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Temples and Monastaries ~ Lhasa

CHINA | Tuesday, 4 April 2006 | Views [1176]

The scene out front of the Jokhang ~ one of the prayer poles can be seen in this shot, as well as monks and pilgrims (and tourists?) wandering around.

The scene out front of the Jokhang ~ one of the prayer poles can be seen in this shot, as well as monks and pilgrims (and tourists?) wandering around.

Well, I managed to wake up early this morning ~ and am I ever glad I did. My last day in Lhasa was absolutely incredible.
First off, we headed out to the Johkang (holiest temple in Tibet!) and walked the Barkhor Kora surrounding it. We were literally swept up with the multitudes of pilgrims, all dressed in traditional yak skins, with hair plaited, spinning prayer wheels as they walked. The truly devout walk the circuit 3X, and the borderline obsessive perform the three kora circuits in a strange pattern of prostration ~ literally lying on the ground, then standing up ~ only moving ahead the length of one step each time. Incredible to witness.
The Barkhor begins just to the left of the Jokhang ~ all koras are performed clockwise. Once we reached the front again, we were amazed to see dozens of devout Tibetan Buddhists polishing the stone floors with their prostrations....walking past them to enter felt sacreligious in some way.
Once inside the Jokhang, we joined the massive queue.....you basically walk clockwise around a central chapel area, entering dozens of smaller chapels along your way. Most of them were literally the size of closets, and crammed full of beautiful statues of the boddisatvas, buddhas, kings, and lamas.
I have to admit it was slightly overwhelming ~ the powerful smell of hundreds of yak butter candles burning, the scent of juniper incense, and hundreds of voices murmuring prayers as they shuffled along. Seeing some of the faces around me, and realizing that for many of these Tibetans, seeing the Jokhang is the culmination of months of pilgrimmage from the far corners of Tibet, was definately sobering. And people were wonderful! Although I certainly stuck out like a sore thumb, towering over most of the people and, well,being a whole different colour and all, all I ever got were smiles, warm looks, and sincere attempts at warming my hands...which were freezing.
The Jokhang was built to house the pure gold Buddha statue, which was brought to Tibet by Chinese Princess Wencheng as part of her dowry from China, and faces Nepal in order to honour the Nepalese bride (his 2nd wife) of the King. The site was chosen by the Princess Wencheng, chinese bride of the King. Its widely thought that she chose the site of a lake to be difficult ~ however, the lake was duly drained and the temple built atop the land. According to some, there is a well within the temple grounds which still pulls water from that ancient lake.
Legend, however, has it that the Chinese princess chose that specific spot because her knowledge of Buddhism enabled her to divine the exact resting spot of an enormous supine demoness, who would have to be restrained before Tibet could embrace Buddhism fully. So, temples were built all across the land ~ as far away as Bhutan and modern day Sichuan province ~ in order to 'hold down' this demoness. The Jokhang anchors the head of the demoness, and the outlying temples hold down arms, legs, etc. Crazy stuff.
Anyways, pilgrims carry with them bags or jars of hard yak butter, in order to 'feed' the numerous candles in each chapel. Some carry thermoses of melted butter to pour into the candles instead. In the main chapel, which houses the Buddha image, you are required to hand over your 'butter receptacle' to a waiting monk, who will add some in for you. As this happens, you proceed around the gigantic statue, stopping at each of his feet (he sits cross-legged) and touching your forehead to his toes. A monk "bouncer" taps you on your back when its time to move on, usually just a few seconds. I felt a little ridiculous doing this, but it felt like it'd be more disrespectful to NOT.
I felt really fortunate to be able to witness something like this ~ people chanting and praying, fingering prayer beads, spooning butter into the lamps....people of all ages. From the elderly walking with aid of 2 canes, to the babies strapped to the backs of young women....people everywhere.
I didn't think it could get any better...and then it did.
In the afternoon, we took a local bus (Y2) out to see the Drepung and Nechung monastaries. It was a long steep walk up the hill to Drepung, and we were charged Y25 each to enter and perform the Kora around the monastary ~ but it was literally incredible. We passed through a valley of prayer flags fluttering colourfully over our heads , flocks of sheep just barely parting to allow us passage, crimson-robed monks who always had a smile and hello for us, and little old stooped men and women making the pilgrimage around the circuit along with us. One young monk even walked part way with us, and posed for some great photographs from the hills overlooking the monastary buildings. He was very sweet ~ showing us where we were meant to touch our foreheads to painted rocks, how to pray, etc. Near the end of the Kora, we could hear some chanting and clapping ~ which we had read about, but didn't expect to witness...the monks were debating within an enclosed courtyard down below. They use two sharp claps to emphasize their points....very, very loud!
We quickly scrambled down the rocky path and huddled down around the walls of the courtyard to take a few pictures....some of the monks posed for us, as well! I finished off my day feeling exhausted and very satisfied. Tibet is someplace I would definately love to return to one day, but for now, I feel like I had a good taster of its capital.
Next up will be the cruise on the Yangtze River, taking in the 3 Gorges before they are gone for good.
xoxoxo
Laura

Tags: culture, tibet

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Me at CKS Intl. Airport, very bored.  I was there from about 12midnight until my flight to Singapore, about 7am.  Ha ha, and also ~ you can see up my nose!  (but I still like this pic....)

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