People bustling by, so close I can feel their breath against my cheeks and the sound of their prayer wheels whizzing round as they continue past me on their Kora around the Barkor circuit. I am struck by much more than simply needing to adjust to the altitude. The constant release of incense just in front of the Jokhang temple takes a while to take in for both my nose and eyes as I observe everything through the haze. Standing for a few minutes taking in the atmosphere, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for on my trip to Tibet. To stand with fellow Buddhists, join in with the daily Kora around the temple and to watch those prostrating in front of the temple offers me so much release and relief. Some have come for their daily worship whilst others are finishing their pilgrimage now months or years from their home and are still fully prostrating their bodies as they make their way around the temple on the final stretch.
The variety of people in this square is both eye-catching and humbling in the same moment. Monks go by old and young, Tibetans help fellow Buddhists make their way around the temple, traditional and modern outfits flash by and I catch a glimpse of them out of the corner of my eye as I focus my attention on the temple before me and try to find a place to start my own prostration. Prayer flags are wrapped around posts and nearby shops display them too subtly encouraging tourists to buy them. I can hear the strains of Tibetan music coming from the shops and my fellow travellers are telling me they are going to find a café to people watch and try to adjust to everything they are seeing, hearing and smelling.
I can’t believe I’m actually here, all these years of being being a Buddhist and wanting to visit Tibet to see what it’s really like and here I stand in Lhasa, in Barkor square taking part in all acts of worship in front of the Jokhang temple. The Potala palace stands tall and proud behind me, a supporting backbone to my thoughts and emotional responses to all of this.
No-one notices others as they make their way around the temple, they seem to occupy their space no matter how many people deep they are in the circuit. Some start to join, others have finished and many are clearly doing more than the 3 circuits of the Kora. There is history here but there is also the sense of change with the Chinese flag always flying close by, traditional being mixed with modern as so many are chatting on their phones, wearing modern clothes rather than traditional dress. on people’s faces, no matter how many people are around, how much noise there is surrounding them, those doing the Kora look so focussed in their steps and peaceful in their faces. This is without doubt the most beautiful place in the world.