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Jokhang Temple

Jokhang Temple is the spiritual center of Tibet and the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Pilgrims.

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About Jokhang Temple

Also known in Tibetan as the Tsuglhakhang, the Jokhang Temple is the most revered religious structure in Tibet. Thick with the smell of yak butter, the murmur of mantras and the shuffling of wide-eyed pilgrims, the Jokhang Temple is an unrivaled Tibetan experience. In 2000, it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as an addition to the Potala Palace. In 2001, the State Tourism Administration appraised the Jokhang Temple as 4A-level tourism site. Don’t miss it.

Lying at about 1,000 meters to the east of the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple is the oldest architecture in Lhasa and has a long history of 1,400 years. In 1961, it was selected among the first group of State cultural protection relic units.

The history of the Jokhang Temple started in AD 647 of the Tang Dynasty. According to the Tibetan documents, when the Tubo rulers first moved the capital to Lhasa, disasters frequented many places in Tibet, leaving the people little time or possibility to settle down for a good living. Upon Songtsan Gambo’s invitation, Tang Dynasty Emperor Taizong sent his daughter Princess Wencheng to marry Songtsan Gambo in Tibet.

Princess Wencheng was an expert of astrology and divination in observing the movement of stars and the Yin-Yang Forces existing in nature and human affairs. She said that only by establishing a grand temple at a central lake in Lhasa could the demons be subdued and evils driven away. Songtsan Gambo followed her suggestion to order the construction of a temple. Constructors drove flocks of white goats from the Painbo region in northern Tibet to carry earth and fill up the lake. Thus locals called the place “Rasa”, which means “Land of Goats”. The word later evolved into today’s “Lhasa”.

Historical annals say that when the monastery was first completed, there were only 8 halls for storing Buddhist sutras and paying tribute to Buddhas. During the Tubo period, there were fierce struggles between Buddhism and the native Bon Religion. In following centuries, Lhasa was the center of political fights and witnessed numerous power successions, which repeatedly affected the Jokhang Temple. Since 1409 of the Ming Dynasty, the Jokhang Temple has undergone successive renovation to form today’s scale.

With the front gates facing west, the architecture group is distributed along the axis, consisting of the arch gateway, Buddha Hall, covered corridor, patio, courtyard and dormitory for Lamas. The entire construction covers 25,100 square meters. The ground and the first floor of the Buddha Hall were built in the Tang Dynasty, with the brick flooring, wooden column, door frame and wooden carvings the original objects made in the seventh century.

The second and the third floors of the Buddha Hall as well as the adjacent constructions were added after the eleventh century. The Buddha Hall is the main bulk and the cream of the Jokhang Temple. It now has 4 storeys. The middle part of the Buddha Hall is a tall and spacious covered patio. The ground floor is occupied by the main hall and its adjacent halls. Deep-set in the Buddha Hall, the main hall enshrines the 1.5-meter tall glided bronze statue of Sakyamuni, which is shaped as when the founder of Buddhism was 12 years old. The holy statue was brought to Tibet by Princess Wencheng and it used to be enshrined in the Ramoche Temple.

When another Tang Dynasty princess Jincheng arrived in Lhasa several centuries later, she moved the statue into the Jokhang Temple, which added even more holy aura to the temple. Most of the pilgrims who brave numerous obstacles traversing thousands of miles across the plateau head for this statue in Lhasa.

Photographic apparatus

Usually it is forbidden to use flash lamp in temples, so it is necessary to equip a digital camera with large aperture lens or supporting high ISO. Of course, some temples, through negotiating, will allow you to use flash lamp and then you may add an outer glow to get better effect. However, if you are not allowed to use flash light inside the temple, a tripod can be applied to help get clearer and more satisfactory photos.

Best Time to Go

Pilgrims come from all corners of Tibet to go on a pilgrimage in Jokhang Temple every day, especially during Tibetan festival or religious ceremony. If you are lucky enough, you will see a golden rainbow after raining in summer.

It is suitable to photograph the inner Jokhang Monastery in the morning, which is also the best time to shoot Golden roof and Potala Palace. You can take the shining Golden roof as foreground to photograph the distant Potala Palace on the platform.

If you want to capture frontal view of the temple, you need to wait until sunset within an hour. The sunset time in summer is around 20:30. By that time, the top of Jokhang Temple becomes golden red with golden sunshine, which adding a sense of mystery and holiness to the temple. Moreover, solemn Great Prayer Festival will be held during lunar January 5th to 26th in Tibetan calendar, which is a good chance to capture religious subjects.

Restaurant and Accommodation

There are many sweet teahouses and Tibetan restaurants, and even some specialty restaurants provide Nepal's meal and Indian meal on Barkhor Street.

The accommodations offer tourists a variety of choice, from 3 star hotels to 4 or 5 star hotels. Various hotels and guesthouses are concentrated in Beijing Road in Lhasa, such as Kailash hotel (standard room is CNY150 per room), Xinhua hotel (standard room is CNY150 each room) and Lhasa Photo guesthouse (CNY 35 per bed).

Shooting Location

1.Jokhang Monastery Square

It is the prior location to capture the main entrance of Jokhang Monastery in the afternoon by frontlighting. Stream of pilgrims who are spinning prayer wheel and prostrating themselves are superduper humanities subjects. Sometimes, what photographers need is to be more patient. Just sit on the ground and take transient and wonderful pictures by large aperture telephoto lens.The benefit of telephoto lens is that you can take some natural pictures without their knowing.

2. The Golden roof

The Golden roof is usually taken as the foreground to increase the depth of field of shooting the distant Potala palace. Shining Falun and golden glazed tile roof add a sense of mystery. It is suitable to shoot in the morning by frontlighting.

Photography Plan

Jokhang Monastery is a must-see tourist attraction in Tibetan photography tour. You need at least half day or even the whole day to finish your shooting, together with Barkhor Street. Or make full use of some small patches of time to visit the temple.

In the morning, enter the Jokhang Monastery from main entrance with stream of tourists and pilgrims. The first thing you see is the courtyard, which is the birth place of Gussie in Tibetan Buddhism. There are a few rows of butter lamps on the east side of the yard, where you can take a close-up of the lamp.

Then, visit every temple clockwise one by one with stream of people. After visiting the temple, you can circle the temple with pilgrims. One round contains 380 prayer wheels and you can capture the pilgrims or the movement of prayer wheels with slow shutter.

Afterwards, go back to the staircases at the ticket office and climb up to the platform of second and third floor, where you can overlook of Jokhang Monastery square and Potala Palace.

At noon, take a snapshot of pilgrims who prostrating themselves and turn into Barkhor Street clockwise. Select a Tibetan restaurant to have lunch. Then return to the square in the afternoon, waiting for sunset. Try to use double exposure to achieve special effects of Jokhang Monastery.

Tips of Jokhang Temple

1. In the morning, from 08:00 to 11:30, it's open to religious people. From 11:30 to 17:30, it's open to tourists.

2. The best way to explore the temple is to arrive at 8am to watch the pilgrims perform their devotions, and then visit the interior in the afternoon.

3. Another 90RMB for a permission card of taking photos inside the main hall. No flash inside the hall.

4. Flashlight and head lamp can be very useful in temples. Carry with you some lighting tools to see clearly some important wall paintings, sculptures and other cultural relics.

5. After entering the temple, you must walk clockwise.

6. There’s butter everywhere inside the temples in Tibet and you should be careful protecting the camera from it, especially when you play back the photos for the people in them, don’t let the curious Tibetan pilgrims touch your camera or the lens.

7. Safekeep your ticket during your shooting.

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