We spend the day in central Lhasa and start at the Jokhang Temple which is the most revered religious structure in Tibet. It was initially constructed in mid-7th Century with the site selected by the King’s Chinese wife and situated over a river. Over time the buildings have undergone numerous renovations, however, the most dramatic were done by the 5th Dalai Lama in 17 Century. Weathering the destruction of the Cultural Revolution, it was restored again in 1980. It still exhumes the dark, mysterious corridors filled with butter lamps and burning incense.
We arrive to find extreme security surrounding the temple grounds both on the ground and the rooftops. This is the most police we have seen – all in full riot gear. The grounds are filled with people: Tibetans, Chinese, foreigners, pilgrims. Some in traditional costumes, others in tee shirts with outrageous English sayings (which they probably have no clue of the real meaning), heavy wool sweaters and dresses, as well as short sleeved shirts and skirts. Our guide has a friend so we cut the line shaving off a good 30-45 minutes of waiting. When we go inside it is a hive, people moving everywhere, squished against one another. We move to the 2nd floor in a very tight corridor, no windows, dim lighting, and unrecognized odors of all source. It is a slice of Asian humanity. It is hard to keep back a panic attack — if anything ever happened at this moment, there would be a stampede with no place to go.
There are a number of important images and chapels in the temple, the most important chapel being that of Jojo Sakyamuni. Statutes, pictures and all types of artifacts are found in each sacred space. The outdoor roof area permits better views of the building architecture and serves as a gathering place for the limited number of monks who remain.
Our lunch at Lhasa Place is nearby. It too is another wanna be backpacker’s food haven. The Barkhor shopping area is also in the area.
We move on to the Dali Lama’s summer palace, Norbulingka. Although we walked outside the grounds, this time we were able to visit the interior buildings. We toured the new Summer Palace from which the current Dalai Lama escaped. Artifacts of his life remain in his meditation room, bedroom, receiving area, and teaching spot for tutors, etc. It is interesting that this compound has been relatively untouched since the 14th Dalai Lama resided there.