Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Of our two full days of touring Lhasa, the first morning was spent at the Jokhang Temple and the Barkhor Market area that surrounds it.

We were let out on a street corner not far from the pedestrian-only entrance to the market and made our way up to a large plaza. The Jokhang Temple is a Buddhist place of worship and is the spiritual center of Tibet. The oldest portions of the buildings date from the mid-650s. As with most buildings this old it has served a number of purposes over the years, been occupied by different religious and secular groups and has undergone a number of renovations. The most recent renovation wrapped up in the early 1980s.  It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.

But well before we got anywhere close to the temple we saw worshipers like these folks who were praying outside the entrance to the plaza. If you’re familiar with the exercises called “burpees”, that is very similar to what these folks were doing: they’d stand up straight, often with their arms over their head, kneel down on both knees and slide their hands forward on the ground until the were completely prone, then slide their hands back toward their knees until they were kneeling and then stand up again. The had either knee pads or something soft to kneel on and pads with straps on the top that they could easily slip their hands in and out of to make the sliding a bit easier. The whole time they did this they were quietly praying.

Morning Worshipers just outside the gates of the plaza

As we approached the temple we would see more and more of these folks and right next to the temple there were dozens of people all doing the same. After our temple tour, when we were walking through the market area, we’d see folks in random places all doing these prayers. We were told they might do that all day long. I did not take photos of these people worshiping as it just seemed intrusive to do so.

JT Large Plaza

Early morning in the plaza outside the temple

As the most holy temple in Tibet, people had come from all over the country to worship there. We were told some had actually walked very long distances just to be there.

As we waited in the plaza Pen, our Tibetan guide, pointed out the various flags both on the flagpole and on various buildings. The flags are meant to match the six colors of Buddha’s aura once he attained enlightenment:

  • Blue – the Spirit of Universal Compassion
  • Yellow – the Middle Path, which is the Eightfold Noble Way discovered by Buddha that leads to liberation, which is the process that frees one from the cycle of rebirth
  • Red – The Blessing of Practice – achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity
  • White – The Purity of Dhamma which leads to liberation
  • Orange – The Wisdom of Buddha’s teachings
  • Maroon – The Truth of Buddha’s teachings, the essence of light

Flagpole in the Plaza

The flags were looking a little sad after being out in the weather for nearly a year but in just a few days a huge number of pilgrims would be arriving and the old flags would be retired and new flags would be displayed.  Within a week after we left, Lhasa was basically closed to travelers as neither Tibetans nor foreigners would be allowed into the Tibet Autonomous Region during the 10 days that the Chinese Communist Party National Meetings were being held in Beijing

Building with Flags and Prayer Wheels

We made our way into a courtyard that was the last place we could take photos inside the temple. That’s probably just as well because we would have taken forever to get through the inside if we’d been allowed to photograph everything we would have liked.

Courtyard of Jokhang Temple – the circular item on the banner is the Wheel of Dharma

A Buddha visible from the temple courtyard

The Dalai Lama fled the country in 1959 but his throne still awaits his return. While we were gathered around Pen listening to his spiel, we noticed someone else hanging out near our group. At first we thought he was just trying to get a free tour but later we realized he was listening to be sure Pen was sticking to the official line that Tibet is part of China and that he was not in any way advocating for a free Tibet. If he had been, it could have been very bad for Pen. At one point we were told that Tibetans were not allowed to leave the country due to the political situation. While the region of Tibet and China are pretty large and diverse, it’s a shame that government leaders can’t work this situation out in a better way.

The Dalai Lama’s Throne

While we were inside the temple I recalled the pushy young woman who sat next to me on the plane ride to Lhasa. Her pushiness was mirrored in the pilgrims as they made their way through the temple. I don’t know if they were doing laps inside or what but they were stopping at almost every figure (and there were a LOT of figures) in numerous side rooms and saying some kind of prayer and then moving to the next one. Though their speech was quiet their mouths kept moving almost the entire time they were in the temple. It’s quite the contrast to Christian churches, for sure.

One thing we noticed both in the plaza and in the temple were people carrying prayer wheels on a stick. They’d flick their wrists so that the wheels would turn continuously. Later, when we had free time in the market area we noticed larger, public versions of these prayer wheels that could be turned as you walked by them. Some were situated near corners so that as worshipers changed from one pedestrian street to another they could give the wheels a spin.

Woman spinning a prayer wheel

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After having plenty of time to wander the market and spend our money we gathered at a local restaurant for lunch. I had some more yak and vegetables but my stomach was still fluttering from the altitude and I wasn’t very hungry so I took it easy with the food.

Categories: Asia, China, River Cruise, Tibet, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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