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Attractions

JokhangTemple - Tibetan Buddhism center

The Jokhang, or "House of the Lord," is the holiest site in Tibet and is the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists. King Songtsen Gampo first built a temple here in the mid-7th century, but the structure that we see today is largely the result of reconstruction in the 17th century, commissioned by the Fifth Dalai Lama. The Jokhang houses the Jowo Buddha, a Buddhist sculpture brought as part of the dowry of the Chinese Princess Wencheng upon her arrival in Tibet. It is said that upon her husband, King Songtsen Gampo's death, the princess hid the sculpture in the temple. The miraculous survival of this ancient Buddhist sculpture makes it today one of Tibet's most revered images.

The Jokhang is built on what was formerly a lake. Several legends provide explanations for the selection of this unusual location. The most popular tells of how King Songtsen Gampo tossed a ring from his finger, swearing to build the temple wherever it fell. When the ring landed in the lake, a white stupa appeared magically and the Jokhang was constructed on this site. Another legend explains that Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal, on joining King Songtsen Gampo's court, perceived a great demoness in the Tibetan landscape. Having established that the demoness' heart lay beneath a small lake in Lhasa, she ordered the lake filled and the erection of the Jokhang Temple there.

Above the main entrance to the Jokhang is a golden, eight-spoked Dharma Wheel, flanked by two deer. The spokes of the wheel represent the Eight-fold Path (to enlightenment) and the deer serve as a reminder that Buddha gave his first sermon in a deer park. On any given day, one will be awed by the dozens of pilgrims bodily prostrating themselves before this entrance.

The walls of the first courtyard are lined with hundreds of votive lamps. This is the flickering doorway leading into one of Tibet's most intensely religious atmospheres. The first floor houses a series of chapels, each dedicated to a different deity, monk or king. Behind the numerous sculptures, the chapel walls are covered in vivid murals depicting relevant sutra and historical narratives. A circuitous path between the labyrinthine chapels eventually leads you to the inner sanctum, used daily for worship. At its centre, behind rows of cushions, stand larger than life size statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Outside, above the temple's third story rooftops are an agglomeration of pavilions, comprised of craftsmen's workshops and monks' living quarters. Here, you will glimpse monks debating in one of the numerous back courtyards or perceive their studying forms through the thin curtains of their quarters. Otherwise, looking out, you will enjoy spectacular views across the Barkhor, the pilgrimage route encircling the Jokhang Temple, and across the roofs of Lhasa towards the Potala Palace.

The Potala Palace - Emblematic landmark of Tibetan theocracy

The impetus for the construction of a palace on Lhasa's Red Hill came from King Songtsen Gampo (608-650) who commissioned it. This was smaller than its 5-square-mile (13-square-km) successor, which was named the Potala ("Pure Land," or "High Heavenly Realm"), after Mount Potalaka in India, the abode of Tibet's patron saint, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara of whom the Dalai Lama is the incarnation.

In 1645, the Fifth Dalai Lama (1645-1693), feeling confined at Drepung Monastery, ordered the construction of a new structure that would accommodate his new role as both a religious and political leader. The Potala was then built as the imposing and self-confident expression of the new theocracy. After the ascension of the Seventh Dalai Lama, who established a summer palace at the Norbulingka, the Potala was used predominantly during winter. Despite this, it always remained the emblematic focus of the Dalai Lama's government. Owing to the security afforded by its elevated position, until the mid-18th century it also served as a military fortress.

The palace contains over a 1000 rooms and is divided into two main sections. The first section, known as the upper "Red Palace" served a religious function, housing the living quarters of the Dalai Lama, the gold-plated tombs of eight previous Dalai Lamas, a library containing religious scriptures and numerous temples, chapels and shrines containing thousands of Buddhist sculptures. The second main section, known as the "White Palace" served a political function, incorporating the offices and living quarters of the Tibetan government, a seminary to train future government officials as well as a printing press. Another minor building, known as the Yellow Building, housed giant thankas, which were hung across the south face of the palace during the last day of the second lunar month.

Directly below these ceremonial areas were quarters for the monks and servants along with two treasuries, one for the Dalai Lama and the other for lesser Lamas and Regents. Lower still lay granaries and storehouses filled with gifts from pilgrims as well as the ever-present yak butter needed to light the Potala's countless votive lamps. At the base of the Potala, carved into rock, were dungeons where prisoners were kept closely guarded.

Measuring 100 meters in height, 400 meters east to west and 350 meters north to south, the inward-sloping stone walls are between three and five meters thick. Copper was poured into the palace foundations, and it is said that so much earth was used in its construction that a lake was made from the pit that was created. When you contemplate the Potala, this massive, beautiful yet forbidding structure, it is evident that its construction was a gigantic undertaking, yet one that has bequeathed to the world one of its most unique architectural treasures.

Drepung Monastery - used to be the largest monastery in the world

Jamyang Choje, a disciple of Tsongkhapa, founded Drepung Monastery in 1416. He is reputed to have been born to a wealthy family near the town of Samye and to have secured initial finances for the construction of the monastery from a wealthy childhood friend. Likewise, the immediate popularity of the monastery, which had some 2000 monks in residence within the first two years, is attributed to the support of wealthy family friends.

At its height, Drepung was the world's largest monastery, having over 10,000 monks in residence. In 1530, when the Second Dalai Lama made Ganden Palace his main residence, Drepung monastery became not only the primary residence of the Dalai Lama but also the political base for the Gelug monastic sect. As a result, the tombs of the Second to Fourth Dalai Lamas are at Drepung Monastery. From 1645, when the Fifth Dalai Lama established the Potala Palace as Tibet's political and spiritual headquarters, the bodies of later Dalai Lamas were entombed here instead.

At the time of Drepung's founding, seven tratsangs (or colleges) were instituted, each under the tutelage of one of Jamyang Choje's disciples. In the 18th century, however, the massive student body required the restructuring of the monastery into the current system of four colleges. Each tratsang had its own abbot, syllabus, dormitories, kitchens, etc., with Ngagpa specializing in esoteric teachings and the other three, Loseling, Gomang and Deyang, dedicated to esoteric disciplines. Of these, Loseling was the largest, at one time combining 23 khangtsen (or residences of study).

Drepung Monastery is of great historical importance not only in that it produced some of Tibet's most renowned spiritual leaders, but also in that it always enjoyed significant political influence. This was the case not only when the Dalai Lama ruled from the monastery itself but also afterwards, when the official residence was moved to the Potola Palace. For instance, the abbot of the Tshomchen wielded tremendous power within Lhasa's government.

While the monastery thankfully survived the Cultural Revolution relatively unscathed, more than half of its highest officials fled to India together with the Dalai Lama in 1959. A majority of the Drepung monks remaining in Tibet retired to secular life. As a result, there are now only about 600 monks in residence. Notwithstanding the paucity of its current monastic population, the continued preservation of Drepung's architectural structures make it one of Tibet's most important cultural legacies.

Sera Monastery - third pillar of the state

The three Gelug monasteries of Sera, Drepung and Ganden were known collectively as the "Pillars of the State". As such there was naturally political rivalry between them. This can even be seen in the naming of this monastery. Sera, meaning "merciful hail" are a challenge to Drepung monastery, whose name means "rice heap" in the sense that hail damages rice. This rebellious monastery, some of whose monks were famed for their soldiery last challenged power in 1947. In the course of this failed coup, they even made an attempt on the then Regent's life.

Founded in 1419, at its height, Sera monastery was residence to more than 5,000 monks and five monastic colleges. Although much less active now, with only several hundred monks currently in residence, one of the most interesting times to visit the monastery is in the afternoon when monks, after finishing their morning scripture classes, can be seen debating in the courtyard.

The monastery is made up of a tsokchen (Great Hall), three tratsangs (colleges that offer specialised studies) and thirty khangtsens (residential compounds with chapels reserved for monks coming from different areas of Tibet).

The tsokchen is Sera's largest building and the administrative center of the monastery. Built in 1710, the central assembly hall houses a statue of Sakya Yeshe, the founder of Sera, flanked by sculptures of the Fifth and Thirteenth Dalai Lamas. To the rear of the central assembly hall are four floors, each filled with chapels dedicated to various gods as well as the monks' quarters.

Sera Me Tratsang, built in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe, specializes in teaching novices the fundamental precepts of Buddhism. Its assembly hall is famed for a copper sculpture of Sakyamuni (Historical Buddha) as well as for murals adorning the numerous chapels. Ngagpa Tratsang was also built in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe and is the monastery's Tantric College. Sera Je Tratsang is the monastery's largest college and was responsible for the instruction of itinerant monks from outside the region. The famous debating courtyard is located with this tratsang.

Norbulingka - summer palace of the Dalai Lama

Norbulingka, meaning 'Treasure Park' in Tibetan, is situated in the western suburb of Lhasa City, at the bank of the Kyichu River, about one km (about 0.6 mile) southwest of Potala Palace. The garden covers an area of 360,000 square meters (about 430,000 square yards), with 374 rooms inside. It is the biggest man-made garden in Tibet Autonomous Region.

Construction began in the 1740s. The area used to be wasteland with wild animals, weeds and scrub which the Seventh Dalai Lama liked and often visited, and, as a result, the Qing magistrate had a palace built. Years later, Kelsang Potrang was built by order of the Seventh Dalai Lama. Later it was used as the Summer Palace for successive Lamas, where they solved the political problems and held festive celebrations. After a series of expansions and renovations, the appearance was improved with potrangs, pavilions, gardens and woods. It has now been turned into a park open to the public.

Norbulingka consists of several palace complexes, such as the Kelsang Potrang, Tsokyil Potrang, Golden Linka and Takten Migyur Potrang. Each palace complex is divided into three sections - the palace section, the section in front of the palaces and the woods.

Kelsang Potrang, named after the Seventh Dalai Lama, is a three-storey palace with halls for worshipping Buddha, bedrooms, reading rooms and sanctuaries. Tsokyil Potrang, when the Eighth Dalai Lama was in power, is considered to be the most attractive in Norbulingka. Khamsum Zilnon built during that time is really a striking pavilion of the Han architecture style, where Dalai Lamas enjoyed Tibetan opera. In 1922, a wealthy benefactor had Golden Linka and Chensel Potrang constructed for the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, a lot of flowers, grass and trees were planted. In 1954, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama built Takten Migyur Potrang, which is also called the New Summer Palace, means 'Eternal Palace' in Tibetan. The architecture has combined the characteristics of temple and villa and is more magnificent than other palaces. The exquisite murals in the palace are well worth a mention and visit. The murals in the northern hall show the kind, calm Sakyamuni and his eight contemplative disciples. However, the murals in the southern hall vividly tell the development of Tibet in comic strips.

Norbulingka both reflects the ethnical, religious features of the Tibetan people and embodies the architecture style of inland China. It is of great cultural value and was listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2001 as an extension of Potala Palace.

Ganden Monastery - first monastery of Gelug sect

Prophesied by the historic Buddha approximately about 2,000 years before his birth, Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) was a child prodigy who went on to establish and inspire Tibet's most powerful monastic sect. Dissatisfied by the ill discipline - intellectual, religious and monastic - of contemporary orders, he reined his disciples and followers into a strict new order. The Gelug sect re-established the austerity of monastic life and emphasized the primacy of philosophical study within it. Ganden Monastery was founded near Lhasa in Tibet by Tsongkhapa in 1409 as the first and main Gelug monastery.

The enthusiastic zest with which the great Tsongkhapa viewed his endeavor can be sensed in his naming of this monastery. "Ganden" is the Tibetan name for the paradise of the Buddha of the Future. According to scriptures, the arrival of this Buddha will herald the end of the world's sufferings. This name therefore suggests the salutary wish that Ganden monastery would become a route to the world's salvation.

Tsongkhapa, as the first abbot of Ganden Monastery, was the appointed head of the Gelug sect. To this day, the abbot or Tripa of Ganden Monastery, rather than the Dalai Lama, leads this predominant sect. An interesting feature of this succession is that unlike the succession of Dalai Lama, which operates according to the principle of reincarnation, the position of Ganden Tripa is elective. As a result, the Ganden Tripa has traditionally been a strong candidate for the position of Regent within the Tibetan government at such times when the Dalai Lama was in his minority, absent or, as on occasion, deceased.

The three main sights of Ganden Monastery per se are the Serdung, which contains the golden tomb of Tsongkhapa, the Tsokchen Assembly Hall and the Ngam Cho Khang Chapel where Tsongkhapa traditionally taught his students.

The Ganden Lingkhor
A visit to Ganden Monastery is incomplete without walking its hour long pilgrimage route. The views over the Lhasa River Valley from this 4,500 meter high (~14,500 feet) vantage point are inspiring, their beauty paying rich tribute to Tsongkhapa's prudence in locating his monastery here. This walk will also introduce many aspects of a Tibetan pilgrimage route. Our path is signposted by a rich array of colourful prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. Either side, rock faces are rubbed with yak butter offerings and small shrines in rock fissures are filled with tsha-tshas , small religious offering tablets made of clay deposited by pilgrims. Some pilgrims prostrate at every step, others before holy emblems or as tradition demands; for example, at the sky burial site it is customary to roll over on the ground to rid oneself of sin.

Barkhor Street

Located in the old area of Lhasa City, Tibet, Barkhor Street is a very ancient round street surrounding the Jokhang Temple and the Tibetan people are always proud of it. As a symbol of Lhasa, this street is also a must-see place for the tourists.

It's said that in 647, the first Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo (617 - 650) built the Jokhang Temple. Due to its magnificence, it quickly attracted thousands of Buddhist pilgrims. As a result, a trodden path appeared. That is the origin of Barkhor Street. Today even still many pilgrims hold the prayer wheels to walk clockwise there from dawn to dark. Also you can see some pilgrims walking or progressing body-lengths by body-lengths along the street. Even some of them are teenagers or have experienced thousands of miles' walk to reach this sacred place. The way they express their piety could make you understand the holiness of religion.

For tourists, Barkhor Street is a magical place showing the original outlook of Lhasa. The street was paved by hand-polished stone boards. Though it is not broad, it accommodates thousands of tourists every day. Varied shops stand on both sides of the street and thousands of floating stands are on every corner. Most of them offer the prayer wheels, long-sleeve 'chuba' (the Tibetan people's traditional clothes), Tibetan knives and some religious articles for sale. Furthermore, some shops sell 'Thangka' (the Tibetan scroll painting), which is a unique art of Tibet with the themes of religion, history, literature, science and customs. Surprisingly, there are some articles from India and Nepal in this street as well.

To sum up, Barkhor Street is a place full of religious atmosphere and a world of exotic articles. If you have been attracted by it, you should go there. Believe your eyes, and you will get a lot of surprise there.

Tips:1. You should walk in a clockwise direction along the street.
2. It is better not stay too late in the street. Because there are many lanes there, it's easy to lose your way in the evening.
3. Different vendors may sell the same thing at different price. So you'd better ask several vendors and get more information of the articles. Of course, you should also know how to bargain with them.
4. According to the tradition of Tibet, the vendor will give a favorable price to the first customer and the last one in a day.

Ramoche Monastery

Ramoche Monastery is situated in the northwest of Lhasa, covering a total area of 4000 square meters (one acre). This temple is one of the key cultural relic protection sites of the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as a hot attraction in Lhasa.

The original building complex has a strong Tang architecture influence, for it was first built by Han Chinese architects in the middle of the 7th century (during the Tang Dynasty). Han Princess Wencheng took charge of this project and ordered the temple be erected facing east to show her homesickness.

Ramoche Monastery fell into ruins and went through many reconstructions - only the Buddha palace on the first floor is left in its original state. The present temple is the result of the large restoration of 1986. The main building in the temple has three stories. The first story includes an atrium, a scripture hall, and a Buddha palace with winding corridors. The third story was the bedroom once reserved for Dalai Lama. Upon entering the main building, one can see the ten pillars holding some of the remaining Tibetan relics such as the encased lotus flowers, coiling cloud, jewelry, and particular Tibetan Characters. The golden peak of the temple with the Han-style upturned eave can be seen from any direction in Lhasa city. Needless to say, the temple is a wonderful example of the combination of Han and Tibetan architectural styles.

One of the temple's prized artifacts is the life-sized statue of the 12-year-old Sakyamuni. The Wencheng Princess brought it from the capital Chang'an during the Tang Dynasty. As one of the precious cultural relics of Tibet, the statue is now placed in Jokhang Temple (Da Zhao Si), 500 meters (0.31mile) south of Ramoche Monastery. Residing within the Ramoche Monastery is the life-sized statue of the 8-year-old Sakyamuni. Carried into Tibet by the Nepalese Chizun Princess, this figure is regarded as the greatest saint in Ramoche Monastery.

Nowadays, the temple has become the very place for the Tibetan monks to study the Mi Zong (one of the sects of Buddhism).

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