Situated in downtown Lhasa, is the oldest street in Tibet, Barkhor Street. This ancient, circular street is a popular circuit for pilgrims and also, a thriving market area. functions as a public square around Jokhang Temple, connected by different laneways and streets. The street is an excellent place for visitors to learn about the Tibetan culture, religion, arts, and economy. As a landmark and place of immense pride for locals, Barkhor Street is a must-see attraction that cannot be missed.
- Tibetans refer to Barkhor Street as the “Holy Way”.
- Barkhor Street is essentially shaped like a polygon, with a perimeter of about 1000 meters and roughly 35 alleyways.
- Because of its proximity to Jokhang Temple, the area is revered as holy amongst Buddhist faithful. Many pilgrims can be seen walking the circuit with prayer wheels from dawn until dusk.
- There are more that 120 shops and over 200 stalls on the street, selling all many of goods from Buddha statues to butter lamps, thangkas to Tibetan barley wine.
History Of Barkhor Street
With a rich history spanning over 1,300 years, Barkhor Street was constructed around the same time as the nearby Jokhang Temple. In 647 AD, the founder of the Tibetan Empire, Songtsen Gampo (circa. 557-617 to 649) ordered the construction of Jokhang Temple. According to tradition, the temple was built for the king’s two brides: Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang dynasty and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. For their respective dowries, both are said to have brought important Buddhist statutes and images from China and Nepal, to Tibet. In order to oversee the project, an additional four palaces were erected nearby for the king and his household to reside. Those structures became the first buildings that would comprise the Barkhor site.
Once Jokhang was completed, revered relics were houses within the complex. Pilgrims began gathering to behold the magnificence of the temple, and likewise, to pray. Eventually, a trodden path formed by foot-traffic of the faithful, thus, the origins of the street. Over time, more structures popped up, in addition to the aforesaid four palaces. The area became increasingly prosperous, and shops, restaurants, and hotels were constructed in the square.
In modern times, Barkhor Street has become the most important and crowded trading center in all of Lhasa. Pilgrimage is still the most important activity, what with the proximity to Jokhang (which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000). It has also become a popular tourist attraction.
One of the notable historical buildings in Barkhor is Tromzikhang. Built in1700, this structure is now a bustling market and housing complex. Constructed under the command of Tsangyang Gyatso (1683-1706), it is often referred to as “the palace of the 6th Dalai Lama”.
Culture Of Barkhor Street
As a thriving part of the city center, Barkhor Street is a unique combination of ancient Tibetan culture and architecture, and the religious significance of the site as a pilgrimage destination. The most sacred statue in Tibet, Jowo Rinpoche, is enshrined in the nearby Jokhang Temple. Therefore, it is regarded by Tibetan Buddhists as one of the three most important circumambulation roads in the entire country. Vast numbers of Buddhist faithful can be seen walking clockwise in Barkhor, chanting prayers, spinning prayer wheels, and lying prostrate on the stones of the street in reverence.
With over 120 shops and 200 stalls, there are numerous places worth visiting, all providing a glimpse into the wondrous Tibetan culture. One of the most famous restaurants in the area is Makyeame. Located in a yellow two-storey building, this establishment stands out amid the sea of white buildings. Serving fare from Nepal, India, and Tibet, this restaurant is very popular amongst locals and tourist, alike.
Another notable shop on Barkhor Street is the Xueyu Thangka Craft Store. The master craftsman will teach visitors the ancient craft of making thangka. A thangka is an elaborate Tibetan Buddhist painting made on usually silk or cotton, depicting a Buddhist deity or scene. Many shops and stalls offer thangkas for sale, however, this store in particular is a must-see.
Although the alleyways and streets of Barkhor are not often wide, they accommodate thousands of visitors each day. Some of the streets are made of lovely hand-polished stones, while some are made of dirt. With its religious and cultural significance, this is a must-see attraction for visitors to glimpse the wonders of Tibetan culture.
- Visitors must remember the religious significance of Barkhor Street, and therefore but respectful. Walk in a clockwise direction along the street, in keeping with Buddhist tradition.
- Because there are so many lanes and alleyways, visitors are advised not to wander in the area too late at night, lest you get lost.
- Be prepared to bargain with vendors when making purchases at shops and stalls. As per Tibetan tradition, vendors will give the best price to the first and last customers of the day.