The reason we got to this city is that it is one of few places in the world that still prints scriptures inside the monastery… by hand! We asked a local store-owner what time they’d start, thinking it was one of those ‘old’ things which only happens in the wee-hours of the morning. Store-owner told us 7:00am, so we bought some breakfast and set our alarm for 6:00am…. After a brisk walk up the hills, only to find out the monastery opens at 9:00am!!
We left our grudges aside and followed some random lamas around to the entrance to a classroom. A few gong rings later, a group of young lamas were all lined up one by one. It was a pretty cute scene, sorta like a bunch of kindergarten kids going to class, except they’re all lamas! A final gong rang, and the lamas lined up neatly, folded their clothes up nicely, made a bow towards the headmaster….. and thinking it was time to go inside, we were wrong! They all scattered quickly and most of them went to take a piss on the side of the road….haha so random.
The monastery opened shortly after, and the scripture printing was possibly one of the neater things we’ve seen so far….story at the bottom!
Note: This monastery received a special blessing back in the Qing Dynasty by emperor Kangxi, being the ONLY monastery that is allowed to use a pair of peacocks (孔雀法轮) as its emblem instead of the usual pair of deer.
After the tour of the printing process, we realized it was only 10am and there was nothing else left to do so we stuck around playing with the monastery cats. Not long after, we were joined by this lama who chatted with us in broken mandarin. We didn’t know what happened next but he said he’ll show us around the city, and since we had plenty of time we followed his lead! I must say though, having a local show you around is much better than wandering aimlessly yourself.
We managed to get a ‘private tour’ of all the halls within the monastery, even ones that we didn’t even knew existed! It was pretty great to have a guide to explain to you whatever questions you had as well! The cool part was, we found out this lama’s ‘home monastery’ is in the same direction as where we were heading, and he offered us a ride! But to go a step further, he invited us to his home? We’re not quite sure what he meant, if he means home home home, or home monastery home…. we’ll find out tomorrow!
After visiting all the temples, we thought it would be a polite “Thank you, have a good day”, but not so fast! The lama invited us over for some tea, and despite being pretty tired from walking around for 9hrs since 6am, we sorta said yes. By now, there wasn’t much conversation as communication is somewhat difficult. In the end, he took a nap, then woke up, and then I took a nap before really saying good bye and heading back to our hotel. The problem was, before we said goodbye, he asked us out for dinner! I mean, we sorta said no, but through a combination of a lack of understanding and persistence on his end we agreed again.
For dinner, he met up with a few of his friends. The town was very small, so he’d just talk to random people standing on the street and give out hugs like they were free. We headed to this small shop and ended up dining with 3 other lamas, one of whom was his brother? They were very nice, but in a very blunt sort of way (that’s how Tibetans are), but they spoke very little mandarin, and we definitely spoke zero Tibetan, so the whole time during dinner they were doing their thing in Tibetan while we politely sat there wondering if they were genuinely nice or were part of some strange sub-cult that like to invite outsiders to their home before drugging us and stealing our nice clothes?!?!? That’s what goes through your head when you sit in a small enclosed room with a bunch of strangers being wayyy too nice to you!
So tomorrow, we’ll hitch a ride with these lamas! Woo, free ride!
Scripture Printing in Dege Monastery
Without knowing what to expect, but we think this may be the coolest monastery we’ve been to so far. Not for its impressive architecture or sheer magnitude, but instead it was like watching a documentary about the lost art of scripture printing… The monastery was really a printing house with a few prayer halls.
At the main floor, large paper was cut with a scythe to the horizontal rectangles used by Tibetan monks, and in the next room the binded scriptures were sanded to create smooth edge (since cutting with a scythe leaves some rough edges!). The second floor housed these carved metal/wooden panels that have scriptures carved into them, some of which dates back to well over 400 years ago to the days of 康熙! The second floor was also host to the actual ‘printers’, which was a pair of two people that worked like machines! One would wipe ink onto the carved blocks, while the other would roll the piece of paper over the panel! Old school! Even the paper they used were a special type of Tibetan paper, with a thick fibrous feel to it unlike the lined paper most people are used to using. And finally, there was a group of sorters that would take the printed scriptures and sort + bind them into packets.
Scattered throughout the monastery were other printers, some of whom would print scriptures while others would print tongka paintings. The craftsmen were all very focused on their craft, but still took time to give us a quick nod or smile as they went on with their work. The entire monastery existed in darkness and without any light, with the gloomy skies providing the only source of light. Not knowing what it is, but you can feel that each motion, every swipe of the hand, brings you back into time, a simpler time of the past.