Saturday, January 29, 2005

Tibet | Mindroling | Dorje Drak

From Samye we drove down the Tsangpo Valley and crossed the bridge to Tsetang, then headed up the south side of the valley to Mindroling, the monastery which had been heavily damaged by the Zungarian Mongols who invaded Tibet in 1718 under the leadership of Tseveen Ravdan, the nephew of Galdan Bolshigt, who in the 1680s had led the Zungarian Mongols against the Khalkh Mongols, at that time headed by Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegen of Mongolia, who was the great grandson of Avtai, the founder of Erdene Zuu. The Zungarians were hacked off that the Khoshot Mongol Khan Lhazang had effectively removed the 6th Dalai Lama from power and replaced him with what many Tibetans felt was a pretender 6th Dalai Lama. The Zungarians invaded Tibet with the idea of removing the pretender and installing Kalsang Gyatso, then a boy monk at Kumbum Monastery near current day Xining in Qinghai Province, China, as the Seventh Dalai Lama. As staunch supporters of the Dalai Lama’s Gelug sect they held a particular grievance against the Nyingma sect and set about trashing and looting Nyingma monasteries. Thus Mindroling, a Nyingma stronghold, was heavily damaged. It was later rebuilt or at least refurbished using the distinctive local stone. Mindroling escaped destruction by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and thus survives as an unusual example of the fine stone work used in early Tibetan monasteries.

Building at Mindroling showing distinctive stonework

From Mindroling we took the ferry across the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) River.

Ferry across the Tsangpo

Passengers on the ferry

On the north side of the river we visited the tomb of Yeshe Tsogyel, the consort of Padmasambhava, who in the eight century had founded Samye Monastery.

Stupa of Yeshe Tsogyel
Then we continued on to the village of Dratang, where we spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day at the Dratang Guest House, locally famous for its excellent dumpling soup.

Dratang Guest House

Then back across the Tsangpo by ferry and down the valley to yet another ferry across the Tsangpo to Dorje Drak Monastery.

Ferry to Dorje Drak

Dorje Drak

Like Mindroling, Dorje Drak was a Nyingma Monastery and was almost totally destroyed by the Zungarian Mongols in 1718. It was rebuilt, only to be destroyed again during the Cultural Revolution. It has now been rebuilt yet again.

Dorje Drak

We arrived just in time to see the completion of a sand mandala dedicated to Yama, the Lord of Death.

Sand Mandala

The monks conducted ceremonies connected with the mandala from about five to ten o’clock in the in the morning, then in the late afternoon they did a ceremonial dance in the courtyard, and then more chanting from about seven to ten in the evening.
Ceremonial Dance
We stayed in a guest room at the monastery and were very well treated by the monks, who plied us continually with butter tea.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Tibet | Samye Monastery

After Emei Shan I returned to Chengdu and then on December 27 winged on to Tibet. From the airport we drove straight to Samye Monastery and stayed there for three days. Lots of pilgrims there from all over Tibet.

One of the stupas at Samye

Also visited the nearby retreat center of Samye Chimpu. This is where the founder of Buddhist in Tibet, Padmasambhava, lived for awhile. Now over 300 people from all over Tibet are doing retreats here, most of them women.

Main Temple at Chimpu, built over the entrance to Padmasambhava’s retreat cave

Pilgrims at Chimpu

China | Sichuan Province | Emei Shan

The next day I took a bus to Emei Shan, about three hours from Chengdu. Spent the rest of the day visiting the temples a the base of the mountain.

Temple at the base of Emei Shan

Statue of Kuan Yin in one of the temples at the base of the mountain

After a night at the Teddy Bear Hotel (its actual name) I took a bus to Wannian Temple and began the ascent of the mountain from there.

Wannian Temple

From there it was a long slog up about 6000 vertical feet to Shishiangchi Monastery, where I spent the night. Of course at this time of the year I was the only guest.

Shishiangchi Monastery, looking down on the cloud bank

Next day I continued on up to the summit.

One of the ridges of Emei Shan

Stayed Christmas Eve in a guesthouse on the 10.077 foot summit and got up early Christmas morning for the view. Unfortunately there was a complete whiteout and no view. About a dozen Chinese were also on the summit. One offered me a cigarette and I was about to reflexively refuse, but then I thought, “This may be the only Christmas gift I get this year,” so I took it and had a smoke with the Chinese people on the top of Emei Shan. Took the cable bus and bus back down to the base of the mountain and was back in Chengdu by that evening.

See more photos of Emei Shan.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

China | Sichuan Province | Chengdu

On to Chengdu the next morning, December 20. The plane was jammed and like all domestic Air China flights there was simply not enough leg room for me. I finally got a bulkhead seat after a lot of fuss. I have been in Chengdu probably fifteen or twenty days in the late five years (always in December and January) and the weather has always been exactly the same: just above freezing, very foggy, with a a light on-and-off misting rain. I have never seen a clear day here. Checked into the infamous Traffic Hotel near the bus station. The clerks behind the check in counter are wearing thick down jackets (there’s no heat in the hotel). The same young ladies are in the lobby trying to sell trips to Tibet as last time I was here last December.

Then I popped over the Wenshu Monastery for lunch at its famous vegetarian restaurant.

Wenshu Monastery

Had what was the hottest meal I have ever had in my life. It was a kind of soup which seemed to consist entirely of chili peppers. Sichuan food is famously hot but this was way over the top. The way the waiter stood in the corner and keep smirking at me I had to wonder whether he and the cook weren’t playing some kind of practical joke me.

Statue at Wenshu Monastery

Then to the Sichuan Opera for the afternoon. This was held in a low key little theatre holding only two or three hundred on a side street near the train station. For the matinee the theatre was only about half full, almost all retirees whiling awhile an afternoon. All the tea you could drink, served by a woman who came around with a big thermos, was included in the price of the ticket. The oldsters sat around chatting, drinking tea, and eating sunflower seeds, only bothering to watch the opera for the highlights. The opera went on for over three hours, the exact plot being impossible to follow. I just sat back and let the whole thing flow over me. I noticed a lot of people going backstage so I thought I would try too. No one said anything to me. In fact, the actors seems to expect people to come back and take photos . . . Actresses in the opera:

The opera's Good Queen

The Evil Hussy in the opera