Tibet/Nepal 2018- The Barkhor and the Jokhang Temple

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The scent of burning juniper fills the air, and the soft swirling of prayer wheels meshes with shuffling of feet and the quiet hum of pilgrims uttering their mantras, as devoted Tibetans make their clockwise kora through the streets of the Barkhor, encircling the Jokhang Temple. Joining in stream of pilgrims, one witnesses the fascinating practices of devout Tibetan Buddhists.

The Barkhor Square is the name given to the narrow alleys around the Jokhang Temple, the most revered religious site in Tibet, which is utilized for spiritual and secular purposes. The street was built over 1300 years in conjunction with the temple and has been at the center of life in Lhasa. The Barkhor is comprised of 35 major and smaller streets. Within the Old Town of Lhasa (aka Barkhor Historic Area) is the Barkhor’s kora, the one kilometer route used by pilgrims for clockwise circumambulation and prostration. The kora route is marked with four large incense burners. The Barkhor has been the main shopping district of the city from its earliest times.

Having the privilege to visit the Barkhor early in the morning, midday, and in the evening, allowed for me to experience the diverse activities surrounding the area. Upon entrance to the Barkhor Square, we had to pass through a screening area manned by Chinese officials, regardless of time of day. There was a larger security presence in place during the midday and evening hours. Not surprising, the early morning before sunrise, was quiet and meditative. Many carried prayer wheels and everyone had prayer beads at hand. Most shops along the route were not yet open for business. Pilgrims were more introspective and less engaged with those around them as they participated in the kora. Some did prostrations for the entire route, most walked. A few stopped to add juniper to one of the four large incense burners or to take their turn in spinning the larger prayer wheels along the route. There were students dressed in school uniforms, monks and nuns in their crimson robes, people walking their pet dogs, and those in professional attire, likely on the way to work. During my midday and evening visits, the area was busier and we saw more tourists like ourselves. The shops were open for business, and owners actively tried to entice potential consumers to purchase their Tibetan prayer beads, colorful prayer flags, amulets, singing bowls, and thangka paintings. The front of the Jokhang Temple was full of prostrating pilgrims. Upon entering the inner sanctum of the Jokhang Temple you can not miss the strong smell of incense and the heavy odor of melting yak butter, which the devoted continuously add to large urns from their personal thermoses. Offerings of fruit, money, katas, and prayer flags were heaped at many alters. The temple was extremely busy, full of Tibetan pilgrims wanting to see the Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha.

For more details on the history, significance, and images of the Barkhor and Jokhang Temple, please visit:

The Jokhang Temple Prostrating pilgrims in front of the Jokhang Temple Prayer wheels along the Barkhor kora route Tibetans participating in the the kora around the Barkhor