Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lhasa's Religious Tourism

There is a lot of talk about Lhasa becoming a new destination for tourists. But it seems to me, that historically, Lhasa has always been a destination for tourists. Religious tourists. They come from all over Tibet, to visit the holiest places of Tibetan Buddhism. The three "must sees" for every Religious tourist & every other tourist are:

Potola Palace

Jokara Monastary

Sera Monastary

Potola Palace - not the holiest place, but definately the largest & most prominent. Here is where the Dalai Lama would live if he were still in Tibet and where most of the other Dalai Lamas are burried. Now it is a shell of its former self. The beauty & splendor are still there, but most of the Palace is empty. About 40 monks (once hundreds lived here) live on as caretakers, and the hundreds of people that walk through the empty rooms every day are temporary visitors - there on a 90 minute walk through.

People walk clock-wise around the base of Potola Palace, spinning prayer wheels as they go.

Most of the visitors are Tibetans from other parts of Tibet. But increasingly, the visitors are Chinese, especially during the summer season.

Jokara Monastary - this is what the real religious tourists come to see & pay homage to. This is considered the holiest place in Tibetan Buddhism. Around 641 AD, a Chinese princess was married to the Tibetan King. She brought with her a giant Buddha Statue & Jokara Monastary is its resting place. Thousands upon thousands of people make the trek to Lhasa to walk around the Monastary & then prostrate in front of it. People were just as interested in us filming as they were in watching the people who were prostrating!

Sera Monastary - every afternoon, at 3pm, the monks of Sera Monastary arrive in this courtyard to debate philosophy. Religious tourists, locals, foreigners... everyone comes to watch.

The monk sitting on the ground is the one being asked the questions. The monk standing asks the question and then claps his hands when the questionee is to answer. Another type of clap denotes a wrong answer. The questions & answers get pretty intenste!

After the debate, the monks gather in the center of the courtyard for a chant & meditation.

Monks leaving Sera after the debate:

We shot a spec Panasonic commercial here too... (no just kidding, but we thought it was pretty funny)

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