Images of Tibet's pilgrims and palaces

Culture, Travel | by Judith Coopy
Posted: August 24th, 2009 | Updated: January 11th, 2012 | Comments
China Photography_travel photography_chinese culture_chinese landscapes Tibet After 11 years living in Guangzhou and Macau, Judith now lives in New York. During the decade of her life in China, Judith captured over 4,000 photos, cataloguing the highlights of her extensive travels. Here, Judith shares some fantastic shots from her trip to one of the most remote cities on earth, Lhasa, where she photographed some of Tibet's most sacred locations: the Potala Palace, Barkhor Square, Sera Monastery, Jokhang Temple, Ganden Monastery and Norbulingka. Tibet 's mysterious plateaus, holy cities, and breathtaking mountains inspire pilgrimages, not only by Tibetan monks, but adventure travelers of every stripe. "The Roof of the World" offers an experience unlike any other, an insight into the complex reality of today's Tibet. Tibet saw a record number of visitors in July 2009, with over a million people, both Chinese and foreigners, making the trip.   Our first day of travel saw us arriving six hours late getting into Lhasa. Fortunately, our local guide, Pema, and the driver, Doji, were still waiting for us. They welcomed us with a traditional white silk scarf (kathak).  The airport is 45 miles (60 kilometers) outside the city so we enjoyed the ride along the Yarlung Tsangpo River.  We passed traditional houses, prayer flags flying everywhere, stone carvings of Buddha along the mountain sides and incredibly beautiful, stark mountains along the river. Yarlung River "]The Potala Palace [from the back side]    Monks on the Potala Palace Kora     We visited all the important monasteries of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) Sect of Tibetan Buddhism: Ganden, Jokhang, Sera and Drepung. All the Dalai Lamas have been from this sect. We also visited the Potala Palace: the world’s most recognizable monastery; the Norbulinka, summer home of the Dalai Lamas; a mountainside village, and undertook a few koras (pilgrim circuits) in Lhasa. I won’t say too much about the various monasteries: inside there are main halls where everyone gathers for prayer, many small chapels for individuals, and colleges where the monks study. There is a kora (pilgrim circuit) around every monastery. We saw thousands of people walking clockwise around the Potala Palace... Drepung Monastery Prayer Flag Tower Drepung Monastery was the first monastery we visited. Drepung was once home to 10,000 monks so some of these places have many buildings with hundreds of rooms and all are built high up on the mountainsides. We walked far and I became exhausted. One of the effects of altitude sickness is lack of energy and becoming easily tired. I was walking the shortcut out from this monastery when a Tibetan lady gently reached for my hand to help me as I walked down a corridor leading outdoors. I had to balance myself by touching the wall and moved at a very slow pace.   Ganden Monastery: The Seat of the Dalai Lama Lineage       Lhasa is about 4000 meters above sea level but on another day we visited Ganden Monastery about 35 miles outside of Lhasa that was 4500 meters above sea level. By this time our bodies had adjusted to the altitude. Typically we were a bit more tired than usual and not very hungry. Ganden is the seat of Dalai Lama lineage. It was quite a ride to this place. We left the main road and drove up more than 15 hairpin curves on a dirt road past a mountainside village. The view from the top was incredible.   A Pile of Dried Yak Dung

  The mountain villagers are subsistence farmers. They grow barley, potatoes, wheat, canola flowers. They have a small herd of yak and some chickens. Some of these, especially the canola oil, are traded for salt, sugar, and tea. They use solar aluminum panels to boil their water which must be carried from a well 3-4 miles distant. Dried yak dung patties are burned for cooking and heating. Barkhor Square in Downtown Lhasa   We were able to spend quite a bit of time on the most well know kora, which has become a peaceful place known as Barkhor Square. It was here that we got a feel for Tibetan arts, crafts, and customs. Over the centuries many shops have been set up along these routes, so the locals do their daily shopping at the end of their daily kora.    Prostrate Pilgrims on the Potala Palace Pilgrim Circuit   We saw thousands of people with prayer wheels, Buddhist prayer beads and incense walking clockwise around the Potola Temple and the Jokhang Temple. This is where one can get a real feel for the mysteries of Tibet. It was not just the old people, but people of all ages who do these koras. The pilgrims who have come from afar prostrate themselves along the entire route.  Jokhang Monk Wearing a Sunhat

  Courtyard Debate at Sera Monastery

What has impressed me most is the care and concern of the Tibetan people for others, not just foreigners, but their own.

  Every afternoon the monks gather in a tree-shaded courtyard and debate Buddhist scriptures and teachings with one another. **************************** Editor's Note: China Through My Lens is a bi-monthly photo series featuring the work of photographers and avid travelers living in China. Photographers are asked to share five to ten of their favorite photographs of China with short explanations of each photo. The idea is to share each individuals's unique focus and view of China—moments they were able to capture through their camera lenses. Contact us if you would like to show China through your lens. Much thanks to Judith Coopy for being the third in the series. Stay tuned for the fourth feature in a few weeks. First feature: China Through My Lens: Juliette McCawley Second feature: China Through My Lens: Hainan Insider
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