To fully explore Tibet's spiritual heart, visit this temple twice. From 8am, pilgrims line up to enter the Jokhang. You'll have no trouble singling the eager out-of-towners from the more detached city folk. In the morning, the rooms are unlocked, allowing pilgrims to rub their foreheads furiously against the sacred images. Your visit can be a painfully slow shuffle, lasting up to 2 hours, but it can be a moving experience.
Don't miss the image of Palden Lhamo on the third floor. The fierce protector of both Lhasa and the Dalai Lama, she is said to have murdered her own child to bring her husband and king to his senses and put an end to his endless military campaigns. Note the exquisite deer and wheel motifs on the roof. Both symbols allude to Sakyamuni's first sermon, "Turning the Wheel of the Doctrine," delivered in a deer park in Benares (Varanasi, India). Sakyamuni was initially reluctant to expound his teachings, believing they would be incomprehensible to most, but the god Brahma intervened. The deer and the wheel hark back to a time when believers respectfully avoided depicting the Buddha. A bodhi tree and a solitary footprint were also common symbols.
In the afternoon, a gate to the right of the main entrance admits tourists, and gives you an opportunity to view the ancient statuary and woodwork in relative peace, strident Chinese tour guides notwithstanding. The most revered object in Tibet is Jowo Rinpoche, a 1.5m (5-ft.) image of the young Buddha, which originated in India and was brought with Princess Wencheng as dowry. Many credit her with selecting the temple's location according to the principles of geomancy (feng shui). Without the bustle of the morning crowd, take time to appreciate the ancient Newari door frames, columns, and finials (7th and 8th c.). Note the more recent yab-yum images of sexual union in a chapel to the south. Many mistakenly believe tantric practice has no place in the "reformed" Geluk School, but Tsongkapa simply restated the principle that only advanced practitioners should engage in tantric sex.
Cost: Admission ¥70 ($9.10/£4.55)