Sacred Jokhang Temple and Sera Monastery, Wednesday 10/14/15

Built in the 7th Century, Jokhang Temple in the heart of Lhasa is the holiest site in Tibetan Buddhism, attracting crowds of prostrating pilgrims and curious foreign tourists like ourselves.  We'd been told on the bus about the large square and the devoted Buddhists that come from all areas, but no one could have prepared me for this unforgettable day.  We saw the faithful, most in native dress, circling clockwise as they approached the two smoking incense kilns, throwing bits of greenery (I guess incense), some adding tiny cups of water for more smoke.  Many carried spinning prayer wheels.  This is a very holy place; dedicated come from afar to partake of this religious celebration, even young people with "selfies."

Women wearing horizontally-striped aprons are married.

They came to offer themselves to Buddha, to worship.

We saw sweet-faced swaddled babies carried by their parents.  All ages came, moving slowly like a languid river of people.  Some chanted softly.  Quite a few carried thermoses which we discovered held liquid butter to pour (little bits) in candle-lit troughs inside the temple, paying homage.  We watched, enthralled, yet feeling like intruders on a sacred rite, or maybe it was just me.  Friendly eyes found ours and smiles sometimes met ours as we joined in the procession.

Our group entered the temple's interior, no hats or photos allowed, merging with the masses.  No pushing, no shoving.  It was a dark labyrinth of chapels, illuminated only by the candles and smoky from incense, with more than 3,000 images of Buddha and other deities.  Paper money was placed at various Buddha images or icons, or stuffed into cracks, thrown over a railing.  People told their beads as they shuffled forward.

Jokhang Temple has three floors:  The first floor is a courtyard and after crossing a threshold, we were inside. The second floor has additional smaller temple rooms with many different faces of Buddha.  On the third floor, photos are allowed.  We looked down into the courtyard and even into the large square; it seemed as though the crowd had thinned.

Gilt roofing of the Jokhang.  (That's Jimmy's listening device (aka "whisper") around his neck. 

Irwin, Bernice, Joanne, Marilyn, Hu Lin, Mary, Bob, Jimmy, and Sheila, and yours truly taking the picture.

Dharma wheel flanked by golden deer.

Jokhang Temple is also part of UNESCO's World Heritage List, as an extension the Potala Palace (background).

After our remarkably moving morning, we walked to our lunch spot nearby.  The food was quite good, and as usual, there's always discussion about what we're eating, mostly guesswork.  99% of it was tasty.  And rice shows up at every meal!  This picture almost looks like a Norman Rockwell painting!  

This morning I tried a traditional Tibetan breakfast staple:  Tsampa, which is a scoop of barley flour, a spoonful of yak cheese bits, a dab of sugar and mixed with yak butter tea.  Oh yeah!  I called it gruel, but it was pretty good, good enough for me to have the next morning!  I'll leave out the impolite comments Jimmy and my friends had to say about it. 

So went our morning!  After lunch our group shopped around at the Barkhor Bazaar.  Jimmy and I splurged on a Thangka mandala, featuring the compassionate Buddha.  

Next we drove to Sera Monastery (which our guides pronounce:  moe-NAH-stir-ee), walking the grounds, turning prayer wheels. We were in luck because monks sitting on benches and dressed in red robes and yellow-crested headgear were chanting in the Great Hall.  We were allowed to walk quietly inside (sans hats and cameras) around the periphery, listening as they repeated their chant.  When they finished, we returned to our outdoor exploration.

It's nice that anyone can turn the prayer wheels. 

The young monk on the left was assisting the older monk to his residence.

This monastery has quite a history.  The numbers vary depending on who you talk to or which site you visit online, but the monastery no longer houses as many as it used to prior to the 1959 cultural rebellion. Visiting the monastery was another other-worldly experience for us.

Back to the hotel, Jimmy and I fell into bed for a "quick nap," and awoke at 6:15, just in time for our 6:30 dinner. I personally like the food (most of it); it's quite different from what I'm used to.  I'm not afraid to try something new. The two beds are comfy, but the real draw is the clean, white comforters, filled with soft material designed to keep us toasty.  We have no central heat in our room, but the management brought in a small electric heater to ward off morning and evening chills.  What a day!  We fell into those beds at 8:30 again, dead to the world.  

Another exciting day awaits us tomorrow!


  1. Do the people wear the face masks because of the incense? Fascinating day.

    1. Face masks are worn for a variety of reasons, one of which is vanity (to keep the facial skin lighter and smoother. Others would be to ward off unwanted smells or sickness.

  2. Great pictures! What a wonderful tour!

  3. What an amazing experience in Jokhang. I found myself feeling much the same way when we visited the temples in Thailand. Your phrase, "Friendly eyes found ours" was so eloquent and so true of our experience as well. Would love to see the mandala. Did you bring it home with you or have it sent? A beautiful day, an experience you will never forget. What a trip, and it has only just begun!

    1. Brought it with us and having it framed ... we'll take a pic for show'n'tell when we get it home.

  4. Spiritual experiences are so wonderful!

  5. Friendly eyes found ours ... beautiful. I have such a hard time with "people experience" as being shy in general, I always feel like I am intruding. I think what you describe here is most like my experiences in the small villages of Andean Peru where the locals were truly happy to have us amongst them.


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