Lhasa - a visit to the Jokhang Temple by Mark Sukhija

13th July 2009

View of the Jokhang Temple seen from the Barkhor Square in central LhasaView of the Jokhang Temple seen from the Barkhor Square in central Lhasa

After a somewhat unsettled nights sleep at high altitude, we set out for the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa. There was a visible security presence on the streets of Lhasa - presumably related to the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama heading into exile in India and last years troubles. It's been a long time seen since I've seen security on this scale before - I don't even recollect the army being on the streets of communist Czechoslovakia in the late '80s.

Detail of the roofing running around the Jokhang TempleDetail of the roofing running around the Jokhang Temple
Gilded rooftops of the Jokhang TempleGilded rooftops of the Jokhang Temple
Spinning prayer wheels along an aisle way inside the Jokhang TemplePrayer wheels along an aisle way inside the Jokhang Temple

We approached the Jokhang Temple through Barkhor Square and the surrounding market place. We paused in the square while our guide provided us with the a brief history of the temple from its construction in the 7th Century by King Songsten Gampo. Standing four stories high with guilded roofs - the Jokhang Temple, still one of the major places of pilgramage in Tibetan Buddhism, is a mightily impressive sight.

As we approached the Temple, getting also closer to the market, the pilgrims making the popular devotional circumabulation were in abundance. Making their slow wat around the temple through the market areas the pilgrims prostrate themselves.

Inside the temple, the distinctive odour of Yak butter permeating the air, pilgrims quietly queued as they ambulated through the various chapels of the temple. Statues of the Buddha adorn the chapels - each of which the pilgrims visit. The walls are exhaustivly decorated with stories of Shakyamuni and the stories of Buddhism.

View of the Borkhar Square and Himalayan Mountains seen from the top of the Jokhang templeView of the Borkhar Square and Himalayan Mountains seen from the top of the temple
View of the market and Himalayan Mountains seen from the Jokhang templeView of the market and Himalayan Mountains seen from the Jokhang temple

It seems somehow inappropriate to talk of the "ambience" of a temple, or any religous monument, but the silence, shuffling feet, the scent of Yak butter candles and subdued light surrounded by idols of Buddha and walls adorned with stories is the clearest sign of devotion of the local people to Buddha and Buddhism. Each pilgrim waited patiently for his or her turn, quietly and with complaint for their "turn" in the chapel. Yak butter was added to each candle and donations willingly given.

I don't know much about Buddhist art or architecture - but I was very firmly impressed with the level of workmanship in the Jokhang temple. Wall-paintings and scultpures adorned the temple throughout. I did do some reading about this - but some of the stories are still lost on me in a way they wouldn't have been in in a Christian church. Perhaps I should have read more about Tibetan art as well? Either way, I was impressed. A temple being used for what it's supposed to be used for! Not something that can be said for many of the churches in Rome

Outside the actual holy ground of temple, within the complex, a different, but still reverant feel, permeated the place. We ascended to the first floor and onto the roof - which provided and excellent close up view of the highly decorated and gilded roof tops. Views over the market area of Borkhar with the majestic Himalayan mountains in the background are, simply, wonderful.


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Further reading

Trip to the Potala Palace - Travelogue from our morning spent in the Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet

Chengdu - three day stay in Chengdu - Travelogue from Chengdu, including the Wenshu Temple during our 18 day trip to China

Chengdu - trip to the Wenshu Temple - Travelogue from our afternoon in the Wenshu Temple in Chengdu

Solar Eclipse (2009) in China - the schedule - Travel plans for the 2009 Total Solar Eclipse. Includes China travel information

The train leaving Lhasa -

Impressions of China - a travelogue - Impressions of China by adventure couple Dave and Deb from theplanetD.com

China and Tibet - travel goals and achievements - Goals and acheivements for our travels to China and Tibet

Chengdu - video clip of the Wenshu Temple - Video showing the inside of the Buddhist Wenshu Temple in central Chengdu, China

Hangzhou - 2009 eclipse totality - Video clip showing totality of the 2009 eclipse as seen from Hangzhou

Leshan - video clip of the Giant Buddha - Video clip showing the Giant Buddha at Leshan in China

About Mark Sukhija

Mark Sukhija is a travel and wine blogger, photographer, tourism researcher, hat-touting, white-shirt-wearing, New Zealand fantatic and eclipse chaser. Aside from at least annual visits to New Zealand, Mark has seen eclipses in South Australia (2002), Libya (2006), China (2009) and Queensland (2012). After twelve years in Switzerland, Mark moved back to London in 2012. You can follow Mark on Twitter or Facebook