Kora blimey! Bless you, Lhasa

by Ant Stone on October 2, 2007

in Tibet

One thousand. Two thousand. Three thousand. Four thousand. FIVE thousand. I shrieked ‘weeeeeeeeeeee…’ with delight, as we descended leisurely toward ‘the Forbidden City’ of Lhasa from the oxygen-sapping Tanggula Pass- fellow passengers celebrated with a ‘5000m Party’, flicking exaggerated whoops and cheers around the cabin on torn strips of toilet roll. As we tumbled off the train at Lhasa station, my flip-flops skimmed across it’s spotless surface – a sign we were truly out of China proper – and my gaze floated skyward to the deep azure, locking brilliant white clouds into place. I barely noticed my respiratory system throwing a tantrum- I’d assumed the gasps and gulps were simply a natural reaction to the infamous city’s idyllic welcome.

If Buddhism has such a thing as a confession booth, I suggest you buy me an express ticket. ‘Father – sorry, Heavenly Father – I do take thee to be my lawful wedded wi… No, no, wait! I do confess, for over 3 months I may of tickled Maitreya’s bulbous belly, and lost numerous staring competitions with the poker-faced Amitabha but still, I can’t tell a mantra from a monk’. Well, I actually can, but you get the drift. I hasten to add that I’m the same with Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism, in fact sod it – all religions. I even struggle – God forbid – with Zoroastrianism. However, the jovial nature of the cluster of words above, should not take away from the respect I hold for the millions, probably billions, that hold a firm faith. My religion – as clichéd as it sounds – is Travelism, and the people that line my pilgrimage. It’s this belief, that has brought me to Lhasa to drift thoughtfully among the factions of prayer-wheeling pilgrims, murmuring monks and trigger-happy tourists that trace the Barkhor kora (a traditional pilgrims circuit) around Lhasa’s central Jokhang Temple today.

On the face of it, Lhasa could be just another Chinese city. Though filter in the aforementioned pilgrims and monks. Shift a few Kodak shops this way, a couple of bbq stalls that way and there’s just about room for the large, no huge, no massive Potala Palace to tower like a stray structure of maroon-red and dazzling-white lego blocks over the cities monastery-dappled carpet. No less than 1000 rooms riddle it’s insides, and the 26 or so open to tourists give a golden glimpse of the magnificence to the seat of the once Tibetan government, and former residence to the – shhhh – Dalai Lama (though he’s been at his holiday home in Dharamsala, India since 1959). I visited Potala on a Chinese national holiday, the corresponding red of the PRC flag flapped powerfully upon it’s summit, as it did throughout Lhasa city. Outside the exit, a beautiful Tibetan girl (maybe 8 ) knelt down in her leather apron, then prostrated herself on the ground in full view of a row of metal prayer-wheels. She did this solemnly, with patience, beside her proud father. Each time they rose, they inched clockwise along their kora pausing only to accept offerings from respecting onlookers. If the physical nature wasn’t cause enough to donate, the dignified attitude in her act most definitely was.

Sera Monastery is a completely different experience, while the Potala is an imposing block, Sera is a network of chapels and courtyards, where monks still live today in their hundreds. The white-washed walls, cobbled pathways and sporadic, hardy trees created a monastic complex not too dissimilar to a Mediterranean village. The original intention for the visit was to experience a courtyard of debating monks, an apparent raucous environment in which numerous pairs of monks debate loudly with each other, hand-clapping and shouting aplenty. But alas. It was Sunday. The only day of the week they decide to ‘get on’. Though this did mean the the monastary was quiet, and suitably peaceful. To my surprise, and delight, a friendly-faced monk insisted I take a photo of the two of us. I duly obeyed, who was I to argue, especially on a Sunday – though alas, the candlelight threw my autofocus. Another monk insisted I insert my head into a cavern beneath what I believed to be a shrine, as I struggled outwards I cracked my head on it’s mantle and he broke a smirk. My reward was a white, silk Tibetan prayer scarf hung around my neck by the shaven-headed monk, a vertical black strip painted down my nose and a carving of a horse, kindly pointed out as being, indeed, a “horse“. I am blessed. I celebrated by joining my fellow kind, in the kora around Jokhang Temple before tucking into a ubiquitous yak steak.

In approximately a weeks time I tour south to Nepal’s turbulent capital, Kathmandu. Among other places, I stop at the Chinese base-camp for Mount Everest. This hump could delay posts, though gladly I have another week to go in Lhasa and the surrounding area, so at least one more post should be spawned from here. The silver-lining for your patience, will be my uncapped ability to upload photos once again. Hallelujah!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Glen Wallings - ATG October 2, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Hello me old mate, how the devil are you. I hope you are coping mate. Have just read one of your entries and ‘wow’ if this stuff don’t make you famous I dont know what will. Its extremely well written and I enjoyed the comical tones and will continue to read the rest (when im not looking after kids, working, getting stoned etc). Seriously Ant this shit is good, only wish I had discovered it earlier. Anyway better get on with Ride magazine, goes tommorow, my working life now somehow seems very dull and boring after reading you entries. Well done mate, keep going, and don’t take any shit about your chopstick technique. See you anon. Glen ATG


reb October 3, 2007 at 4:57 am

Another fab tale of the travels!!!!!You know what i think of your writing so need i say anymore…

***** (thats five out of five stars by the way!!!!)


Amanda Hanton October 5, 2007 at 8:25 am

Really really enjoying this, takes me right back. Remember don’t cross the line at Everest, its a hefty fine of 200 US for going past base camp.(Though they’ll not see you)

Enjoy enjoy enjoy!!!

Bump into you soon.


Graham Hobbs October 19, 2007 at 10:52 pm

Well there’s a surprise, Glen Wallings can’t spell tomorrow – too many M and M’s and not enough arse!! – But he is right in one thing – your writing is eloquent and your knowledge exceeds you years – Take care, mate and keep up the good work – Hobby!!


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