Lhasa's Bajiao Street
    2010-07-06 09:49:31     CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Zhao

Baijao Street is full of stalls like this one selling jewelry to passers by. Photo taken July 3, 2010. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]

by Dominic Swire

Visiting Tibet's many temples and shrines, it's easy to think their exquisite statues, murals, sculptures and ornaments were ordered directly from heaven. Obviously, this is not the case. Many of the artifacts on show are not actually that old and are made by skilled contemporary artists and craftsmen, a number of which are based in Bajiao Street, Lhasa's main circular street for handicraft gifts.

Stepping into one small shop we meet one such artist. He is working on a large colorful painting depicting the lives of numerous lamas. The almost-finished picture includes a wealth of detail and many saintly-looking figures including one half submerged in a mountain that was said to be able to walk through land, and another demonic-looking character with snakes wrapped around his wrists and ankles displaying a string of severed heads attached to his belt.

"The whole picture doesn't tell us one story, there are many. All the figures depicted are students of very famous lamas,"the artist tells us, brush in hand., adding that all the characters depicted are positive and have a good character, even the blue faced demon in a ball of fire.

"He may look like a demon but he is actually a good guy. He's a guardian of law and drives away the evil spirits," said the artist.

The picture measured about two metres high and three metres wide. As it was yet to be completed some white canvas around the edges were exposed, but once these had been filled in the work will be shipped off to a local temple.

Stepping across the street and into a second small workshop another artisan is applying paint to a small statue of a lama he is making for a temple.

"A lot of temples place orders here," says the artist, adding that the rather frightening mask hanging above his head and the golden Buddha statues on the shelf are the most popular products.

Bajiao Street itself  - also called Barkhor Street - is a trinket-lover's paradise with stalls and stalls of jewelry, fabric, traditional clothes and much much more all surrounding Jokhang Temple (Dazhao in Chinese), one of Lhasa's main tourist destinations. The street itself turns from narrow zigzagging lanes to wider market roads as you walk round. In the warmer months the place is packed with a mix of tourists, monks, pilgrims, some of which kowtow themselves along the ground, all walking clockwise, as is the Buddhist tradition.

The street originated in the seventh century when the emperor of Tibet ordered tribes to move to Lhasa, which was then a rural area. The newcomers then built the beautiful Jokhang Temple, which soon attracted many faithful pilgrims and eventually formed what we now know as Bajiao Street around the historic site.

Today the site is one of the most popular in Lhasa and a must-visit place for unique gifts to take back home.

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