In Lhasa, west of the famous Potala Palace (one of destination of top 10 China tours) is another historic landmark, although this one is more natural than man-made. Chakpori Mountain is considered sacred by many, and once served as home to one of Tibet’s best-known medical schools. At Mentsikhang, as it was known, one could find the best local doctors around. Over the years, the school evolved into a hospital, and now the location remains a renowned medical hub and a traditional Tibetan hospital just west of Jokhang Monastery.
Locals recommend waking up early to scale Chakpori to get the best view of Potala Palace. Under the bright morning sun, the magnificent structure appears more terrestrial. Compared to other mountains, Chakpori offers an unparalleled fusion of faith, human achievement, and natural beauty. Monasteries, stone carvings, and pious worshippers are all common pieces of the wealth of scenery along the road leading to the mountain. Additionally, the mountain lies along one of Lhasa’s most well-trodden paths of circumambulation (a religious activity of circling a sacred shrine). On the 15th day of the fourth month of each Tibetan calendar year, throngs of pilgrims congregate at the mountain to celebrate the Saga Dawa Festival.
A well-preserved monastery on the eastern side of Chakpori is known as Chalalupa which is attractive for China tour visitors. Also called the Chalalupu Grottoes, the structure covers a compact area of only 27 square meters. A stone pillar at the entrance marks the start of a narrow lane used for circumambulation. The wall is decorated with 69 stone sculptures depicting figures such as King Songtsen Gampo and his wife, Princess Wencheng.
Songtsen Gampo (617-650) was the reigning king of Tibet when the tiny monastery was constructed over 1,300 years ago. After enduring unimaginable ups and downs over the centuries, the hardy monastery remains in good shape. According to historical records, one of Gampo’s concubines contracted artists to carve Buddha statues on the cliffs of Chalalupu. For each pound of rock they chipped away, craftsmen would receive a pound of salt, a commodity in short supply at that time. The savvy move considerably enhanced the efficiency of the project compared with similar endeavors of the time.
In years past, worshippers could be found at any time on any of the many circumambulation roads in Lhasa. Over its course of development, however, Lhasa changed considerably, and many such roads have disappeared. Only the road circling Chakpori remains unchanged, so its presence tends to move many Tibetan Buddhists and first-time visitors. Under the bright, high-altitude rays of sunshine, worshippers carefully and solemnly prostrate using their entire body. Even from afar, the sound of their kowtows can be heard echoing through the air.
Chakpori’s stone carvings have enjoyed a lengthy history, with the oldest traced back to the King Songtsen Gampo era. Over the centuries, stone sculptures have covered a length of nearly 1,000 meters. Combined with sutras and colorful Buddha statues gracing the cliffs, the whole mountain becomes quite spectacular so many tourists contain it on their list of China tour packages.
The responsible craftsmen, whose painstaking efforts to illustrate their faith on the mountain, are worth noting. Most contemporary artists are able to make a living by carving, and many talented craftsmen from a wide area relocate to the mountain once they are hired. A craftsman’s daily routine normally involves inscribing sutras and Buddha images on flat slates. Most of their time is spent on the sutra Kangyur, an epic and perennial project. Additionally, they will take freelance projects from locals, most often involving inscribing other sutras used in praying for happiness or health.
One such craftsman is named Yugya. The perpetually grinning man moved to Lhasa ten years ago and has been employed as a stone engraver ever since. Now, his second daughter is three years old and often plays at the foot of Chakpori. Yugya spends most of his time engraving, making it an indispensable facet of his life. When speaking of his work, the man can hardly conceal his passion and devotion.
Still, engraving is a tedious process with monotony only broken by various noises. Those employed in the discipline, however, consider it a blessing to be able to make a living in such a position. For them, every shrill noise is easy on the ear.
Story of a Stupa
In Chakpori, tourists will find a slate stupa, a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics. On each piece of slate is an inscription of Kangyur. Worshippers from near and far make pilgrimages to Lhasa to visit the stupa and find spiritual comfort. Daten Dawa, who constructed the stupa years ago, has devoted his life to his faith.
Years ago, when he was 40, Dawa set off for Lhasa from his hometown of Yushu in Qinghai Province which is less-visited by tourists for China vacation deals. During the entire trip, he continuously made full-body prostrations. At the time, his daughter was 20 years old. Like many other pilgrims, he moved cautiously and counted his footsteps carefully. Every night before sleeping, he would use a stone to mark the ground to make sure he never missed a step or two. Along the way, Dawa’s daughter became a mother, making him a new grandfather. Two years later, his entire family arrived in Lhasa. After visiting every monastery they could find, the group decided to stay permanently. “I didn’t want to go anywhere else,” he recalls.“I just wanted to stay in Lhasa and build a stupa for Chakpori.” Dawaspent the next ten years raising funds for the stupa and building the structure. Over the years, even in the foulest weather, Dawa could always be found at the foot of Chakpori ready to welcome any who were willing to donate money to help his project become a reality.A decade later, the stupa, with every slate inscribed with sutra, was completed for all to enjoy.
Transportation: Chakpori faces the Potala Palace, and is only a short walk from the palace.
Tickets: Visiting Chakpori is free of charge.
Suggestions: Leave the high heels at home, because tourists will need to do some hiking to get to the top. Be wary of altitude sickness and avoid excessiveexercise or walking during a visit.
Chapori is always packed with people in the morning, as manyphotographers like to shoot Potala Palace at dawn. Still, those desiring to witness or capture the most beautiful images are recommended to visit early in the day.
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