Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Samye mission

This is my last day in China. Tomorrow morning I leave for Hanoi by bus (seemed a better option than waiting 2 days for a local train that would run only as far as the border, and I would need to find onward transportation from there. At least by now I have some basic capability with Chinese, and I can buy my own train tickets, a feat for any non-Chinese-speaking traveler, thanks to my Lhasa examinations!)

Unfortunately, there are many things I did in Tibet that I just don't have time to write about. This long list includes visits to Potala Palace, Nam Tso Lake, Tashinlumpo Monastery in Shigatse, Lake Manasavora and monastery, Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, Yumbu Lhakang and Tara Temple.

(Yumbu Lhakang:)

My last topic will be Samye. It's a good story. (And I may try to upload pictures of some of the other trips/sites, but this usually takes hours and hours of time -- alas, it's not very expensive at $.25USD per hour.)

Fortunately, I'm leaving China in a happy way. I've had a couple relaxing nights here in Nanning (thanks in large part to a comfy hotel! plus I found some good street food that reminds me of what I've heard about Vietnam at least in terms of decor (lots of food stalls with low-to-the-ground tables at which the patrons sit on tiny plastic stools) and generally the South is friendlier and more relaxed than the North. (Yes, I'm a Northerner at home but when traveling I prefer the South.))

About my Samye mission

After the calamity of the trip and happy return to Lhasa, we spent a few days resting and rejuvenating, sleeping in, and eating well. Those with whom I spent my days knew that I wanted to go to Samye -- to see the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet and to fulfill a mission.

I had in my possession about 20 photographs taken by a friend of a friend. My friend's friend had tried to mail them (some 3+ years ago) and they were returned by mail. My friend had received them from her friend and had intended to go to Samye to deliver them, but due to unforseen difficulties (see the section On the terrible in a previous entry), asked me to either fulfill the task or find someone who would.

If you had seen these photographs yourself, you would see the affection for his subjects and special care the photographer took and his talent (these were beautiful photos). The photos were taken at Chimpuk a hermitage for female monks, (a number of caves fairly high up in the mountains surrounding Samye, a few hours away from Samye itself and requiring at least an additional day due to the distance and strenuousness of the hike -- according to the guidebooks).

Trip preparations -- everything fell into place

During our Lhasa rest, each day our daily rounds included a stop at the travel agent. We weren't optimistic for a monetary refund, but we wanted some token of their regret, if even saying, "I'm sorry." We naturally fell into a good-cop/bad-cop duo, and I of course was the bad cop (hee hee!) Well, they didn't say sorry, but they did return a modest amount of money, including a per person share of fees paid for the EBC permit which were fairly steep by Tibetan standards and cost of two unused trip days.

This was not the only good that came of our diligence. More notably:

-We met 2 more fellow travelers (for a comfortable total of 4 passengers) for our trip to Samye!
-We met our driver for the third time -- not our first driver for most of the Western Tibet trip, but "our driver" -- the only one who stopped to talk to us out of 16 landcruisers on the hike back to Tingri and the one with whom we rode back to Lhasa. This was our third unplanned meeting, so we knew he was "our driver" in general and for Samye in particular.

So, succinctly we booked a 1-day trip to Samye.


We loved it. We went by landcruiser to the point where we could see Samye from across a wide river. Then, we took a boat which was full of Tibetans and often moved in the direction away from Samye in order to avoid the sandbars (we joked that we were going to back to Lhasa). We jumped off and walked through thick mud and took a basic jeep some ways (again a rough ride, but only for about 20 minutes, and certain passengers managed to grab a catnap.)

When we entered Samye, the energy felt light and cheerful and intentional. Six or seven younger monks were mixing tsampa with yak butter tea on a tarp in the courtyard -- to be made into bricks with a mold and ultimately to become a part of a giant sculpture in the main chapel for a festival in the coming days.

We saw many, many monks and worshipers, some worshiping intently, some chatting lightly, interacting. Other than Jokhang, it seemed to me the most alive place of worship I visited in Tibet.

Samye has 4 levels open to the public and it was the first monastery in Tibet, built in 779, about when, with the help of Padmasanbhava of India, Buddhism gain predominance over Bon, the traditional religion of the Tibet!

Samye has survived devastation, both natural and man-made. Most recently it survived ransacking and other sacrilege due to the Cultural Revolution. Very little of the original construction remains, and yet it is a special place, the feeling is palpable.

Mission fulfilled

Because the time was not sufficient time to go to Chimpuk ourselves, we knew we had to find someone to deliver the pictures to the owners, for whom the photographer intended. In the main chapel, I found a monk sitting making smaller tsampa sculptures by hand. "Our driver" helped to translate our wish (many monks spoke only Tibetan). The monk said that there would be a festival in the coming days with monks from Chimpuk in attendance, and he would pass them on. I was grateful.

After spending a while in each of the chapels looking at the Buddhas and praying and doing koras around the courtyards and spinning the prayer wheels, just when we were on our way down and about to leave, looking at a last little chapel on the third level we had missed on the way up, I saw bright eyes and heard a female voice and just at the same time my friend was asking her (the female monk) where she stays. Of course the answer was Chimpuk!

So, with my heart beating wildly, while the others stayed, I went downstairs to the main chapel to retrieve the pictures. When I arrived in the main chapel on the first floor, the pictures and our monk were no where to be found! Our monk had cleaned up his station and moved! I asked a younger monk for help. I was able to explain about the pictures through the help of a fellow visitor to the temple, and he pledged to help me.

Our young monk was gone 5 minutes. For a while I chatted with the (more senior) monks making the big tsampa sculpture. Our young monk was gone 10 minutes. As I was feeling more unsure of what would happen, I was scolding myself for not having been more intuitive about whom to give the pictures. Our young monk was gone 15 minutes. I prayed.

After about 20 minutes, my friends came to the chapel with the female monk saying she needed to leave, where were the pictures. I was in the middle of explaining to them that I could no longer find the monk with the pictures, etc., when the junior monk showed up and the pictures were back in my hand (perfect timing!) and so I delivered them person-to-person!

We sat together for a few minutes and looked at the pictures, taken almost 4 years ago. She spoke as she pointed to people in the pictures (for the most part could not understand her commentary) and ...that was that! The pictures are at Chimpuk!

(These photos were taken by CK Yu -- thanks, CK! I'm glad you had the presence of mind to take these and your quality photography skills because at the time this slipped my mind, and I am too shy to photograph people avidly.)


Anonymous Fusspot of Chelsea said...

Lovely to read and see all that you have posted so far! I'm sure I can't be the only one who would LOVE to see a few shots of you on your travels as well. Are these absent for good reason? Or just because you are forgetting how important that will be once the trip is over?
(Being a Jewish Mamma - type.... I want to make sure you're looking well fed and healthy etc!) Ha ha.

Ejoy this new country,
D xxx

12:49 AM  

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