After my girlfriend and I rejoined the tour group we went to visit the Jokhang Temple. This is one of the most important temples in Tibet, which is evidenced by the many people constantly praying outside the temple. They had prayer mats with them, which seems to indicate that they do this for a long time.
Inside the temple is a small courtyard where a few monks were sitting and praying. We had to follow a specific path around the courtyard, until we got to the back where we could visit the interior of the temple. The interior has two large Buddha statues in the center, with several long mats in a row in front of it. Around the outer wall were several statues and paintings of pretty much every Bhuddist incarnation, Bodhisattva, god and story that you could think of.
One thing about Jokhang Temple is that it is the first time I haven’t felt the Tardis-effect. This temple seemed just as small on the inside as it looked from the outside. This is probably down to the fact that the style of the building is more similar to Indian or Nepalese architecture than Chinese architecture.
Our Tibetan tour guide took us through the highlights. Tibetans have different names for the Buddhist gods, so he would compare them to the Chinese versions so my girlfriend could relate. There were a few things that we missed, but we needed to be on with our tour.
To the Rooftop
Next we started our ascent to the roof of the temple. This is when it started raining. We ended up taking shelter on the first floor, where several gift shops had been set up. We noticed that there were several cats wandering around and that food had been placed out for them. The cats weren’t too friendly with us, but they seemed to like the monks.
When the rain cleared we finally climbed on to the roof. The main draw here is the gilt roof on top of the Jokhang Temple, but for me being able to see Old Town from above was the best thing about this. Lhasa Old Town is probably the only place in China that doesn’t have sky scrapers, so it’s almost like looking out over an ancient town. I couldn’t help but think that this place would be great for parkour, or make an awesome Assassin’s Creed level.
It was time to leave, but Yi wanted to go back and look at the exhibits we had missed the first time we went around the interior of the temple. I asked our tour guide what was next and he said that we were going to have free time until we met to go out drinking later, so we opted to stay in the temple and meet up with them later on.
When we went back inside the monks were coming out into the temple to meditate. They sat down along the long prayer mats forming several rows facing the middle. One monk who was older and wearing slightly different robes sat down on a slightly elevated pray mat. They each started praying with their prayer beads, swaying as they did so. They seemed to use their prayer beads similar to how they are used in Catholicism – saying a different prayer with each bead. Their prayers were loud chants which was lou enough to fill the whole room.
While this was going on a few people had been let into a small side section by a monk not taking part in the prayers. They would go up to the monk and hand him a 100 RMB note and get several 1 RMB notes in return. They were then allowed to go into the chanting area one by one. When each of them went in they would place 1 note in front of each monk as a donation. When they had finished doing this they would hand the remaining notes to the monk that had allowed them in. Some would ask for the change, whereas others seemed to donate the rest to the temple. This seems a common theme here in Tibet – donate within your means with no fear of judgement.
The monks continued chanting as more people were let in and out to donate to the monks and the temple. After a while we left the temple to wander the streets of Lhasa until our big night out in New Town.