Sunday, October 7, 2007

Lhasa. The Jokhang Monastery and Barkhor Square.


Sightseeing on the first day in Lhasa began with a visit to the Jokhang Monastery. On the way, we walked through some of the sidestreets surrounding Barkhor Square. The streets were packed with locals - some to do their daily marketing and others on their way to join the pilgrim circuit that circumvents Barkhor Square.

Vendors were lined on either side, displaying their produce and wares for sale.

Yak cheese. I discovered that yak cheesecomes in different forms e.g., cubed, shaved, string. The amount that is available for sale is dizzying.
Yak butter which is consumed (mixed into tea is common) as well as burned. There are giant vessels of yak butter lighting up the interiors of monasteries. Unlike cow's milk butter, which has a slightly sweet aroma when it's melted, yak butter has a game scent to it. Juniper leaves and branches. These are offered "whole" as well as crushed to varying degrees. The powder form is burned as incense and you can smell it everywhere you walk throughout the Barkhor Square area. Yak meat. Tibetan Buddhists do not kill animals though they do eat meat. Here, the butchers are Muslims. Often you'll see small bowls of juniper being burned under the hanging meat. I don't know if this is intended to add flavor to the meat or to keep the flies away.

In addition to fresh yak meat, dried yak is also sold.
Monks are everywhere here and they can come here to buy the crimson colored cloth and other accessories for their dress.
And since Barkhor Square is a haven for tourists, there were countless vendors selling souvenirs.
After a short walk, we soon arrived at the point where you see a whole lot of people walking in a clockwise direction. We had reached the pilgrim's circuit or kora.
We joined the walk and continued to soak in the scenery along the way. Every now and again, you would catch a very strong whiff of juniper incense. Massive quantities are burned in huge ceramic ovens that are scattered throughout the Barkhor Square area.
Following the kora, we eventually arrived at Jokhang Monastery.
We passed through the entry gate into an interior courtyard. The decoration is elaborate and very colorful.
A few minutes to look around and then we headed to the interior chapels where photograhy was not allowed.
The chapels are dark and dank with a few incandescent lamps but mainly yak butter lamps to light the way. The smell of burning yak butter is so heady that sometimes it was difficult to breathe. The stone floor is slick - covered with (I'm guessing) yak butter that has burned and evaporated onto the floor. The dark walkways punctuated by display cases holding sculptures of Bhudda and past kings of Tibet. Money both real as well as that which is printed just for the purpose of being used as offering, was strewn about everywhere as well as stuck into every nook and cranny possible.

After we saw all that we could, we exited the chapels and headed to the rooftop of the monastery. I could finally catch a breath of fresh air.
From above, we could catch a view of Barkhor Square and the Potala Palace beyond. ...and of the devout pilgrims prostrating below. Each pilgrim is to prostrate 108 times.From the monastery rooftop, I could also see the mountains that surround Lhasa. After a few minutes of enjoying the scenery from the rooftop, we exited the monanstery and the group broke up to go their separate ways. It was a pretty amazing morning and there was more to come in the afternoon, including a chance encounter with a Tibetan monk - a definite highlight of my first day in Lhasa!