Pilgrims would come for thousands of miles to walk this kora (circuit) around the Potala. It was always packed. One always moves clockwise around Buddhist sites, koras, temples or even cairns.
On one side were prayer wheels, on the other, tiny stalls selling everything an average Tibetan would need from cloth and beads for worshop to tin pots and utencils.
Begging is a common practice in Tibet and not seen as a sign of lack. PIlgrims come from very humble homes to visit their holy sites and then collect alms to fund the long, slow way back.