglei in 2012
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