Lhasa, Tibet – The Jokhang and Barkor

The Jokhang Monastery (ཇོ་ཁང་) is the most holy of Tibetan Buddhism’s holy places.  Unassuming from the outside, one needs to connect with the enthusiasm of the throngs of pilgrims walking around it to feel its allure.  As it probably will be for you, visiting the Jokhang is a once in a lifetime experience for many of the pilgrims.  Unlike you, many of these pilgrims walked to be there… and some of them even walked in a special way to show their devotion: They take three steps, say a prayer, and lie face-down on the ground.  Then they stand up, take three more steps and repeat the process.  The act of taking a prostrating pilgrimage can take the devotee years to reach the Jokhang from their home towns.  But many do it, as a sign of devotion and a way to help improve their karma in this life and the next.

Tibetan Buddhist Praying

Pilgrims and merchants walk and pray in the juniper smoke early in the morning on the Barkor at the Jokang Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet.

Built in 642, the name Jokhang means “House of the Buddha.”  Inside can be found many impressive Buddhist sculptures.  The most important of which is the statue of Jowo Sakyamuni – the Buddha.  One of only three images made of the Buddha during his lifetime, the Jowo Sakyamuni statue is the most revered object in all of Tibet.  During my visit, I remember pilgrims nearly collapsing in emotion as they enter its tiny hall… Truly a spiritual experience.  (Sorry, no photos allowed inside)

The Jokhang itself is a complex of connected four story buildings.  Visitors are allowed to wander almost anywhere they want, but the most interesting place that I found was the roof.  From here you can see into the courtyard, the plaza in front of the building and all over Lhasa. You can also mingle with visiting and resident monks and nuns, and see some of their living chambers.

On top of the Jokhang is an eight spoked dharma wheel and two golden deer – found on top of every monastery in Tibet.  The eight spokes represent the Eight-Fold Path – the way to enlightenment.  The deer are humble reminders that the Buddha’s first sermon was in a deer park.

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

Tibetan nuns visit another in her quarters on the roof of the Jokhang in Lhasa, Tibet.

A Sleeping Tibetan Buddhist Monk

A Tibetan monk finds a quiet place to rest on the roof of the Jokhang in Lhasa, Tibet.

Tibetan Monks Joke Around

Tibetan monks joke as they gather for a chanting session in the Jokhang in Lhasa, Tibet.

Tibetan Nun Lighting Butter Candles

A Tibetan nun lights hundreds of prayer candles at the Jokang, Tibetan Buddhism's most holy temple. Lhasa, Tibet.

Barkor Square and the Potala Palace

Barkor Square as seen from the roof of the Jokhang in Lhasa, Tibet. The Potala Palace can be seen in the distance.

The Barkor

Around the Jokhang is an area called the Barkor.  It’s a circular pedestrian street that is filled with pilgrims and surrounds the Jokhang.  The pilgrims are there to walk koras – clockwise walks around holy centers.  They’re also there to socialize and buy from from the hundreds of vendors that line the Barkor, and have been for hundreds of years.

The greater market area of the Barkor stretches out for many blocks in all directions.  I found these alleyways to be teaming with humanity and infinitely interesting.  If you’ve come to Lhasa to see old Tibet, this is where you want to be.  You can buy all kinds of souvenirs like prayer wheels and prayer flags and my favorite, Tibetan door coverings that can be found hanging across every door in Tibet.  This area is also a good place to try some Tibetan buttermilk tea and local foods.

Tibetan Prayer Wheels

A Tibetan man spins prayer wheels in a monastery near the Barkor in Lhasa, Tibet.

Walking koras around the Barkor in Lhasa, Tibet

Tibetan monks pass a juniper incense burner on the Barkor in Lhasa, Tibet.

A traditional Tibetan Doow Way

The entrance to a small Buddhist temple, found on the Barkor in Lhasa, Tibet.

Walking on the Barkor in Lhasa

Pilgrims and tourists pass vendors selling traditional Buddhist items on the Barkor at the Jokang Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet.

Walking Koras and Prostrating on the Barkor

A Tibetan Buddhist pilgrim prostrates himself on the Barkor, in Lhasa, Tibet.

Shopping on the Barkor

A smaller alleyway found near the Barkor in Lhasa, Tibet.

Prostrating in front of the Jokhang

Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims prostrate themselves before the Jokang, Tibet's most holy monastery, in Lhasa, Tibet.

Prostrating and praying in front of the Jokhang in Lhasa, Tibet

Tibetan pilgrims worship in front of the Jokhang by prostrating themselves repeatedly.

Go here to see more photos from the Jokhang and Barkor.

Go here to see many more photos from Tibet.

This is the seventh article on my travels to Tibet.  The next will also be about Lhasa – The Potala Palace and Norbulinka.  The last was about Yushu, far away from Lhasa in Qinghai Provence.  The rest of the articles can be found here.

As always,
Thanks for reading!

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Categories: PHOTOGRAPHY, Tibet, TRAVEL, UNCATEGORIZED | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Lhasa, Tibet – The Jokhang and Barkor

  1. Pingback: Yushu, Tibet (China) « Neil Wade's Photography Blog

  2. Pingback: Lhasa, Tibet – The Jokhang and Barkor « Neil Wade's Photography Blog | Tibet Cares

  3. Sheryl

    You really only been there in 7 days? How could you take so many many amazing photos within such short period of time? The light, the smoke, the color…and I like the way you got so close to the targets but they were still acting so…leisurely. The light of the last photogragh looks like the one took early in the moring. Tibet is a colorful and mysterious place for me. The market in the alleyway is the most familiar :P

    • Thanks Sheryl. I stayed in a hotel just behind the Jokhang on the Barkor. So every time I entered or left my hotel, I was in the Barkor! (I actually feel like I didn’t cover it well enough!) I have two more posts coming from Lhasa: One from the Potala Palace and the Norbulinka, and another from places I visited in the near vicinity.

  4. Beautiful blog and beautiful captures of Lhasa. Your focus in Lhasa says a lot about your views of Tibet itself. It was a wonderful read with wonderful images! Thank you

  5. jadesmith09

    The picture with the prayer candles is beautiful. You captured the moment well. I love the colors in these pictures: all the murals on the buildings. Traveling to Tibet must have been an amazing experience. Thanks again for sharing these images!

  6. rantingcynic

    This is on the top of my to-go list, and these picture just affirmed why, thank you.

  7. Thank you for sharing these amazing images and the story of your experience. Lhasa fascinates me, and I hope to make it there in the next few years.

    • Thanks Charlene. I hope you get there too. If you do, try to get outside of Lhasa for a days or two, there’s a completely different vibe outside of the city. I’ll try to have some posts up from those areas soon.

  8. Great to see such amazing photographs.
    Isn’t it quite amazing to see such activity seeing from the Buddhist devout inside the monastery.

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