Devin Moore Tibet Travel Part 3: A view from the roof of Jokhang Temple

Click here to see Lhasa from the roof of Jokhang Temple!

Today, part three of my series on Tibet takes us to Lhasa. While the previous installment features Lhasa’s Jokhang Square in the early morning, this week features a video that was taken on the roof of Jokhang Temple in the mid afternoon. As we discussed last time, Jokhang Temple is a pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists from all corners of Tibet; even those living in the most remote areas aspire to make the journey at least once in their life. This place houses the only known image of the Shakyamuni Buddha known to remain in existence. When the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was twelve years old, a statue was carved of him and given to Tibet as a gift from Beijing.


Relative to the crisp mornings, the wind blows lightly carrying with it a warm mixture of fresh mountain air and incense that wafts up from the square below. In this video, we can see Tibetans performing maintenance on the temple’s roof. They pack a concrete like mixture to the rhythm of a chant. My tour guide, Sonam, said that this is done in a traditional way that dates back hundreds of years. I remember passing by several times throughout my stay, peering up to the top of the temple and seeing the people stepping back and forth to the rhythm of a chant.


I ponder the meaning of the chant, it repeats rhythmically over and over again. One line of people will pack the roofing material, while another rests, then they both start moving again. Maybe the chant just passes time! Or maybe it is used to ensure quality work; if you look closely you can see that they step and pack the concrete like mixture in a pattern that follows the rhythm of the chant. As the video pans to the right others they are busy working. It seems that they are pouring the concrete mixture in preparation for it to be packed by the constant rhythmic stomping of others. I wonder why they do it in this way; one possibility that crossed my mind was that they might not have the means of carrying water up to the roof.


Peering out over the rooftops of Lhasa gives insight into daily life for some Tibetans. Many people build small dwellings on the rooftops of buildings; some even have greenhouses from which they can grow produce in the winter. Below are the crowded alleyways of Barkhor Bazaar lined with shops and souvenir stalls. Many shops around the temple sell souvenirs, like prayer flags and Tibetan opera masks to tourists and religious items to pilgrims. As you move away from Jokhang square, the shops become more oriented towards locals, selling every day household items and food. Many vendors sell excellent noodle dishes flavored with a blend of soy sauce, garlic, and chili pepper; coincidentally three of my favorite flavors!


The view from the top of Jokhang Temple not only gives a different visual perspective, but also makes you contemplate your surroundings in a different way. You see every day Tibetan life and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains that provide a taste of life outside Lhasa. Thought provoking scenes like these can be found all throughout Tibet. This one in particular captured my imagination; I hope it will for you too!

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