When I first thought about travelling to Tibet, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It just sounded like an exciting, scenic, religious, and mystical country to visit, and that was before I began to do my research. Now that we are here, literally sitting on top of the world, I can say that I have not been disappointed.
The “Travel China Guide” tells us that Tibet’s history “began about 4,000 years ago, when living was simpler. Lhasa is Tibet’s political, economic, cultural and religious centre with abundant cultural relics, including the world’s highest palace complex, the Potala Palace, which was built over 1,300 years ago.”
We’ve all heard of the Dalai Lama – he’s the head monk from the Gelug, or “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism. The current Dalai Lama, living in exile, is the 14th Dalai Lama, and the Potala Palace was his chief residence (and for those before him) until he fled to India during the 1959 Tibetan uprising. The Palace is now a museum, and a standout landmark on Lhasa’s landscape.
I’d seen pictures of the Potala Palace, but you can’t really get a sense of its majestic presence until you stand before it. It is believed that the Palace sits over the remains of an earlier fortress, built in 637 by King Songtsan Gampo. It was the 5th Dalai Lama who started construction of the Palace in 1645. The building is massive! It measures 400m wide x 350m deep x 300m high, with sloping stone walls averaging 3m thick. It’s 13 stories hold over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues. It’s white and red façade is amazingly striking. The white palace was the living quarters of the Dalai Lama, and used for political dealings, with the red palace used exclusively for religious study and Buddhist prayer. The Potala Palace has been labelled as the greatest monumental structure in all of Tibet.
Another popular Lhasa landmark for both Tibetan’s and tourists alike, is the Jokhang Temple, which sits in the centre of Lhasa’s old town. For most Tibetans, it is the most sacred and important temple in all of Tibet.
The Temple was founded during the reign of King Songtsan Gampo, 1,300 years ago. The temple was built for his two brides, Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang dynasty, and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. Both wives are said to have brought important Buddhist statues and images from China and Nepal to Tibet as part of their dowries, and today, the Buddhist statue brought by Princess Wencheng is housed in the Jokhang Temple. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
The Temple is a very important pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists. Pilgrims come from all corners of Tibet, usually on foot. The most devout pilgrims cover the last several kilometer’s to the Temple prostrate, on the ground. On a daily basis, a continual stream of Pilgrims, both young and old, circumambulate the temple on the Barkhor, a sacred path running around the Temple’s outside walls. Most Pilgrims wear traditional dress, and many perform this ritual in a prostrate position, virtually crawling their way around. The activity and emotion draws you in, and we found ourselves joining the Pilgrims on their journey.
What an amazing display of devotion!
Pilgrims undertake similar journey’s around the Potala Palace and many other sacred sites across Tibet. Both the Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.