August 2, 2007: Lhasa - Jokhang and Sera Monastery
We got up close to 8 am and had breakfast. The breakfast in the hotel was pretty good. It had fruit,
cereal, eggs, toast and lots of other stuff. Also coffee and tea and juice. Not bad! We met our guide
Selam at 9 am in the hotel lobby to visit the Jokhang Temple.
Once we got to the Jokhang, there was a huge line. But this line was for the Tibetan worshippers who
don't have to pay to get into the Temple. The tourists go through another entry and then,
throughout the Jokhang, typically the worshippers stay on one side and the tourists on the other side
of the narrow passageways, and then it gets all mingled sooner or later. Inside the Jokhang it was
unbelievably crowded. Pilgrims and tourists en masse. The worst crowded it was in the little chapels
which are located off the inner Sanctum of the Jokhang. It was a really cool experience venturing
through this place. Many of the Pilgrims had yakbutterpots. This smell was prevelant everywhere and
also in our clothes for the rest of the day. After going around the ground floor, including visiting
some of these crowded Chapels, we went up to the first floor. Here, it was not as crowded as on the
ground floor and we ventured into almost all of the chapels up there.
The Jokhang Temple is the most revered religious structure in Tibet. Estimated founding dates
range from 639 to 647. The construction was initiated by King Songtsen Gampo. Under his reign
from 630 to 649 Tibet expanded rapidly and its armies were a threat for Tibet's neighbors. So Nepal
and China agreed to alliances through marriage. Songtsen Gampos Chinese and Nepalese wife
became important historical figures for the Tibetans as it was through their influence that Buddhism
gained royal patronage. Songtsen Gampo went as far as passing a law making it illegal not to be a
Buddhist. The Jokhang was first built to house a Buddha image of Songtsen Gampos Nepalese wife.
Over the centuries, the Jokhang has undergone many renovations, but the basic layout is ancient
and differs from that of many other religious structures.
We then went on the rooftop of the Jokhang where we spent quite some time. The views from up
there were breathtaking. A kora around the Jokhang finished our visit.
We had lunch at the hotel restaurant, spaghetti bolognese for Marc and I. Then we proceeded to the
Nepalese Consulate. As we needed a visa for Nepal, we decided to over there and start the application
process. We also did not meet Selam until 3 pm, so we had some time. We decided to walk to the
Consulate which was 2-3 km away close to the Norbulingka Palace. It took us about 40 minutes and
then we found out that the Consulate is only open in the morning! I was pissed. We took a cab back
to the hotel and met with Selam in the hotel lobby at 3 pm.
We took a cab to Sera Monastery. This beautiful monastery is located about 5 km outside of Lhasa
and has great views of the Lhasa valley. It is along with Drepung one of Lhasa's two great Gelugpa
Monasteries and had once a population of 5,000 monks. It was founded in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe, a
disciple of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa order of Buddhism. In short, the Gelugpa order
under Tsongkapha went back to the original teachings of the Bengali scholar Atisha who was
instrumental in bringing back Buddhism to all of Tibet in the so-called Second Diffusion of
Buddhism in the 11th century. The Gelugpa order is also referred to as the Yellow Hats.
We came on purpose that late to Sera as late afternoon is the time for the monk debates. Probably
a couple of hundred red-robed monks sit every day in the Debating Courtyard and argue and
debate about the teachings of Buddhism.
We also went through a couple of the Halls, but we did not make it into the Main Assembly Hall as
the monastery closes at 5 pm. Bummer! If we would have known that, we would have come much
We took a cab back to the hotel. Dinner was again at the Dunya. Marc and I both had the Chicken
Cordon Bleu (delicious) and I also had the apple pie for dessert. Then we walked over to the Potala.
We heard that every night there was some kind of light show over there and we wanted to check it
out. Having seen lightshows at the Pyramids of Gizeh and the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza I was
under the impression that there was going to be a lightshow integrating the Potala....far from the
Once we got to the plaza in front of the Potala, it was full of Chinese tourists.It had the feeling of a
big Chinese amusementpark as apparantly the Chinese gather here every night. Then at 9 pm the
"lightshow" started. It was a light/fountain show around the Chinese built Monument on the Potala
plaza. This controversial 37 m high Monument was erected in 2002 to commemorate the 50th
anniversary of the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet (yeah right!!!). It is supposed to be an abstract
representation of Mt. Everest. Very abstract in my mind....
The "show" started with a big "gong" and all the Chinese rushed towards the Monument to get a
closer look. To the tunes of some Chinese song, the water fountains moved in synchronism, just
like at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Pathetic!! Here you are, sitting at the foot of one of the most
recognizable buildings in the world and the frickin' Chinese use this stupid monument as a
backdrop for their nightly shows.
Anyway, being the good tourists we are, we took a couple of pictures and left. However, we enjoyed
the view of the Potala which was lighted and looked spectacular in the evening light. While behind
us the water fountains danced to Chinese music marking another night of "peaceful liberation".
Went back to the hotel and had a couple of beers in the bar to drown out the memories of that
lightshow disaster. Went to bed around 10:30 pm.