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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for reading!