Monday, December 04, 2006

The Jokhang

I didn't go into the Jokhang until my second day in Lhasa. Jasmine and I woke up early in the morning, in the hope that we could sneak in with the pilgrims, who got in for free when the Jokhang opened at 8. I had heard that at least half of the income from tickets to monasteries in Tibet went to the local government, so I didn't feel especially guilty about not paying the steep 70 kuai ($8.75) entrance fee.
The horizon was just getting bright when we got to the square in front of the Jokhang. It was officially 7:20, but since Lhasa is actually two hours behind the official Beijing time that all of China follows it was really only 5:20. Despite it being so early, the kora was already filled with pilgrims, many of whom prostrated ever few steps as they worked their way around the Barkhor. Since we still had time before the Jokhang opened we did a kora ourselves. The four insence burners around the Barkhor were filled with burning juniper insence; Jasmine and I bought our own bag from a vendor and added some. Most of the shops hadn't opened yet, and there were no other tourists.
Around 7:40 we lined up with the pilgrims in front of the Jokhang. When the doors opened everyone rushed in- a lot of people actually ran. I was surprised that none of the kids who came with their parents got crushed. I got separated from Jasmine, and couldn't find her afterward, but no one stopped me or tried to make me buy a ticket. I later found out that she met a pilgrim we had given money to the day before, and he took her around the Jokhang.
Once inside the Jokhang's front courtyard I lined up with the pilgrims to get into the inner hall. The line was watched by some guards, and moved slowly down a narrow hallway until finally coming out into the inner hall. The inner hall of the Jokhang was surrounded by small chapels which held statues of various Buddhas, Bodhistavas and other Tibetan holy figures. The Tibetan man in front of me showed me how to bow to each statue, and I left a mao (worth just over 1 cent) in front of each. I'm not a Buddhist, so I felt a little awkward doing this, but the Tibetans didn't seem to mind, and I figured that just as long as I was respectful it wouldn't do any harm.
Eventually we made out way to the main chapel, which held a large statue of the Buddha as a child called Jowo Sakyamuni. This is the holiest Buddha image in Tibet, and was brought there by the Chinese wife of one of Tibet's first great kings in the 7th century. One after another the pilgrims held their head against the statue's right leg, and then its left, until two burly monks on either side tapped them and made them move on. I also tapped both legs of the statue with my head, and I have to admit, it was a pretty intense experience.
After Jowo Sakyamuni, the pilgrim's line seemed to disintegrate. I walked around a bit more myself and checked out some of the other chapels. The chapels were basically all the same, so I began to get a little bored. The special thing about the Jokhang was less the temple itself (though it was more interesting than most) than the fact that it swarmed with pilgrims, all intensely focused. When it reached 10 and the tour groups started pouring in it started feeling more like a regular tourist sight, and I left soon after doing a kora around the inner sanctum and checking out the roof.

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