Barkhor, Jokhang, and Potala

Trip Start Nov 16, 2007
Trip End Dec 10, 2007

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Second day was a packed day.  We visited Jokhang Monastery in the morning.  It was quite a scene with pilgrims prostrating in front of the monastery and with a constant crowd circling the monastery in the clockwise direction.  We couldn't find the entrance, but we did see a long line of people who seemed to be awaiting entry.  So we joined them.

I wished we had taken a picture of the line.  There was no room what-so-ever to even fit in a fly.  It was a crushing half hour in line.  I couldn't understand why everyone pushed so hard against the people in front.  That is until I saw a man trying to cut in line when a small gap opened up.  Police is closely monitoring the line too.  When they see someone on the edge or the line bulging a bit, they'll yell and force people to form a straight line again.  Unfortunately, the hard hand seemed necessary to keep order. 

As it turned out, we didn't need to wait in line.  The line was pilgrims who want to go through the prayer wheel and statues.  We stepped out of line and entered through the entrance, where we spotted people coming in and out of it freely. 

The inside was just as lively as the outside.  The first thing we saw was the courtyard.  There was a monk on top of a small platform pouring buckets of water into a container.  The container had a hose running from it to drain away excess water.  We found out later why there was a line of people at the end of the hose catching the water.  It was sacred water, and the Tibetans drink it believing it will bring them good luck.

Inside of the monastery was dark and was heavy with the smell of yak butter.  Chinese burn incense as an offering to the gods; Tibetans burn yak butter.  There were tubs of yak butter everywhere, and it seemed every Tibetan was carrying a bottle of yak butter and a spoon to scoop the butter into the big tubs.  Everywhere we turned, there was someone pushing us out of the way.  The monestary was packed with pilgrims, and nothing could get in their way when they are paying homeage to the gods.  We went into the rooms that we could squeeze ourselves into; while others, we didn't even attempt.  Besides, we already lost track of all the different deities and guardians.

The floor was littered with money in some rooms as Tibetans also gave money as part of the prayng.  It's amazing considering every penny (or jiao in this case) counted for most Tibetans as they are quite poor.   After the chaotic pushing and shoving of the statue rooms, we found or way to the roof.  It was night and day!  We had the roof to ourselves, and we wondered around without running into people.  Snapped a few photos of the roof and of the Potala Palace aross the ways.

As we were leaving, we passed the courtyard again.  The monk was still there pouring water, but there was also a group of Tibetan women singing and dancing.  Every woman seemed to know the song and dance as more and more joined the fun. 

The afternoon was reserved for Potala Palace.  It was an anti-climax after the excitement of Jokhang.  After huffing and puffing our way up the stairs to the entrance, we explored the quiet complex.  Explore is not the right word as only a fraction of the rooms were open to visitors.  For the rooms that were opened, they contained plaques explaining the function of the room.  It felt like a musuem.  No old Tibetan lady pushing her way through the crowd.  No spontaneous singing and dancing.  There were, however, Chinese soldiers watching the curious tourists.
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