THINGS TO DO : Admire the architecture, Buddha statues, carvings and murals
SEASON : All year round
HISTORY : More than 1,300 years
Jokhang Temple, also known as Zuglagkang, Qoikang Monastery(Buddha Hall in Tibetan), and Jokhang Monastery, is considered the spiritual heart of Lhasa city and the most sacred monastery in Tibet due to the status of Jowo Rinpoche. The Jokhang is 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) southeast of the Potala Palace, in the center of the old city of Lhasa. It is also the oldest temple in Lhasa, with a history of more than 1,300 years. It was an important symbol of the Tubo dynasty at that time, and it is still the center of many important political and religious activities in Tibet.
Tibetan people called the area of Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street(a walkway for pilgrims to walk around the temple) “Lhasa”, which means the place of the Gods in the Tibetan language. Thus you can see Jokhang Temple has a supreme position in Tibetan people's minds. If you stay in Jokhang Temple longer and observe it carefully, you will find it's the center of Lhasa people’s living life. All people's daily lives expand around this monastery. With the thick smell of yak butter, echoing with the murmur of mantras and bustling with awed pilgrims, visiting Jokhang Temple is an unrivaled travel experience.
History of Jokhang Temple
Jokhang Temple was built in the center of the Lhasa old town. Estimated dates for Jokhang Temple’s founding range from 639 to 647 AD. Construction was initiated by King Songtsen Gampo to house a statue of Jowo Mikyo Dorje brought to Tibet as part of the dowry of his Nepali wife Princess Bhrikuti. Ramoche Temple was constructed at the same time to house another Buddha statue, Jowo Rinpoche, brought to Tibet by his Chinese wife Princess Wencheng. It is thought that after the death of Songtsen Gampo, Jowo Sakyamuni was moved from Ramoche Temple for its protection and hidden in Jokhang Temple by Princess Wencheng. The statue has remained in Jokhang Temple ever since, and it’s the most revered Buddha statue in all of Tibet.
Rasa Thrulnag Tsuklakang ("House of Mysteries" or "House of Religious Science") was Jokhang's ancient name. When King Songtsen built the temple, his capital city was known as Rasa. After the king's death, Rasa became known as Lhasa; the temple was called Jokhang—"Temple of the Lord"—derived from Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha, its primary image.
Jokhang Temple was destroyed in 1966 and had a renovation in 1972, and was mostly complete by 1980.
Statue of Jowo Rinpoche
Jowo Rinpoche(Rinpoche means treasures in the Tibetan language) or Jowo Shakyamuni is considered to be the most sacred and important Buddha statue in the eyes of Tibetans. It's a life-sized Sakyamuni Buddha statue enshrined in Jokhang Temple. This Sakyamuni Buddha statue has been brought to Tibet in the 7th century when Buddhism began. And this Buddha statue is considered to be a direct link to the Buddha and the most accurate portrait of Sakyamuni Buddha. This is the reason why this life-sized Sakyamuni Buddha statue makes Lhasa the holy land and Jokhang Temple the center of the world's Buddhism. It was said before Sakyamuni entered nirvana under the Bodhi tree, he granted the request from disciples to bless 3 life-sized Buddha statues in order to guide all living creatures, which are an 8-year-old life-sized statue, a 12-year-old life-sized statue, and a 25-year-old life-sized statue. Today, the precious 12-year-old life-sized Buddha statue is enshrined at Jokhang Temple. On the way to pilgrimage, the 12-year-old life-sized statue is the destination of every devotee. Those believers use their bodies to measure land and the end-point that their fingertips touch is the bluestone floor in front of Jokhang Temple. It's said whoever sees the Jowo Rinpoche statue will relieve pain, generate real faith, and possess all the merits of seeing, hearing, thinking and touching.
The legend of Jokhang Temple
The Legend goes that there was a lake before Jokhang Temple was set up. By the lake, Tubo king Srongtsen Gampo ever made a promise to Nepali wife princess Bhrikuti that he would build a temple wherever the ring dropped. Then he threw out the ring and it fell into the lake exactly. Immediately, a bright light appeared above the lake and a nine-stage white pagoda emerged in the light. Thus a magnificent building project started here and thousands of white goats were used to transfer soil for building.
It was said that princess Bhrikuti and princess Wencheng each brought a precious Sakyamuni Buddha statue as their most important dowries. Princess Bhrikuti brought the 8-year-old life-sized Sakyamuni Buddha statue and princess Wencheng brought another 12-year-old life-sized Sakyamuni Buddha statue. To enshrine such holy Buddha statues, Songtsen Gampo built the earliest Buddhism architectures -- Jokhang Temple and Ramoche Temple.
According to the legend, Jokhang Temple was flooded several times during the construction. Princess Wencheng found the Tibetan Plateau was a demon woman (local people called it Rasa) lying supine on the ground. The shape of Rasa is represented as having a body of a human, with the head towards the east and feet towards the west. The lake under Jokhang Temple was the heart of Rasa and lake water was its blood. Princess Wencheng said they had to fill in the lake with soil and build a Temple to keep the whole Tibetan Plateau safe, as it's the heart of Rasa. She also recommended another outlying 12 sites to build small temples to dominate Rosa's arms, legs, and joints.
Jokhang Temple has a total construction area of more than 25,000 square meters and more than 20 halls. It's the most splendid surviving building of the Tubo period in Tibet and also the earliest civil structural building in Tibet. It integrated the architectural styles of Tibet, the Tang Dynasty of China, Nepal, and India, and has become a model of Tibetan religious architecture for thousands of years. Over the centuries, Jokhang Temple has undergone many renovations, but the basic layout is ancient and differs from that of many other Tibetan religious structures. One crucial difference is the building’s east-west orientation. It's said to face Nepal to honor Princess Bhrikuti. A few interior carved pillars and entrance arches remain from the original 7th-century work of Newari artisans brought from the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal to work on the construction.
This journey starts from exploring Lhasa city, then drive to Namtso for a ‘Heavenly Lake’ experience. On the way, you will enjoy the vast grassland and charming natural scenery. The last station is to head to Tsedang for discovering the "cradle of Tibetan civilization" and Samye Monastery, the first monastery in Tibet.
You will explore the most spectacular natural and cultural scenery of Tibet, including Mt.Everest-the world's highest mountain, Mt.Kailash-the center of the world, and Lake Manasarovar-the most sacred lake. Finally arrive in Kathmandu.
If you prefer to enjoy the Yangtze River cruise trip in Chongqing city, it would be a good choice to continue your travel to Tibet after visiting Chongqing. The only direct train (No.Z224) from Chongqing to Lhasa departs every other day, it takes you around 35hrs to reach Lhasa and covers 3,269km.