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October 22nd 2008
Published: October 22nd 2008
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Lhasa is the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China. The name supposedly comes from the Tibetan word for 'goat', ra, combined with the word for 'earth', sa. Supposedly the site for the Jokhang was over a lake that had to be filled in before construction could take place. A goat was used to carry the earth to fill in the lake. Why a lake? Well, the king at the time had 3 wives and the Nepali wife threw her ring into the lake, indicating the site of the Jokhang. And what could the king do? Certainly not go against his wife's wishes, right?

The Jokhang is a monastery and temple complex in Lhasa, dating to the 7th century. It is full of the kind of atmosphere you would expect with the smell of incense, dozens of butter lamps, endless rows of Buddha statues, and crimson-cloaked monks. However, photgraphy is restricted and the rooms that had the most interesting sights were off-limits to cameras. This has been a trend in my visit to Tibet.

The roof of the Jokhang has wonderful views of Lhasa, including that of the Potala Palace. The Palace dates from the same time as the Jokhang. The number of visitors per day is limited and you must get your ticket a day in advance. You are also assigned a time at which you can enter. The reason for crowd control is obvious onceyou get inside the narrow passageways and climb the steep stairs. The palace is reached by a series of steep stairs that can leave many visitors gasping for breath. Once inside the courtyard you can see the main part of the palace but photography is forbidden inside. There are many soldiers and security-types around as well, presumably to ensure compliance with the rules.
There are many chapels and tombs of the previous Dalai Lamas. They are made of gold or silver and covered in jewels. There are also elaborate mandalas that would have taken years to construct. There is no doubt that many years went into the construction of these objects.
And again, dozens of Buddhas. I lost track of which was the Future Buddha or Buddha of Compassion or Protector, etc. Also, there are many pilgrims making offerings to the Buddha and lighting yak-butter lamps.

Next we were off to Norbulinka which was the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama. There are some smaller palaces in this pleasant garden area and also a few monks chanting and banging cymbals and striking drums. Again, no photos allowed at what was obviously the best time to take them. The palace of the 14th(and present) Dalai Lama was the most striking. It was completed in 1956 and he fled from here in 1959. You can see his meeting rooms, throne-room, living-room, even bathroom. They are all highly decorated and amazingly beautiful. It struck me that thousands, perhaps millions have been here in the almost 50 years since he left and he wll most likely never set foot here again.


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