Day 97: Lhasa (拉萨) – September 22nd

After staying in Lhasa for so long, we finally went to ‘other’ part of the “Historic Ensemble of Polata Palace”, the famous Jokhang Monastery (大昭寺). Built originally in 640s by Songtsan Gampo as a place to house Shakyamuni’s figure brought over by his two popular wives, one from inner China and another from Nepal.

Now, the monastery is the most important site of pilgrimage for Buddhists as they walk/prostrate (NOT to be confused with prostate) their way from thousands of kms away into the city of Lhasa, the Jokhang temple is their final destination…..if they actually make it. Many people can’t survive the treacherous journey, and die due to fatigue, severe cold or slipping into the rivers that line the roads into Lhasa. Its hard to describe what a prostration is, and its even harder to describe how difficult it is actually making the pilgrimage. And everyday, at the front of the monastery you’d see hundreds of Tibetans performing prostrations. From the young, to the elderly, male or female (but mostly elderly female), they all continue this tradition with a sense of fervor like no other.

The monastery doesn’t allow pictures and was rather small (compared to Potala Palace), but we managed to spent a good couple hours there listening to other people’s tour guides talk about the history and stories of the palace. Within the grand temple, the architecture is styled in a more Nepalese manner (see post from Jilong), and its most important relic is a ‘equal-sized’ statue of a 12 year old Shakyamuni decorated with gold. Tibetans were allowed to walk up close to the small, heavily guarded enclosure. Everyone else, unless if you have a ‘permit’ saying you’re a devout Buddhist, would require donating a small fee of $9000RMB which includes a small cup of gold paint (made with actual gold) for you to pay homage with by adding to the statue’s already gold body.

Unfortunately, most of whats left in the grand temple are actually remakes as most of the originals were either sacked or destroyed through time as different groups moved through the area. One crazy story: Not all pilgrims can make it into Jokhang, and as such other pilgrims have a unspoken responsibility of carrying a teeth of dead pilgrims with them. If they were to make it to Jokhang, they would take the teeth and gnaw it into a crevass of the columns in Jokhang to represent that the deads’ spirit has also made it to Jokhang, sometimes carrying half a dozen with them. So you’ll notice, all the columns have cloth wrapped around it, so either it is not to scare off tourists, or its a myth you can’t unravel without being tackled by the army of police that patrols this place.

And because we just placed an order for our laptop charger that ‘may’ arrive in 1-5days, we took a detour from Lhasa to the region of Shannan (山南).

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