ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “pilgrimage

DAY 1 (6/9): GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

At 4pm, we left Downtown Yangon and headed for Shwedagon Pagoda, probably the most iconic sight of the city if not the entire Myanmar.  Our taxi stuck in busy traffic and it took us half an hour to arrived at the east gate of Shwedagon Pagoda from Downtown Yangon.  We specifically chose to visit the pagoda in the latter half of the afternoon, as we planned to stay at the pagoda compound till dusk when the golden stupa would glow in the flickering candle lights and flooded lights.  At the east gate, we took off our shoes and left them on a shelf, and squeezed in a lift with the locals to head up the Singuttara Hill where the central pagoda and the main terrace were located.  From the lift tower, we crossed a link bridge over to the main terrace.  The first glance of the golden spires of Buddhist shrines was quite overwhelming.  Beyond the the various ornate shrines, prayer halls, and planetary posts, the majestic 99m central stupa known as the Shwedagon Pagoda stood proudly at the heart of everything.  Fully gilded with gold, this central stupa dwarfed all other stupas, shrines, altars, statues, and prayer halls on Singuttara Hill.

Probably erected by the Mon people between 6th and 10th century AD, the Shwedagon Pagoda has been the centre of Myanmar’s Buddhist universe for centuries.  Legend has it that the original stupa at Singuttara Hill was dated to 2600 years ago, when Taphussa and Bhallika met Gautama Buddha during his lifetime and brought back 8 of his hair as sacred relics.  A stupa at Singuttara Hill was built to house the hair.  The stupa evolved throughout the centuries, as shrines and prayer halls added by different kings and donors, and the height of the stupa increased several times during history until the present 99m.  The pagoda wasn’t always covered in gold in the past.  In the 15th century, Queen Shin Sawbu donated gold plates equaled to her own weight to be riveted onto the stupa surface.  Since then, cladding the stupa in gold had became a tradition for rulers.

We took our time wandering around the 114-acre pagoda site.  After an hour or two meandering through all kinds of Buddhist structures and visiting the interesting photo gallery, we sat down at the open space at the northwest corner near the Friday planetary post to chill out, waiting for the sun to set and candles to lit up.

DSC_2869Our taxi dropped us off at the east gate of Singuttara Hill.  We followed the locals to take an elevator up to the main terrace level.

DSC_2880Once we reached the main terrace, we were immediately overwhelmed by the fine details and golden ornaments of the surrounding shrines and prayer halls.

DSC_2907In the midst of everything stood the majestic 99m Shwedagon Pagoda.

DSC_2946We circled the pagoda and stopped by some of the interesting shrines.  Chinthe, the legendary half-lion, half dragon creatures are commonly found as guardians in Buddhist temples of Southeast Asia.

DSC_3013It was hard to imagine just how many gold plates were being applied onto the surface of the Shwedagon Pagoda over the centuries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 25 ton Singu Min Bell (Maha Gandha Bell) was a donation in 1779 by King Singu.

DSC_2914The big Buddha at the northwest corner of the compound is a fine example of Buddha images found at Shwedagon Pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADisplayed behind glass, the jade Buddha reminds all visitors that Myanmar has the biggest gemstones and jade mining in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree out of the four main staircases known as zaungdan stairs at the four cardinal directions are filled with vendors of religious merchandise.

DSC_3018The four monumental covered staircases are all splendidly decorated.

DSC_3024Everything on the main terrace of Shwedagon Pagoda seemed to be golden in colour.

DSC_3066Away from the main circulation space around the central pagoda, we walked by a number of prayer halls and shrines.  These structures were built in different periods in history, but many were rebuilt after the 1931 fire that caused damages to the wooden structures in the compound.

DSC_3069The 150-year-old Bodhi Tree at the southeast corner of the compound is said to be descended from the original Bodhi Tree in Northern India where the Buddha meditated underneath.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAViewing the Shwedagon Pagoda from the north gate was one of our favorite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt 6:30pm, the sun began to set.  More visitors arrived from the staircases at the four cardinal directions.

DSC_3096Only staff and monks are allowed to climb onto the terraces of the Shwedagon Pagoda.

DSC_3139In the Photo Gallery northwest of the central pagoda, we were able to see photographs of the treasures on the pagoda spire, including about 5000 diamonds, 2300 rubies, sapphires, and other gems.

DSC_3143One of the most famous treasures of Shwedagon Pagoda is undoubted the 72 carat diamond at the top of the spire.

DSC_3108After visiting the Photo Gallery, we sat down at the open space in front of the gallery as the sun began to set.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA (ལྷ་ས་ 拉薩), Tibet (བོད་ 西藏)

Other than the spiritual monasteries, wonderful mountainous scenery and marvelous night sky, one thing we miss from our Tibetan trip is undoubtedly the faces of the Tibetan people.  Their devotion to Buddhism, friendliness to foreigners, connection to their Himalayan homeland, and colourful clothing contribute to a unique and beautiful culture that we would always remember.

DSC_8835One face we would certain miss is the cute dog that always lingers at the entrance of Trichang Labrang Hotel (赤江拉讓藏式賓館).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the presence of tourism, there is still a community atmosphere in Barkhor Old Town near our hotel, especially in the morning when locals comes out to get breakfast and grocery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear our hotel, delightful kids often run around the narrow alleyways.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd so as Buddhist monks who found their way towards Jokhang Monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVivid colours is everywhere to represent the unique Tibetan culture.

DSC_2192

DSC_9795

DSC_9779Large flag poles are pilgrim magnets along the kora route around the Jokhang Monastery.

DSC_8829The forecourt of Jokhang Monastery is always a great place for people watching.

DSC_9763

DSC_9803

DSC_9792

DSC_9819Pilgrims on the kora route of Jokhang Monastery in traditional clothing and accessories.

DSC_9787Prostrating pilgrims express their devotion to Buddhism through their physical actions.

DSC_2281Pilgrim and prayer wheels along the kora of Jokhang Monastery.

DSC_9630Pilgrim and prayer wheels at Sera Monastery.

DSC_9598Pilgrim at the kora route of the Potala Palace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that concludes the posts on our Tibetan trip 2017.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet


DAY 10 (2/2): LAST DAY IN LHASA (ལྷ་ས་ 拉薩), Tibet (བོད་ 西藏), 2017.09.25

Our driver Sangzhu dropped us near our hotel Trichang Labrang (赤江拉讓藏式賓館) in Barkhor Old Town.  After dropping off our bags, we stopped by the eatery beside the hotel for a quick bite.  The friendly eatery owners, a talkative young couple, were excited to welcome us and chatted with us.  We ordered a Nepali platter, fried momo and two cans of local beer to celebrate the completion of our road trip.  The momos were quite delicious, and went well with the beer made with Highland Barley.  It was the last full day of the trip.  After filling our stomach, we didn’t want to visit any attractions, but spent time wandering in Barkhor Old Town, checking out souvenirs, watching people, and photographing anything that interested us, until the dinner time.  For dinner, we decided to try the Tibetan hotpot at “Our Tibetan Restaurant” (咱们的藏餐馆).

01After returning to Lhasa, we stopped by the small local eatery next door from Trichang Labrang Hotel.  The young owners were friendly and talkative.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo celebrate the completion of our 6-day road trip, we ordered some local beer and highland barley wine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe most delicious snack we ordered was the fried momo (Tibetan dumplings).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor dinner, we revisited the “Our Tibetan Restaurant” (咱们的藏餐馆), the atmospheric courtyard restaurant nearby.

03Again we ordered the highland barley wine (青稞酒).  The wine came in an interesting bird-like pottery jar.

04The main dish of the meal was the Tibetan hotpot.  It came with vegetables, melons, beef, ham and yak meat.

05We wanted to linger around Barkhor Old Town for a little longer after dinner.

09In front of Jokhang Monastery (གཙུག་ལག་ཁང༌། 大昭寺), pilgrims, worshiped on the stone pavers as usual. 

08Other than pilgrims, tourists also gathered at the Jokhang forecourt.

10In front of Jokhang main entrance, more pilgrims gathered to worship, including some Buddhist monks.

11The sky was getting dark but the Jokhang forecourt was getting even more crowded.

12Some pilgrims preferred to stay near the large flag pole in front of the Jokhang.

13Around Jokhang, groups after groups of pilgrims and tourists walked the kora in clockwise direction around Lhasa’s most sacred site.

14The kora route was flanked one side by souvenir shops and the other by the majestic facade of the Jokhang.

17Along the kora route, many pilgrims were performing prostration the entire way.

16Some tourists treated the pilgrimage forecourt as a public plaza and sat on the pavers to chill out among the pilgrims.

18Among pilgrims and tourists, chilling out in the Jokhang forecourt included this large and gorgeous husky.

15We would certainly miss the spiritual atmosphere of the Jokhang forecourt.

20On our way back to Trichang Labrang Hotel, we passed by one last time the store where we bought our bottled water everyday of our Lhasa stay.  The next morning, we would take the airport shuttle bus near the Potala and fly back to Hong Kong via Chengdu.  Although short, it was a delightful experience for the three of us on the unique Tibetan culture and magnificent Himalayan landscape.  Hopefully next time we could have more time and travel further to the western corner of Tibet.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet


DAY 9 (1/3): TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY (བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལྷུན་པོ་ 扎什倫布寺), Shigatse (日喀則), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.24

Before leaving Shigatse for Namtso Lake, we spent the morning at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery (བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལྷུན་པོ་ 扎什倫布寺).  Probably the most influential monastery in the Shigatse area, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is very popular with local pilgrims.  Founded by the 1st Dalai Lama in 1447, the 70,000 sq.m monastery remains as the largest functioning monastery in Tibet.  In the past five centuries, Tashi Lhunpo has been the traditional seat of Panchen Lama (པན་ཆེན་བླ་མ 班禪喇嘛), the second highest tulku (སྤྲུལ་སྐུ 活佛) in the Gelug school, just after the Dalai Lama.  During the turbulence years of the Cultural Revolution, buildings and relics of the monastery had been damaged.  Fortunately, damages of the Tashi Lhunpo was relatively small compared to most other monasteries in Tibet.

Walking in the labyrinth of cobblestone lanes of the enormous monastery ground, visitors can absorb the spiritual air and wander through prayer halls, chapels, chortens and courtyards, admire beautiful Buddhist artworks including the 26m statue of Jampa (Maitreya) Future Buddha, and pay respect to the tombs of the past Panchen Lamas.  Other than the gold gilded statues and architectural features, what interested us during our visit of Tashi Lhunpo were the pilgrims who came from all over Tibet and China.  From teenagers to elderly, the pilgrims’ gratifying expression and devoted prayers demonstrated to us how Buddhist traditions still remained strong in today’s Tibet.

01All visitors to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery would pass through the  lingkhor (sacred path) along the external enclosure wall.

02The 70,000 sq.m Tashi Lhunpo Monastery sits on the mountain slope west of Shigatse city.

03Inside the monastery ground, a network of flagstone paths led us to a village of chapels, chortens and prayer wheels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first objects captured our eyes as we entered to the core area of the monastery were the three large chortens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt 9:30am the sun of the highland was already scorching hot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPilgrims and monks in the vivid setting of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery provided us the best subject for photos.

08Many lamas we saw at Tashi Lhunpo were actually visitors from other areas of Tibet.

09Jamba Chyenmu or Maitreya Temple (强巴佛殿) is the tallest building in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.  Erected in 1914 by the ninth Panchen Lama, it houses the 26.2m statue of Maitreya Buddha.  The enormous statue contains 279kg of gold and 150,000kg of copper and brass.

10The chorten of the Tenth Panchen Lama is one of the most popular pilgrimage spot in the monastery.  The three-tiered chorten is decorated with large amount of gold, silver and gemstones.

11Semi-precious stones were used to decorated the entrance vestibule of chapels (in this case the Buddhist swastika was created on the floor).  Many pilgrims would knee down and touch the decoration before entering the building.

12Other than statues and chortens, a number of architectural features such as a building column could also become a subject of worship for worshipers.

13Outside of the monastery, we could see the beautiful mountains across the city of Shigatse.

14After visiting a number of the chorten halls (chapels housing the tombs of Panchen Lamas), we arrived at the upper court of the Gyeni Chanting Hall.  The gilded roofs and turrets of the Gyeni Chanting Hall can be seen from far away.

15As we walked down the ramp near the Gyeni Chanting Hall, we could see right behind us the Thangka Wall used for unfolding the gigantic thangka during festivals.

16Below the Gyeni Chanting Hall, we arrived at the Chuajing Duogang, the great courtyard paved with flagstones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Chuajing Duogang was another popular spot for pilgrims.

18.JPGSurrounding the cloister of Chuajing Duogang, we could admire the fresco depicting over 1000 images of Sakyamuni (Buddha).

19The Sakyamuni were drawn with hands gesturing the five symbolic poses (mudras).

20Looking up from the colonnade of Chuajing Duogang, the splendid Gyeni Chanting Hall looked grand and magnificent.

21Beautiful fresco could be seen all over Tashi Lhunpo, including the wall at the lower exit of Chuajing Duogang.

22After a 2.5 hour visit of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, it was time for us to find our way to the exit and departed from Shigatse.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet

 


DAY 2 (1/6): FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (ཕོ་བྲང་པོ་ཏ་ལ་ 布達拉宮), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.17

A fine night of rest had rejuvenated our bodies.  Angela decided to rest a little longer at the hotel to tackle her altitude reactions.  Maggie and I headed out at around 6:45am for a special mission.  We walked to the nearby main street Jiangsu Road and hopped on a shared taxi (all taxis in Lhasa are shared taxis, meaning that the driver can take other customers along the way as long as everyone are heading for the similar direction).  We got off near the west gate of the Potala Palace.  Our mission was simply to queue for a time slot of our visit at the next day.  Apparently during the high season (May to October), visitors of the Potala can only line up for a time slot a day in advance.  On the actual day of visit, one would then need to arrive at a specific checkpoint at the given time slot, in order to get onto the main path that goes up to the ticket office high up in the palace.

We were told that even obtaining a time slot the day before would involve considerable amount of queuing time.  Luckily we were not visiting Lhasa during the hottest time of the year, namely in August or the October 1st golden week of the Chinese National Day, when visitors would arrive at Potala’s west gate before 5:30am to guarantee a visiting time slot for the next day (according to bloggers online).  It was mid September and we were told to come at around 7:30am for the queue.  We arrived at around 7:20am and there were about 40 people standing in front of us.  Every individual visitor must have an ID in order to obtain a single time slot ticket for the next day.

The sun wasn’t entirely up yet at 7:20.  The sky was getting brighter by the minute.  We stood at the parking lot in front of the reservation office, and admired the majestic Potala under the morning sun.  At around 8:40am, Maggie decided to get some takeout for breakfast.  She set off to a small eatery over at another parking lot nearby.  Two minutes after she walked away, the queue began to move.  I had no choice but to follow.  Fortunately I had the ID of my two travel buddies with me, so had no problem reserving a 9:20am time slot for everyone of us in the next morning.  Time was still early after we got our reservation tickets.  Maggie and I decided to hop on a taxi to visit Drepung Monastery in the western suburb of Lhasa.

01We arrived at the time reservation office at 7:20am.

02There were about 40 people standing in front of us.

03While we stood at the queue, the sky to the east was getting brighter.

04Most shops near the reservation office were tourist related such as travel agents.

05_01At around 8am, the morning sun began to cast a golden glow onto the sacred palace of Potala.

06The golden glow on the Potala lasted for about 10 minutes.  The splendid architecture of the red and white palaces created a perfect harmony in a majestic manner.

07At around 8:15am, there was no sign that the reservation office would open any time soon.  We watched the golden glow gradually disappeared on the Potala.

08After we got the reservations for the next day, we walked over to the main street in front of Potala.  The street was full of pilgrims walking the kora around the palace, which takes appropriate half an hour to complete.

09Devoted pilgrims stopped in front of the Potala to read prayers and spin their ritual wheels.

10As we walked east along Beijing Road in front of the Potala, we passed by the central gate of the palace where we would return the next day for our visit.

11Looking from the southeast, the Potala looks as if surrounded by rows of young evergreen.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet


DAY 1 (3/3): KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.16

After we put down our bags into the hotel room, we couldn’t wait but to venture out into the alleyways of Barkhor Old Town.  Soon we arrived at a security checkpoint where we needed to show our ID and put our bags through the x-ray.  A little further beyond the checkpoint was a much wider stone paved street where almost all pedestrians moved in one direction.  We knew we had arrived at the famous Barkhor Street (八廓街).  We were all sleepy from the red eye flight.  Angela got a bad headache from the high altitude.  We had no particular itinerary for the day.  We took our time to walk around the Barkhor Street, taking in the energy and Tibetan atmosphere of the ancient street, and dropping by the nearby Summit Cafe and Spinn Cafe for brief breaks.

Kora (སྐོར་ར) is the term for a pilgrimage circumambulation for Tibetan Buddhism around a sacred site or object in the clockwise direction.  In Lhasa, if not the entire Tibet, the most popular kora route is undoubtedly the Barkhor Street (八廓街), the pedestrian circuit around the Jokhang Monastery (大昭寺).  For over 1300 years the stone paved circuit was the most sacred pilgrim route for Tibetan Buddhists.  Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo erected the Jokhang Monastery in 647, and the pilgrim path around the temple soon followed and had since then evolved into Barkhor Street.  On the hand-polished stone pavers, uncounted pilgrims stepped on the Barkhor everyday, some would even perform prostration while moving clockwise along the Barkhor.  Apart from prostrating, some pilgrims also spin their prayer wheels, chant mantra, or count their rosary beads.

Nowadays, other than its spiritual identity, Barkhor Street has also become a prime tourist destination of Lhasa.  Souvenir shops have lined up along both sides of the famous street.   For tourists, following the local pilgrims to stroll along Barkhor Street is compulsory.  Beyond souvenir stores and gemstone shops, visitors may find religious shops selling all kinds of items for the pilgrims.  For us, the Barkhor Street was the place that we walked by several times each day during our stay in Lhasa.

01The route from our hotel opens to the Barkhor Street at the south side of the Jokhang Monastery, near a colourful flag post.

02Many locals were dressed in traditional clothing while walking the kora on the Barkhor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA turn near the colourful flag post led us to the square in front of Jokhang Monastery, where a group of pilgrims and tourists congregated.

04At the Jokhang Square, local pilgrims passed by another colourful flag post.

05There were constantly pilgrims prostrating in front of the Jokhang Monastery.

06Visitors can no longer get in the original main entrance of Jokhang Monastery.

07The original main entrance of Jokhang Monastery has become a small plaza for prostrating pilgrims and spectating tourists.

08Going north from the Jokhang Square, the Barkhor Street gets narrow again into a retail street.

09The Barkhor Street is flanked both sides by traditional Tibetan houses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlong the Barkhor, there are quite a number of benches and seating areas for the pilgrims.

11Makye Ame is a famous restaurant bar at the southeast corner of the Barkhor.  Legend has it that Tsangyang Gyatso, the 6th Dalai Lama, met the girl he loved at this bar in the 17th century.

12There are also hidden courtyards behind the traditional Tibetan houses on the Barkhor, where young artists and artisans gather to promote a new generation of Tibetan culture, as well as cool cafes and interesting bookstores targeted at the local youngsters.

13Late afternoon is a popular time to walk the Barkhor, when the fierce highland sun becomes a more bearable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApart from Jokhang Monastery, there are a number of historical buildings at Barkhor, including this former office of the Qing government representatives.

16Smaller in scale than the famous monasteries, local Buddhist temples such as this one on the Barkhor Street is equally interesting with vibrant worshiping scenes.

17Both pilgrims and tourists love to interact with the Buddhist prayer wheels.

15Inside the small temple there is a much bigger prayer wheel where pilgrims move clockwise with the turning wheel inside.

19Police has a strong presence at Barkhor Street, with security stations set up at certain spots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATea shops and shopping centre of gemstone shops dotted around the Barkhor Street.

21Before sunset, Barkhor Street can get pretty crowded with pilgrims and tourists.

22Among all the pilgrims and tourists that we had seen on the Barkhor Street, probably this old man and his seven dogs had captured the most attention.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet

 


JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)

It has been many years since I dreamed of visiting Tibet.  Yet it only took us a little over a month to plan for this trip and invite our Canadian friend Maggie to join.  The itinerary consisted of two parts: 4 days in Lhasa and surrounding monasteries, and 6 days on the road climaxed with a close encounter with Mount Everest’s north face at the Everest Base Camp.  Apart from occasional hassles of security checkpoints, our Tibetan story was largely filled with breathtaking scenery, photogenic monasteries and joyful laughter among the three of us.

Under rapid modernization in recent years, Tibet has been changing drastically.  Since the opening of Qinghai-Tibet Railway, more highways and rail roads are being constructed every year, connecting Tibet with the rest of China.  Modern infrastructure has brought in a large influx of local tourists and commercial goods.  Given the inevitable social changes and urbanization of Lhasa, we were delighted to discover that the local Tibetan lifestyle is still going strong at many places, especially at Buddhist monasteries where locals pilgrims and monks still practise their traditional rituals, and at rural areas where farmers still live off the land raising yaks and sheep, and farming the famous Highland barley.

For 11 days we had the blessing of promising weather, even the infamous gusty and freezing weather at Everest Base Camp and Namtso Lake didn’t come to trouble us while we enjoyed the spectacle of the Milky Way and shooting stars over snow-capped mountains.  The rich culture of Tibetan Buddhism was equally spectacular and visible almost everywhere from vivid prayer flags at mountain passes to the myriad of prostrating pilgrims around Jokhang Monastery and the majestic Potala in Lhasa.  For us, the centuries old spirituality was inseparable from the Tibetan landscape.  At the land of mystic Shangri-La where heavenly landscapes coincide with the spirituality of the Buddhist Mandala, we had experienced a marvelous journey that defied fatigue from a red eye flight, occasional altitude sickness, and days of awful toilets.

DSC_0385Our first part of the trip concentrated on exploring Lhasa, the sacred capital of Tibet.  Walking the clockwise kora (pilgrimage) on Barkhor Street around Jokhang Monastery was an interesting experience that we had everyday during our stay in Lhasa.

DSC_1963Our second part of the trip was an remarkable road journey of ancient monasteries and spectacular scenery of snow-capped mountains and pristine lakes.  We were fortunate to enjoy beautiful weather and clear sky while admiring the starry sky from the Everest Base Camp and Namtso Lake.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet