Seeing the majestic Potala Palace in person will leave you in awe. This large, white complex in Lhasa is an architectural beauty and will not disappoint. After touring other parts of Tibet (see part 1) we finally made it to Lhasa which is the capital of Tibet and the heart of Tibetan Buddhism.
Old Town in Lhasa is centered around Barkhor Bazaar with old Tibetan-style buildings that are now shops and restaurants. We enjoyed spending time in the bazaar people-watching and taking in the local culture.
At the centre of the Bazaar is the 7th century Jokhang temple. It is a beautiful temple and was one of the most colourful ones we’d seen. There were many Tibetan Buddhists in traditional clothes making a Kora around the temple, including some prostrating themselves. Koras are often performed by Tibetan Buddhists. It is the clockwise circling around a Buddhist structure, for example: a mani stone, chorten, monastery complex or even a mountain or lake.
Jokhang is a very important site for Buddhists as it houses the only statue of Present Buddha that was made while he was alive. The temple was built in the 7th century when Buddhism was just becoming popular in Tibet. Before Buddhism most people practiced Bon, a type of animism. Legend says that Jokhang was built over a lake where Bon locals paid taxes to the king by sacrificing animals and children (!) to the lake.
Just outside of Lhasa is the Dreprung Monastery. It was built in 1416 when a lama had a dream that he would build an important monastery beside a large boulder. It is the largest monastery in Tibet and used to have as many as 10,000 monks. Today the number of new monks entering into the monkhood is much lower at all monasteries in Tibet as the Chinese government has imposed very strict entrance requirements.
Another monastery in Lhasa is the Sera monastery. Built in 1419 it is the 2nd largest monastery in Tibet. They have a really interesting teaching technique at this monastery. Daily ‘monks debates’, which sounds like an oxy-moron, is actually a fun display of teacher/student interactions. Young student monks are paired with an older student or instructor. The young ones ask the other questions about certain topics. If the younger monk disagrees, they make an over-exaggerated slap of their hands. This may go on for several minutes until they finally agree, and the young monk slaps their hands with both palms up. There were approximately 150 monks at the debate when we were there and they all looked like they were having fun. Here’s a short video of monk debates.
It was nearing the end of our trip, but we still had the most anticipated site to see, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Potala Palace. What an incredible site. It’s massive and very majestic. Set on a hill, Potala can be seen from many points in Lhasa, so we had seen it from a distance, but to be in front of it is awe-inspiring. The Palace was built on the grounds of an old 7th century monastery. The 5th Dalai Lama reconstructed it to be Potala Palace in the 17th century and incorporated 2 shrines from the original temple. It was used as the Dalai Lama’s residence for the 5th and all successive Dalai Lamas, until the current one had to flee Tibet as a youth.
Potala includes the White and Red Palaces. The White Palace has mostly halls, temples, and includes the yellow section. The yellow section is where the Dalai Lama would meet with important guests, sleep and study. The Red Temple has many shrines, 2 assembly halls and the tombs of the 5th to the 13th Dalai Lamas. Each tomb is a large, ornately decorated statue or chorten gilded in gold. The palace is beautifully decorated inside with colourful banners and paintings on the walls and ceilings. Throughout the Palace there are many old artifacts and statues of Buddha, Buddhist Goddesses, and Guru Rinpoche. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.
After our visit inside, we did a Kora around Potala and then visited a small nunnery at the base of the Palace. It was only one small room with statues. Later in the evening we went to see the Potala lit up. It was spectacular – a highlight of our trip.
Coming up next: Rhinos, Rafting and Flying in Nepal
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