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Potala Palace | Jokhang Temple | Bakhor Street, Lhasa | Dreprung Monastery, Lhasa | Ganden Monastery, Lhasa | NorbuLingka, Lhasa | Ramoche Temple, Lhasa | Sera Monastery, Lhasa |

Potala Palace

In 641, upon marrying Princess Wencheng, Songtsen Gampo decided to build a grand palace to accommodate her and to serve as a memorial to this important event. However, the original palace was destroyed by lightening and war damage during Landama's reign. In seventeenth century under the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Potala was rebuilt. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama extended it to its present size. The monastery like palace, reclining against and capping Red Hill, was the religious and political center of old Tibet and the winter residence of Dalai Lamas. It is more than 117 meters (384 feet) in height and 360 (1180 feet) in width, occupying a space of 90 thousand square meters. Potala comprises both the White Palace and the Red Palace. The former is a secular building while the latter is sacred.

The White Palace contains offices, dormitories, a Buddhist seminary and a printing house. From the east entrance which is decorated with paintings of the Four Heavenly Kings, a broad corridor upwards leads to the Deyang Shar courtyard, which where Dalai Lamas would watch operas. Around this large open courtyard, there was a seminary and dormitories. West of the courtyard is the White Palace. Inside there are three ladder stairways, the central one being exclusively for the Dalai Lamas and central government magistrates dispatched to Tibet. In the first hallway, there are huge murals depicting the construction of Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple as well as the procession of Princess Wencheng arriving in Tibet. On the south wall, visitors will see an edict signed with the Great Fifth's hand print. The White Palace houses both the political headquarters and Dalai Lamas' living accommodation. The West Chamber of Sunshine and the East Chamber of Sunshine form the top story of the White Palace. These belonged to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama respectively. Beneath the East Chamber of Sunshine is the largest hall in the White Palace and it was here that the Dalai Lamas were enthroned and ruled Tibet.

The Red Palace was constructed after the death of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The center of the complicated Red Palace is the Great West Hall, which records the Great Fifth Dalai Lama's life by its fine murals. The scene of his visit to Emperor Shunzhi in Beijing in 1652 is extraordinarily vivid. It also has finely carved columns and brackets. The hall has four additional chapels. The West Chapel houses three gold stupas of the Fifth, Tenth and Twelfth Dalai Lamas', in which their mummified and perfumed bodies are preserved. Of the three, the Fifth Dalai Lama's stupa is the biggest. It is made of sandalwood, covered with gold leaf and decorated with thousands of diamonds, pearls, agates and others gems. Standing 14.86 meters (49 feet) high, it is covered by more than 3,700 kilograms of gold. The North Chapel contains statues of Sakyamuni, Dalai Lamas and Medicine Buddha, and stupas of the Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Dalai Lamas. Against the wall is Tanjur (Beijing edition), a most important Tibetan Buddhist sutra sent to the Seventh Dalai Lama by Emperor Yongzheng. In the East Chapel a two meters (6.5 feet) high statue of Tsong Khapa, the founder of Gelugpa which is Dalai Lama's lineage, is enshrined and worshipped. In addition, about 70 famous adepts in Tibetan Buddhism surround him. The South Chapel is where a silver statue of Padmasambhava and 8 bronze statues of his reincarnations are enshrined. On the floor above, there is a gallery which has a collection of 698 murals, portraying Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Dalai Lamas and great adepts and narrating jataka stories and significant Tibetan historical events. To the west of the Great West Hall is located the Thirteenth Dalai Lama's stupa hall. Held in the same high regard as the Great Fifth, building of the stupa commenced after his death in the fall of 1933. The work took three years to complete and the stupa is comparable with that of the Great Fifth. It is 14 meters (46 feet) in height, coated with a ton (2200 pounds) of gold foils. In front of it is a mandala made of more than 200,000 pearls and other gems. Murals in the hall tell important events in his life, including his visit with Emperor Guangxu. The highest hall of Potala was built in 1690. It used to be the holy shrine of Chinese Emperors. Dalai Lamas would come here with his officials and high lamas to show their respects to the central government annually before.

Dharma Cave and the Saint's Chapel are the only structures left which were built in seventh century. They both lie central of the Red Palace. Dharma Cave is said to be the place where King Songtsen Gampo proceeded his religious cultivation. Inside the cave, statues of Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wencheng, Princess Tritsun and his chief ministers are enshrined. In the Saint's Chapel above Dharma Cave, Chenrezi, Tsong Khapa, Padmasambhava, the Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Dalai Lamas are enshrined and worshipped. Visitors may find a stone with a footprint that was believed left by the infant Twelfth Dalai Lama.

Jokhang Temple

Located in the centre of old Lhasa city, the Johkang Monastery is a prime seat of the Gelugpa (Yellow) of the Tibetan Buddhism. It was original built in 647 AD. It is said the site was chosen personally by the wife of King Songtsan Gampo, the Tang Princess Wen Cheng. It was built by craftsmen from Tibet, China and Nepal and thus features different architectural styles.

The Jokhang is the spiritual centre of Tibet and the holiest destination for all Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims.

In the central hall is the Jokhang' s oldest and most precious object-a sitting statue of Sakyamuni when he was 12 years old. This was carried to Tibet by Princess Wen Cheng from her home in Chang' an in 700 A.D. It is a gilded statue adorned with many jewels, in an elaborate setting. Pilgrims have prostrated themselves in front of this statue for centuries.

In front of the Jokhang stands an old and withered willow tree said to be planted by Princess Wen Cheng. In front of the willow is a 3 meters high pillar, which is a treaty stone recording the alliance between the King of Tibet and the Emperor of China in 823 A.D.

The third roof level of the Jokhang offers splendid views of the Barlchor Streets across to the Potala Palace. The golden roofs are superbly crafted with many birds, beasts, bell and other intricate figures.

Every Tibetan New Year, which falls some time between January to March, according to the Tibetan Calendar, the Jokhang hosts the "Great Prayer Festival". This festival was first celebrated in 1409 under the leadership of Tsong Khapa, and has been held annually since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama. During the festivals, thousands of monks come to perform colorful religious activities in and around the Jokhang, and there is much celebration throughout Lhasa.

Bakhor Street, Lhasa

The Barkhor is found in the heart of Lhasa circling the Jokhang Temple. It means " a pilgrim' s inner circuit", and is the earliest street of old Lhasa city.

In the past, it was only a circumambulation circuit, "a saint road" in the eyes of Tibetan. Now it's also a shopping center with nation characteristics. Its an old district with colorful Tibetan features. Tibetan houses line the street, and the ground is paved with man-made flagstones, preserving the ancient look. In the street, you can find satisfactory souvenirs, and experience the mysterious "one step one kowtow" faith to religion. It dates back to the foundation of the Jokhang and is an essential pilgrim route. Houses and small inns were built all around the street. All the houses along the street are stores. All kinds of fantastic commodities show us all aspects of the Tibetan life. As time went on, shops and businesses also set up in the Barkhor, and it slowly became a prosperous area.

In the past 30 years many more services and facilities have opened, shops have increased and the street is scattered with stalls. It bustles with activity and is always jam-packed with trades people. It is "must" for souvenir-hunting tourists.

Many people call the Barkhor "the window of Tibet" as it is a typical reflection of Tibetan life. The old circumambulation circuit is always crowded with pilgrims from everywhere. Some come along the road by performing the body-long kowtows, some come by truck. Some are monks, and some are businessmen from Kham. In a word, here you will find people from all over Tibet. You can enjoy different dresses, and languages. Even the similar-looking dresses of the monks vary depending on the different religions. Bakhor Street is the window to view the Tibetan area, which is silently telling the history of Lhasa.

Dreprung Monastery, Lhasa

Drepung Monastery lies in west of Lhasa under Mt. Gambo Utse, clustered round by the black mountain, its white grand buildings shining under the sunlight. Built in 1416, it is considered as one of the largest monasteries in the six principle monasteries of Gelu Sect in China. Drepung Monastery used to be the living palace of Dalai Lamas before the reconstruction of Potala palace (after the 5th Dalai Lamas was bestowed by Qing emperor Qianlong)

The 5th Dalai Lama enlarged Drepung and ruled there while the Potala was being built. This magnificent monastery was built on an enormous scale, resembling a huge walled city. From its roofs, one can enjoy a scenic view of Lhasa city.

According to religious records, during the foundation of Drepung, Tsong Khapa discovered a magical white conch shell with counter clockwise swirls, believed to be buried by the Buddha Sakyamuni. Tsong Khapa bestowed this religious treasure to Drepung, and it can still be seen today in the "Great Sutra Chanting Hall".

As the most powerful of the "Gelukpa" monasteries, Drepung had seven colleges and, at its height, housed over 10,000 monks. It owns many splendid murals, elaborate statues and other rich treasures. A giant golden statue of Buddha "Jiangba Tongzhenma" sits near the precious conch shell.

Drepung was also listed as a national cultural relic in 1982.

Ganden Monastery, Lhasa

Gandan perches on the top of Mountain Wanrigu, 60 kms east of Lhasa, at an altitude of 3800m. It was founded in 1409 by Tsong Khasa, at originator of the Gelukpa, or Yellow Hatsect. As the abbot of Gandan, Tsong Khapa preached Buddhism and wrote many books here. Gandan covers an enormous area, as building continued for generations. It is one of the three principle Gelukpa monasteries in the Lhasa district.

Gandan consists of many temples and other buildings. The "Cuoqin Vihara" has 108 pillars and is large enough to house 3500 monks at one time. It contains the beautiful and skillfully carved bronze statues of maitreya and Tsong Khapa. The throne of Tsong Khapa plus his collection of Tibetan status can also be found there. The "Chituokhan Buddhist Temple" is one of the earliest buildings of Gandan, and this is where Tsong Khapa and successive Gandan abbots lived. The 7th Dalai Lama added an ornate golden pinnacle to the building. The temple contains many Buddhist Suras, ancient codes and other personal belongings of Tsong Khapa. The "Yanbajian Hall" is a large four-storey building with 72 pillars. Building began in 1409 and finished in 1416. A golden pinnacle was added to the hall in 1610 by the 4th Panchen Lama. The outside garden contains the stupa' s of successive abbots. Inside the hall is a suit of armor belonging to Chinese Emperor Qian Long, who presented it to Gandan in 1757. It is one of Gandan' s highly-prized treasures. The suit bears an inscription, written in Han, Manchu, Mongol and Tibetan, showing the Qing Emperors respect of the Buddha.

"Shidoukhan Palace" contains the stupa of Tsong Khapa, and marks the place where he died on October 25, 1419. The following years Dama Bergin, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, built a silver stupa in his honor. In later years, the 13th Dalai Lama rebuilt this stupa in gold.

Gandan is also listed as one of the Tibet' s cultural relics, under the Special Protection of the State. During the Cultural Revolution, Gandan was badly damaged. Special funds are now provided by the state for its reconstruction.

NorbuLingka, Lhasa

NorbuLingka is named the Summer Palace, located west of Lhasa. NorbuLingka was built in 1755. That's where the later generations after the 7th Dalai Lama deal with affairs, hold celebrations and spend the hot season, rest and conduct religious activities. In the mid-March every year, Dalai will move here from the Potala Palace, stay here until the end of October and then return to the Potala Palace. So, NorbuLingka is called "the summer palace" and the Potala Palace "the winter palace". The garden covers an area of 46 acres, with 370 rooms of different sizes. In the garden people worship Buddha, spend their holiday, and study the Tibetan-style palaces.

Ramoche Temple, Lhasa

This temple is often called the "Minor Jokhang Temple" and is located in the North part of Lhasa city, about 1 km from the Jokhang. Ramoche has a long history, and was founded at the same time as the Jokhang. Throughout history it has suffered destruction by fire, and has been rebuilt several times.

In the days of King Songtsan Gampo, Ramoche Temple was originally built to house the famous statue of Sakyamuni, now found in the Jokhang, which was originally brought to Tibet by Princess Wen Cheng. Legend has it that when Princess Wen Cheng and her entourage arrived at the North gate of Lhasa, her carriage got stuck in the mud. Her assistants could not remove the statue and so they covered it temporarily with 4 pillars and white brocade. Later, the Princess ordered the construction of Ramoche as a shrine for the statue. Twenty years later, in 652 A.D., the leader of Tibet was concerned with rumours that the Chinese Emperor was considering an invasion of Tibet. As a protection, he moved the Sakyamuni statue from the Ramoche to the Jokhang, and hid it from view. It had remained there ever since. In exchange Ramoche Temple received a smaller bronze statue of Sakyamuni, which has been brought to Tibet by Songtsan Gampo's other wife, the Nepalese Princess Tritsun. This can still be seen at Ramoche Temple today.

Sera Monastery, Lhasa

Sera means "Hailstone" in Tibet, and legend tells that it hailed during the foundation of this famous monastery. Sera was the last of the three principal Yellow Sect monasteries to be built in Lhasa. Unlike Drepung and Gandan, it was not built on a mountainside. It was completed in 1419, under the supervision of Shaka Yeshe. Shaka Yeshe was an important teacher who traveled to Beijing and as far as Mongolia to preach Buddhism. He was given the title "The Tutor of the Empire", by the Ming Emperor, Xuan De. Many precious gifts were sent to Sera by the Chinese Emperors of the time, many of which are well preserved and can be seen at Sera to this day. Sera comprises a great sutra chanting hall, a college and 32 sections. It once housed nearly 10,000 monks, and is proud of its glorious history during the Ming Dynasty. Sera has been listed as one of the P.R.C.'s national cultural relic since 1982.


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