Jokhang Temple and Around, Lhasa, Tibet

Yak Hotel Breakfast

The hotel breakfast was a surprise, all western food and American/British at that – eggs, toast, porridge, muesli, cereal, and coffee.  I miss the Chinese breakfast of dumplings and noodles though.  The new rooftop restaurant had an outside patio with a great view of the Potala.  A beautiful morning, not too cold with just enough clouds in the sky to make it interesting. It’s amazing what you could see from the restaurant – rooftop shanty dwellings, solar panels and pots that are rigged to cook from solar panels.

Walk Around Jokhang Temple

After breakfast we walked around the market area near the Jokhang temple with stalls of all sorts of vegetables, meats – emitting a sort of nauseating smell, yak butter and spices. 

We soon came across the pilgrims making their way around the Jokhang temple in the required clockwise direction.  Most of them were older, very dark and wrinkled from the sun and hadn’t bathed in a while. Many twirled prayer wheels and chanted. Some prostrated every few steps.  You couldn’t help but be engulfed by the flow of people making their way to the temple.

Jokhang Temple

From the outside, the Jokhang temple looked much like other Tibetan buildings – white-washed block structures.  The difference is the people prostrating in front of the building, not just the obvious pilgrims, but people in western dress prostrating on pads rather than the hard stone ground.

The entrance fee for foreigners is a steep 70 yuan ($9) but includes a DVD.  No pictures are allowed inside the temple.

To enter the temple you need to merge into the crowd of pilgrims and are immediately assaulted by their focus and depth of devotion, the smell of burning yak butter and the colors and patterns of the temple and surrounding chapels.  Every square inch of the temple’s interior is intricately painted.  The floor is slick with yak butter. The lighting is very low – only flickers from the yak butter candles and a bit of sunlight filtering through two stories above.  The inner sanctum is ringed with a hallway of deities and chapels.  Pilgrims walk in a clockwise direction visiting each chapel, chanting prayers and leaving a mao (1/10 of a yuan) in slots in the clear plastic protective case enclosing the deities. 

We then went to the roof with awesome views of the Potala, the Bakhor Plaza and a bird’s eye view of the pilgrims prostrating before the temple.

Barkhor Market

We found our way to the large Barkhor indoor market with an amazing selection of fresh vegetables, not unlike the vegetable markets in other Chinese cities.  The market also includes a meat area with big slabs of meat on tables and table after table of yak butter. The upstairs was stuffed with dry goods.

Meals and Other Logistics

We had lunch at the Third Eye on Beijing Dong Lu which was quite good.  The menu was a long list of Western, Indian, Nepalese and quasi oriental dishes.  No Tibetan dishes, however.  I had a vegetarian dish of a pressed patty of sorts in a spicy curry sauce with chapati (a fresh hot flat bread).  Don had fresh cooked oriental chicken kebabs on a bed of rice.

I called Jampa from the trekking company after lunch.  I really should have called him yesterday as he was wondering where we were.   We met him and the cook at 4pm at the hotel.  Jampa was a tall, lanky, light skinned Tibetan dressed in jeans, t-shirt, sandals and a North Face jacket.  The cook was a dark skinned, small smiling man that I suspect understands a lot of English but spoke little.  Jampa inspires confidence in the quality of our upcoming 4-day trek from Ganden to Samye.  He told us he was so confident it would go well that we could pay him after the trip.

Don and Dan decided they had acclimated enough that they should celebrate with happy hour at the Dunya. 

Dinner was at the Snowland restaurant.  We tried some Tibetan dishes including shya vale, quite tasty flat meat pies and momos, the local dumplings that looked and tasted like jiaozi and were served with a spicy sauce. We also had our first taste of another Tibetan staple, tsampa (roasted barley flour). It’s mixed with yak butter (naturally) and hand molded into small, uncooked dumplings. They were probably very sustaining and didn’t taste too bad, but I have to think that there is some secret to eating them that we weren’t let in on. For dessert we tried the yak butter fried ginseng – small, bitter, soft root sections that had a faint sweet buttery taste.

May 19, 2006