Lhasa (Day 8) – the Jokhang, Barkhor, and a birthday picnic! 28 June 2009

jokhang Today’s wanderings took us to the nearby Jokhang temple, the most sacred site for Tibetans…we passed by here Friday night after dinner at Dorje’s, and were fascinated by the pilgrims performing ‘kora’ – pilgrimage circuits around the temple. They come from all walks of life, though most are in traditional Tibetan dress, and of all ages, many, many of them carrying and twirling beautiful, ancient hand-held prayer wheels. Some may come here on pilgrimage from hundreds of miles, prostrating every step of the way. Walking slowly through the temple, it is clearly still quite ‘alive’, and even more beautiful than the Potala, with literally hundreds of exquisite icons.

barkhor monkThe view from the top of the temple roof of the Potala Palace, the courtyard and pilgrims, and the surrounding jagged ridges is breathtaking. I noticed at the top of one ridge what looked like a bridge between two peaks, and learned that it is one of the sacred mountains of this region, and the ‘bridge’ is prayer flags that are raised there once a year during a festival.

As we left the Jokhang, we joined the pilgrims and monks in one circuit around the temple and through the lively Barkhor market, where we purchased genuine, common prayer flags for the remainder of our trip, and as gifts to take home.

picnic performersThis afternoon was quite a surprise – Achi’s family had reserved a picnic tent at a local park, and catered a huge feast in our honor and in honor of my 60th birthday today! The food was just amazing, and there was so much of it – well and good to feed the huge and beautiful clan that came. After lunch, they surprised me with a beautiful cake, a crown, about 10 more katas around my neck (and for all of us), and a visit from three Tibetan opera performers!! (Lester says they were like the 3 tenors of Tibet, though two were women.) I was truly overwhelmed, and suspect Achi and Andrea’s generous and thoughtful hands in much of this. We stayed the entire afternoon and evening, finishing with a delicious noodle soup for dinner – to make sure we didn’t go hungry – as if!!

What an unforgettable way to celebrate my 60th! And tomorrow we head up the valley to Drikung, where Achi was born.