This temple is the most sacred building in Tibet. From the gentle flicker of a butter-lamp light dancing off antique murals, statues, tapestries, and thangkhas (scroll paintings) to the air thick with incense and anticipation as thousands of Tibetans pay homage day and night, the temple contains a plethora of sensory delights. Most likely built in 647 during Songtsen Gampo's reign, the Jokhang stands in the heart of the Old Town. The site was selected by Queen Wengcheng, a princess from China who became Songtsen Gampo's second wife. His first wife, Princess Bhrikuti from Nepal, financed the building of Jokhang. In her honor, and in recognition of Tibet's strong reliance on Nepal, the Jokhang's main gate faces west, toward Nepal. Among the bits remaining from the 7th century are the four door frames of the inner temple, dedicated to different deities. Remember that photos are not allowed inside the buildings without a Y90 photo permit.
Over the centuries, renovations have
enlarged the Jokhang to keep it the premier temple of Tibet. Its status was threatened in the 1950s when the Chinese Army shelled it and the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution ransacked it. During this period, the temple was used for various purposes, including as a pigsty. Much of the damage has since been repaired, but a portion of it has been lost forever.
Before entering the Inner Jokhang, you should walk the Nangkhor Inner Circuit in a clockwise direction. It's lined with prayer wheels and murals depicting a series of Buddhist scenes. Continue on to the large Entrance Hall, whose inner chapels have murals depicting the wrathful deities responsible for protecting the temple and the city. Straight ahead is the inner sanctum, the three-story Kyilkhor Thil, some of whose many columns probably date from the 7th century, particularly those with short bases and round shafts.
The chapels on the ground floor of the Kyilkhor Thil are the most rewarding. The most revered chapel of the inner hall is Jowo Sakyamuni Lhakhang, opposite the entrance. Inside rests a bejeweled statue of Jowo Rinpoche—representing the Buddha at age 12—surrounded by adoring disciples. It was brought to Tibet by Queen Wengcheng and somehow has survived, despite a history of being plastered over and buried in sand. On busy days you may wait in line to enter this shrine, but it's worth it. On the second floor there are a number of small chapels, although many are closed to visitors. Before you leave, climb the stairs next to the main entrance up to the Jokhang's ornately decorated golden roof. You'll be rewarded with sweeping views of the Barkhor, the Potala Palace, and the snowcapped mountains beyond Lhasa.
Barkhor, Lhasa, Tibet, 850000, China