is the spiritual centre of Lhasa, and is the largest temple of Tibetan Buddhism. Visiting the Jokhang is an unforgettable experience. Outside the temple are pilgrims performing thousands of ritual prostrations, some of whom have travelled hundreds of miles this way. Many wear leather aprons and kneepads fashioned from tires, and hold pieces of wood to help them slide more easily without injuring themselves, but it’s easy to recognise those who have come far by the marks on their forehead (it’s estimated that it takes about 70 000 successive prostrations to travel one hundred kilometres !).
Inside the temple the acrid scent of yak butter lamps pervades the air with a distinctive rancid smell, very characteristic of Tibetan temples. The walls are blackened by centuries of lamp smoke, but it’s still possible to distinguish the striking paintings of bulging-eyed "wrathful deities" wearing garlands of severed heads. In the temple, which you have to move round clockwise, our companions were mainly small old ladies who walk while constantly turning a small handheld prayer wheel.
In the street you frequently see Tibetans of all ages walking while turning a prayer wheel in one hand and holding a child or a bag of shopping in the other. They contain written mantras (prayers), and turning them supposedly releases the prayer into the air just as if it was being spoken.