Monasteries and Prayer Wheels

Lhasa Travel Blog

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         At 9:30 this morning we met Ross outside of our hotel, eager to see more of Tibet. We began walking in the direction of the Barkhor, which is known as Lhasa's liveliest neighborhood, since it is often packed with pilgrims and locals planning to visit the nearby Jokhang Temple. On our way to the bustling center, Ross gave us an enchanting glimpse of ordinary Tibetan life as he took us through the neighborhoods that most tourists are not privy to encounter. We entered into a small courtyard surrounded by intimate apartments adorned with plants and brightly colored doors and windows. In the center of the courtyard stod five or six solar panels heating tea kettles. High above the building, prayer flags flapped in the wind, sending their prayers to the heavens.

We went down another dark alleyway to a more delapidated courtyard where we encountered a young Tibetan girl who bravely yelled out, "hello!" before cowering behind a stone structure.

          Before we knew it, we were intermingled with the crowdss of the Barkhor. We moved out of the way as Pilgrims, spinning prayer wheels, made several circuits around the kora, which runs clockwise around the Jokhang Temple. We browsed at the multitudes of stalls along the kora, which sell prayer wheels, jewelry, and a variety of statuettes. We entered a store where Tibetan artists meticulously painted thangkas depicting various subjects including astrology, the lives of the Buddhas, and mandalas. The air was filled with the scent of yak butter, sold in outdoor stalls to pilgrims who wish to burn it in the Jokhang Temple.

Next, I stopped to pose near a tall pole laden with prayer flags before we passed an outdoor fruit market.

          Instead of visiting the Jokhang Temple, which is typically packed with tourists, we opted to have Ross show us the local, familial monasteries and temples, which are much more intimate. We were fortunate to have Ross with us because we were about to visit monasteries not frequented by foreigners since they are not found in any tour books. In the first monastery, which was rather small in size, we witnessed monks chanting scriptures in deep, soothing voicess. There were to local women, also in the monastery, who were most likely on their daily round of worship.

         We then walked a bit further until we reached a building with a giant prayer wheel inside.

Eight or nine Tibetans had taken hold of the railing at its base and were walking in a clockwise direction, turning the wheel. Ross encouraged Jason and I to join in, so we did. After a couple of rounds, we exited the building and walked around its outside, spinning the sixty or so golden, cylindrical prayer wheels that lined the walls.

         Next, we visited another local monastery and temple, dimly lit with buckets of candless and yak butter, deposited by the visitors. We were even able to take a picture with one of the monkss, which we were told would never happen in the tourist-populated temples and monasteries. We delicately sat down next to the monk as Ross snapped our picture, which the monk was very curious to see! We then climbed up a set of extremely narros and steep stairs to the second floor, where there was a long line of locals waiting to be blessed by a monk seated inside the temple.

We watched from the side of the room as five or six Tibetans would kneel down in front of the monk at a time, their heads bowed. The monk would reverently chant as he poured holy water from a kettle over their heads. When their heads were soaked, he pulled out some type of branch, which he helf over each head as he continued to chant. The process was quite amazing to witnesss, as each person left with expressions of relief and gratitude on their faces.

          A visit to a third local temple and monastery was next on our list. After spinning another set of prayer wheels, we entered the cozy room where three monks sat and three Tibetan women bowed to the statues. Ross then led us up another frighteningly narrow and steep staircase to the roof of the monastery, which afforded us a breath-taking view of the Jokhang Temple and the nearby mountains.

         After a bit of unsuccessful souvenir shopping, we enjoyed a nice lunch near the Barkhor, followed by a dessert of Yak yogurt and honey. It was a bit sour in taste, but I actually enjoyed the sweet treat.

         Later in the day, Jason and I made the half hour walk back to the Barkhor, determined to get some serious souvenir shopping done. We figured that we would be much more productive without our tour guide hanging over our shoulder and attempting to advise us on what to buy and what not to purchase. We walked through the Barkhor slowly, browsing through each stall and contemplating which trinkets we couldn't live without. We became quite skilled at haggling, and didn't buy anything unless we could cut the asking price in half, at least. For example, after inquiring about the price of a bowl, we were told that it was 180 RMB for one. After standing firm with our price, and even walking away from the stall a couple of times, we left with three bowls for a total price of 100 RMB. As we shopped and haggled, groups of 12 soldiers from the People's Liberation Army would march behind us and around the kora every few minutess.

         During our shopping excursion in the Barkhor, we happened to catch sight of the first foreign tourists we had seen since arriving in Tibet. We gravitated towards each other, and we quickly learned that they were also from the U.S. In fact, one of the ladies in the group has a nephew who graduated from Santa Margarita High School the year after I did. Although we only chatted for a couple of minutes, it felt so good to have a decent conversation with someone in English!

         Later in the evening, Ross took us to a traditional Tibetan performance where we were able to enjoy dancing, singing, and even a reenactment of a Tibetan marriage ceremony. Since we were the only foreigners at the show, we had a table in the front row where they piled twelve plates of various Tibetan dishes for us to enjoy. We sampled barley cookies, barley tea, wheat rolls, a tomato dish, a potato dish, two kinds of soup, and three different meat dishes. During the show, a Chinese woman approached us and asked if she could take a picture of us. We smiled and posed since we are now getting quite used to what was previously an odd request!

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photo by: mountaingirl