Today was a pretty big day. I might not be able to do it justice though. We are doing the Shangri-La monastery today. This is why we are here. A little bit of Lhasa in China.
It was a long bus ride out to the Monastery as it is on the far end of the city. There is an amazingly big ticket office and museum (that we were not allowed into) where you can get your typically overpriced tickets.
It is also a very long way from the monastery itself, so after passing through,
you need to catch another bus through a new suburb, past the lake and to the entrance to the Monastery itself. Getting off the bus you have to fight your way through the vendors trying to sell you incense and other things. Then there are all the other tourist stalls surrounding you. And people. It still isn’t as bad as we had expected China to be, but it is getting close.
Ganden Sumtseling monastery is built in 1679 following the style of Lhasa in Tibet, and is the home of Tibetan Buddhism in China, well so they claim here. We think it follows the path of the Yellow hat, but a lot of the paintings and statues also had red hats. We don’t know what the difference is, but apparently it was founded by the fifth Dalai Lama. It suffered partial destruction during the cultural revolution and was rebuilt in 1983. It is still being rebuilt in places today.
You start your journey at the base of the hill, and work your way up through different buildings.
It is an amazing place. You can be forgiven for thinking it is old. In actual fact, we have no idea how much was old and how much is new. I am assuming that most of it is old.
I wont talk too much about the monastery, other than to say that it is fantastic and well worth the visit. What does surprise us though are the pictures in the different halls. Having had a crash course in understanding Buddhist paintings yesterday, we were now able to work out more of the stories.
There is a very strong focus on hell and the lower realms. Most of the walls were taken up by vivid images of death and destruction. People boiled alive, sawn in half, decapitated and all sorts of other depravities. It ranged from the graphic to the representative. People being squashed so their eyes popped out of their heads to containers holding intestines. We were not allowed to take any photos though, and usually there was a monk around to make sure. A couple of places we were allowed to, but they don’t have the iconography that we want. Except for a bus shelter at the top. Well, it looks like a bus shelter. It was just a place where you could sit and relax outside the main temples and escape from the sun.
We found out that a lot of the halls are multi storied, and we were allowed to go up them. Even the main halls. The main halls have absolutely massive statues in the back, and on the second floor you cal look at them properly. The third floor allows you to look down on them. It also gives access to the roof. There is a fantastic view from the roof, and we enjoyed a quiet time here. So did the monk that came out after us hoping to have a cigarette out of the way of everyone’s eyes.
Upstairs in another hall there were all sorts of images of ghosts and flying skulls in white on a black wall. The entire hall was dedicated to the god of death and guardian of the living. I think that they mean he protects the living from the dead.
Another thing that made the Monastery special is its focus in Yak Butter Sculptures. These sculptures adorn every hall. They are usually small simple things in a leaf or tear-drop shape, but some are huge, stretching taller than me. Others are intricately carved and coloured into different shapes with floral patterns or other symbols. As we walked around we spied a monk making these sculptures in a small side room, so watched him for a while.
Offerings were also common, and each room seemed to have a different theme. Some were fruit orientated, a lot had water, and the occasional one was filled with booze. Not just a few bottles mind you, but about a years worth of the average shared uni students house consumption stacked up and unopened.
Having climbed our way up to the top and explored most of the buildings we set off along a different path. This took us through the area where they are still constructing new halls.
Not very interesting as a tourist, but we found one small building, that on entering we realised that there were a lot of monks on the second floor praying.
I suppose even monks get annoyed at tourists and want to do their prayers away from people, so we left them in peace. We also met the Frenchman again at the top of the monastery, so had a good chat, he had come from the direction we were going, so swapped what we had seen.
Winding our way back down the side of the monastery, we hit the lake. It takes a couple of things to make a place sacred. Mountains, Water and animals. All in harmony.
Now we were doing the water part. There is a large lake in front of the Monastery (as mentioned) and we decided to walk around it. It is supposed to be home to a lot of different varieties of water plants and species of birds. At the moment, the water level has receded, and the mud is being torn up by the local pigs rooting around in it for insects and, well, roots.
We took a slight detour through a local village nearby where we got to watch the cows being walked home. It seemed as if someone was responsible for the entire villages cows/yaks. They walked the cows up the main street, and when the cows got to their house, they would split off and wait for the gate to be opened for them.
At a fork in the road, half the cows went left and half right. They all knew their way home, except for one lost cow following us mooing all the way. Some of the moos were a bit aggressive and the rest were “help me, I’m lost” at other times there were very loud moos crying out for the rest of the herd.
There was no easy way to reconnect with the lake walk, so we ended up walking the fields. There are very strange large wooden structures that dot the countryside around here. They could be mistaken as very rough giant chairs. From what we can gather, the villages would put wheat and straw up there to dry. It is out of the way of anything that would eat it, and doesn’t take up any farming land.
Back at the lake and there was now water in it. Reeds and birds were in abundance. There was a small outcropping of rock to the side, and we had to wait as the yaks here walked passed us to go home. The rock had a few small caves in it that were filled with small Buddha statues. We never worked out what the symbolism behind that was.
Yesterday (missed in the blog) we had met the Frenchman again in the evening along with a group of Czech people that were in the hostel with him. We spent the evening with them looking for local wine and yak cheese. We found the wine but not the cheese. During the evening they had mentioned the dancing on the main square, so we went looking for it this evening. At the main square we were somewhat disappointed. There was dancing, but maybe we were too early, as there were probably less than fifty people. Well, along with the hundred people watching. We waited for a while, and gave up, walking back to the hostel. There was another smaller square, and this one was a lot more lively with way more people dancing in large circles. Again the Frenchman was here. Sometimes it is fun when you keep running into friendly people.