TIBET – My first experience in Lhasa: a half day at the Jokhang Temple

Tibet has dominated my top bucket list for a long time. This abruptly ended when the IHG Rewards Club included the Intercontinental Lhasa Paradise on their point break list back in 2015. This meant I could stay for just 5000 points per night including breakfast. Those points I earned earlier through promotions and stays (I value those around 30 euro per 5000 points). I didn’t hesitate and booked for my son and me for a 10 night stay. We arrived from Shang-ri La by plane in the morning and after lunch we explored the Jokhang Temple. It would be our first experience in Tibet during these 10 days we stayed in Lhasa; it was a good one!

Getting adjusted to the altitude in Lhasa

Lhasa is the capital of the autonomous region of Tibet in China. At an altitude of 3600 meters it’s wise to not do lots of intensive activities the first days. Due to the altitude you can get easily sick because of less oxygen in the air. As we travelled through the Yunnan Province in China before going to Tibet we already got used to the altitude. Only during day trips which went up to 5600 meters at for example the Namtso Lake we still had to take it easy. Lhasa really amazed me and my son. It has an authentic Tibetan charm which is a great experience but it has also a lot of expansion with modern Chinese construction. That’s not helping to keep the traditional atmosphere and it just looks like any other Chinese city. As we arrived in the morning we decided to explore the Jokhang Temple and the streets radiating from it in the afternoon. The Potala Palace we would visit another day together with some other sights in Lhasa.

 

The Jokhang Temple

The Jokhang Temple is the most sacred temple of the Tibetans. It stands at the center of twelve other temples. Four located in central Tibet, four at the borders and the other four in between them. These temples were built to control the demoness Shrin Ma. The Tibetans believe she is against the development of Buddhism in Tibet. It took nine centuries to develop the Jokhang Temple as it can be seen today.

Ancient texts say that the temple was founded in the middle of a lake. King Songtsen Gampo, the first king of Tibet and who ordered the construction of the temples, threw his hat in a lake and a stupa appeared. Gampo decided that this was the place the Jokhang Temple should be erected. Other texts say that the place was chosen due to its location by the two wives of Gampo. His first wife Bhrikute came from Nepal and brought an Akshobhya Buddha as a gift which is now located in the Ramoche Temple. His second wife called Wenchang, born in China, married him after he won a small battle against her father. She brought a Shakyamuni Buddha as a gift which is now located in the Jokhang Temple. Whether it was a miracle or Feng Shui planning the lake was filled leaving a small pond. This pond is now the well of the Jokhang Temple. The first temple was constructed in the middle of the 7th century. It was a small temple of two floors and some halls around it. The current temple is visited today by thousands of pilgrims a year.

Architecture of the Jokhang Temple

Over time the temple was enlarged and rebuilt several times. The last time in the early 17th century by the 5th Daila Lama. In times of war the two Jowo Buddha statues were hidden. They were never found by the enemy and can still be seen today. The outside of the temple is colored in the traditional white, red and gold decorations found on temples and monasteries throughout Tibet. When you enter you first arrive in the main hall. A large hall where the monks pray and in the front you see a large Buddha statue.

 

Photography was not allowed inside but they just told me that after the above picture. The interior of the temple is a dark maze with hundreds of Buddha statues. Everywhere the butter candles light up the rooms to a dusky level of light. The main Jowo is kept in a shrine at the back of the temple. I was not allowed to actually enter there but could see it through bars. Small chapels are scattered throughout the temple housing various Buddha statues. Exploring the inside of the Jokhang temple gave me a kind of magical feeling. It’s a unique place which I cannot compare to any other place I have been to. After exploring the interior we went up to the roof. From there you have a beautiful view on the Potala Palace.

At the roof you can see a large Dharma wheel with a deer. The roof is covered by bronze gilded tiles and on top of the wall you can see different figures. After visiting the temple it was time to walk around it.

Walking around the Jokhang Temple

To walk around the complex and do what the Tibetans do will take about 45 minutes. It will actually take more time as you will probably like me watch the people. Around the temple there are many small and big prayer wheels to spin. The Tibetan pilgrims are also spinning one in their hands continuously. The real serious pilgrims even crawl parts around the temple and into it until they reach the Jowo Buddha. In front of the Jokhang Temple is a place for prayer. I just sat down there watching the people pray. Do show respect and they will give you a smile.

 

Walking around the temple and spinning the wheels is interesting. I just sat down at some places together with my son to watch the pilgrims. To make photos I always asked the people or made a pointing move from the camera to them. If they nodded yes I made a picture if not I respected them. You will see that not everyone wants a picture due to their beliefs but if you ask politely many agree.

I had a great time at the sacred Tibetan Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. Exploring this sacred place is a unique experience full of interesting stories. I loved to watch the pilgrims finishing their pilgrimage in the temple. Together with my son I spent the full afternoon there after which we got hungry. At a local restaurant we had raw yak meat amongst other dishes.

If you plan a trip to Tibet you certainly will arrive in Lhasa first. Make sure you visit the Jokhang Temple which is the most sacred place in Tibet. Read my other stories about Tibet and China to read about my other adventures in this beautiful country. It’s a beautiful, magical and spiritual place.

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Gallery Jokhang Temple

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.