Ganden Monastery kora, Lhasa Tibet

This monastery is located about an hour away from Lhasa. It was one of my favourite places, not so much because of the monastery itself, but its location. It is set high up on a hill above the Kyi-Chu valley and offers beautiful views. When we arrived we started with the kora, a pilgrimage circumambulation walk around the monastery. Some areas heading uphill were quite steep and difficult but once we got into the swing, the kora provided some wonderful scenery of the surrounds as well as colourful prayer flags strung everywhere imaginable.  We were joined by pilgrims murmuring as they walked along side us.  One side of the mountain is known for sky burials, a Tibetan Buddhist ritual where the dead are placed for birds, usually vultures, to eat the flesh.  We quietly watched as some monks prayed for the deceased who had been through the rituals earlier during the day.

On our way back around the monastery, we passed by Tsongkhapa’s (founder of Gelugpa sect) meditation chamber before heading to view the Ngam Cho Khang chapel, Assembly Hall and Chapel of Jampa. We also saw the debating courtyard. There didn’t seem to be much activity as it was supposedly a holiday for the monks.  We had a simple lunch of thugpa (noodles) at the Monastery Restaurant next door.

The Ganden Monastery sign with views of the monastery
Views of Kyi-chu Valley and adjacent village
Full view of Ganden Monastery
Prayer flags all along the Ganden Kora walk
Prayer flags all along the Ganden Kora walk
Two bulls fighting with the Kyi-chu Valley in the background
Tangled prayer flags and wool in the treys along the Kora
Our guide Demdul admiring the beautiful scenery
Travis on the high narrow paths of the Kora
Sonya and Travis with the Kyi-chu valley in the distance
View of Kyi-chu valley from the Ganden Kora
Vultures patiently waiting for the next sky burial
A sky burial site, a fire to the right and few monks
A spider web of prayer flags on the hill
Prayer flags with our guide in-between them
Prayer flags all along the Ganden Kora walk
Prayer flags all along the Ganden Kora walk
A single white scarf caught in a tree branch
First view of the monastery from the Ganden Kora
Ganden Monastery taken from the right side
Golden ornaments on the monastery roofs
Ganden Monastery taken from the left side

The Winter (Potala Palace) and Summer (Norbulinka) Palaces of the Dali Lama, Lhasa, Tibet

Norbulinka (Summer Palace)

Norbulinka is known as the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas. We had previously watched the Tibet featured films Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet and were keen to see how well the films represented the living quarters of, in particular, the current fourteenth Dalai Lama.  Our guide told us that during summer and the yoghurt festival, the Norbulinka is full of picnicking Tibetans.

Our first stop was the most recent addition to the complex, the ‘New Summer Palace’ and also known as the Palace for the most recent fourteenth Dalai Lama. It was built in the mid 1950’s, just a few years prior to his exile to India.  Inside, we were able to view the audience chamber, the Dalai Lama’s private quarters (even his bathroom), and assembly hall.  The rooms were exactly as he had left them so many years ago, and it was a little surreal walking through the palace.

We then visited the palaces of the eighth and thirteenth Dalai Lama.  The eighth had some beautiful thangkas (Tibetan silk paintings) and the thirteenth had some interesting vehicles used by the lamas including bicycles, carriages and buggies.

Entrance to the Norbulinka (Summer Palace)Snow lions protecting the entrance to the NorbulinkaAbove the entrance gate a Dharma Chakra, wheel of life with pair of deer
Braided scarfs on the door handlesNew Summer Palace (Takten Migyur Podrang)Looking outside from the entrance of the New Summer Palace (Takten Migyur Podrang)
Walls of the Summer PalaceSnow lion head on the awning of the palaceEntrance to the Summer Palace of the 13th Dalai Lama (Chensek Podrang)
A white washed field of dandelionsOuter ChibrakangEntrance to the Palace of the 8th Dalai Lama (Kelsang Potrang)
Mythical creatures on the door to the Palace of the 8th Dalai Lama (Kelsang Potrang)The exterior wall of the New Summer Palace (Takten Migyur Podrang)The New Summer Palace (Takten Migyur Podrang)
The New Summer Palace (Takten Migyur Podrang)The New Summer Palace (Takten Migyur Podrang)The New Summer Palace (Takten Migyur Podrang)
One of the snow lions in the avenue leading to the New Summer PalaceAvenue of snow lions leading the New Summer Palace (Takten Migyur Podrang)Mythical creatures on found near the entrance of the Norbulinka complex

Potala Palace (Winter Palace)

After Nobulinka we headed to the Potala Palace, the once Winter Palace of the Dalai Lamas. The lines were long, with foreign tourists, Chinese and Tibetan pilgrims.  Due to its popularity, not only are a limited number of visitors allowed to enter the Palace per day (two thousand), there is a time restraint of forty-five minutes per area.  The walk up to the Red Palace was quite exhausting. At over three-thousand metres high, walking up all those steps was challenging! Inside the Red Palace we saw the Chapel of Jampa, King Songsten Gampo’s meditation chamber (the oldest room in the Potala) and a number of tombs for the previous Dalai Lamas (thirteenth, eighteenth and nineteenth). Many of the rooms were closed to the public. We also were able to walk on the roof of the White Palace and view the throne room (where the Dalai Lamas could receive guests), meditation room and bedroom of the Dalai Lama.

Lhasa's cardinal landmark, the Potala PalaceThe Potala Palace, Winter Palace of the Dalai LamasPotala (Budala Gong) Palace
Sonya and the guide Demdul climbing the stairs to the PotalaStairs leading to the Potala Palace entranceOne of the entrances to the Potala Palace
The colourful entrance door to the Potala PalaceProtector wall mural in the entrance of the Potala PalaceSonya in the Potala Palace
On the roof with the white palace in frontHundred of prayer wheels around the Potala Palace groundsTibetan spinning prayer wheels outside the Potala Palace
Stupa (Chorten) outside the Potala Palace groundsThree Stupa (Chorten) outside the Potala Palace groundsA view of the Potala Palace on its hill

Tibet Museum

We had some time in the afternoon to visit the Tibet Museum afterwards, which had some beautiful Thangkas, Tibetan Opera Masks, scriptures and musical instruments.

Entrance to the Tibet MuseumSeal of Dorje Change (1588AD)Ivory Seal of the Abhisecana State Tutor (14th to 15th century)
Golden Seal of the Protector of Country, the Benefit of PeopleBronze Buddha statue (14th century)Mask of God Palgong Dramsuk (20th century)
Mask of Han Monk (17th century)Coral Mask (20th century)Mask of a Protector Deity Mahakala (19th century)
Mask of the Lord Nyangral Gyalchen (20th century)Mask of Black Mahakala (20th century)Mask of Protector Deity (20th century)
Traditional Tibetan masksSakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsan (15th century)Padmasambhava and his two wives (14th to 15th century)
Carved Stone of Dharma King Norsang (18th century)Large  bronze BuddhaVajrapana Thagka

Barkhor walking tour

Later we did a walking tour of the Barkhor area which included some interesting sites including the Muslim Quarters and the Sangkhung Nunnery.

  1. Barkhor circuit
  2. Tromsikhang Market
  3. Gyüme Lower Tantric College
  4. Meru Sarpa Monastery
  5. Eizhi Exquisite Thangka Shop
  6. Karmashar Temple
  7. Dropenling crafts centre
  8. Ancient Art Restoration Centre
  9. Muslim quarter
  10. Islam Restaurant
  11. Ani Sangkhung Nunnery
  12. thangka workshop
  13. Lho Rigsum Lhakhang

Sera Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet – Debating Monks

Sera monastery is a few kilometres from Lhasa. We headed there mid afternoon with the intention of watching the debating monks. Every day (except for Sundays), the Sera Monastery’s monks undertake a one-on-one (or sometimes two-on-one) debate on the philosophies of life (so we’re told). As we waited until 3pm, quite a few dozens of monks gathered in the courtyard in pairs or teams, and began discussing a particular topic. Usually, one monk was seated on the ground cross legged (or on a mat) with his partner standing above him. The standing monk would pose a question (so it seemed), or make a statement and as he completed his sentence clap his hands whilst at the same time stamping his left foot.  It was a fascinating thing to watch, though we had no idea what was being said as it was in Tibetan. Our guide advised that even he didn’t understand what was being discussed as the debate topics were related to their Buddhist studies.  We watched the debates for over an hour, intrigued and at times amused, as some monks were quite intense and serious (oblivious to the tourists watching one), others appeared to be joking around with each other. It was certainly an interesting afternoon.

Entrance to the Sera Monastery debating courtyard
Monk Debates on the teachings of Buddha and the philosophy of Buddhism
Debating Courtyard of the monastery
Conducting debates in the Gelukpa tradition
Debates are punctuated with vigorous gestures
In case of wrong answer presented by the defender, the opponent gestures three circles with his hand around the defenders head
Monk Debates on the teachings of Buddha and the philosophy of Buddhism
Debating Courtyard of the monastery
Conducting debates in the Gelukpa tradition
Debates are punctuated with vigorous gestures
In case of wrong answer presented by the defender, the opponent gestures three circles with his hand around the defenders head
Buddhist prayer beads

Lhasa, Tibet – Jokhang Temple and Drepung Monastery

Jokhang Temple and Barkhor square

Our first day in Lhasa started with a visit to the Jokhang Temple, walking through the bustling Barkhor Bazaar to the Barkhor square.

By the time we arrived, there were already many pilgrims outside the temple, performing prostrations whilst two large incense burners omitted strong smoke of juniper.

As we lined up amongst the tens of Tibetan pilgrims, we couldn’t help but notice the strong smell of yak butter which we later found is used to burn offering candles. The Jokhang Temple is quite a large complex. We entered courtyard first and our guide Demdah advised that this was the place where important examinations (e.g. to determine the highest lama) sat by Gelugpa Iamas are held.

After the courtyard, we entered the inner prayer hall which is surrounded by a number of chapels.  The prayer hall contained six statues – two of Guru Rinpoche, three Jampa statues (Maitreya, the Future Buddha) and the thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara.  We would learn later that these statues would be seen repeatedly across many of the monasteries in Tibet.

As per Buddhist tradition, we encircled the surrounding chapels clockwise.  Inside the chapels, we were also required to encircle the room clockwise. There were numerous chapels, including the Chapel of Tsongkhapa (the founder of the Gelugpa order, probably the most renown of the four orders), Chapel of Chenresig, Chapel of Jowo Sakyamuni (said to be the most important shrine in Tibet, as it houses the Present Buddha image at age twelve and is thought to have been brought to Tibet by Princess Wencheng, the Chinese wife of King Songstan Gampo – the founder of Tibet). After visiting a number of chapels, we headed to the roof of Jokang to view the surrounding areas, including views of Barkhor Square and Potala Palace.

Barkhor Bazaar selling scarfs and prayer flagsA Tibetan lady selling various itemsHandheld prayer wheels
Handheld prayer wheelsBarkhor Bazaar located around Jokhang TempleTraditional Tibetan jewellery being sold inside Jokhang Temple
An image of Buddha in the courtyard of Jokhang TempleThe roof of Jokhang TempleThe exterior wall of Jokhang Temple
A snow lion on the corner of Jokang TempleOne of the smaller rooms surrounding the main templeThe upper open courtyard of Jokhang Temple
Gilt roof of the Jokhang TempleSnow lion found on the gilded bellPrayer and prostration in front of the Jokhang Temple
Jokhang Square also know as Barkhor SquareFlowers leading to Jokhang Temple in Barkhor SquareJokhang Temple from Barkhor Square

Drepung Monastery

After Jokang, we headed to Drepung Monastery, located about 8km from Lhasa, stopping by Potala Palace to pick up tickets for the next day (there is a 2000 limit on ticket numbers per day for the popular attraction). Drepung was founded by one of Tsongkhapa’s disciples in the 15th century and is part of the Gelugpa order. It has a number of key buildings, we visited Ganden Palace, the main assembly hall (with a large Jampa statue), the kitchen (used to cook the lamas meals) and a meditation hut where we were told some monks meditate for years on end. It was our first monastery and I enjoyed walking around and admiring the beautiful deep red and white buildings with their wispy white curtains.  We had a lunch of rice and vegetables at the Monastery restaurant next door before heading to our next destination.

Typical braiding of coloured scarfs found on door ringsTibetans turning prayer wheels at Drepung MonasteryBuddhist stupa outside Drepung Monastery
Colourful rock murals of Buddha with protectorEntrance to the chapel at Drepung MonasteryYak butter lamps used for lighting and an offering
Inside the Drepung Monastery chapel, statues can be seen on the wallInside the Drepung Monastery chapelStatue of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa school
The Yellow Hat worn by the Gelugpa sect of BuddhismInner buildings of the Drepung MonasteryGanden Phodrang, the residence of Dalai Lama
High walls of the Drepung MonasterySteps leading to a chapel in the Drepung MonasterySonya with a background of traditional Buddhist colours
A colourful hallway at Drepung MonasteryA colourful inner court at Drepung MonasteryA colourful inner court at Drepung Monastery
Four animal friends, an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit, and a bird positioned on top of each otherAn interesting paintingCommonly  seen in Tibet, a Dharma chakra (Wheel of Life) with pair of deer
One of the many colourful doorsThe inner courtyard of Drepung MonasteryA snow lion on the corner of the Drepung Monastery, commonly seen in Tibet