Posts Tagged With: Sichuan

Day 67: Manigange (马尼干戈) – August 23

Heading out to the lama temple after breakfast, we got a ride with his ‘friend’. Again, not sure what to expect we hopped onto their car with a sense of adventure, and a bit of skepticism about what’s to come. Then, the music comes on and it’s the familiar sound of melodic Tibetan chants. At that moment, it hit me that, it would make an awesome intro to some sort of Metallica-type song! Then, before I could share my thoughts, *cue hard guitar riffs*, Tibetan-Metallica starts playing!!! This was a start to an adventurous day… Continue reading

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Day 66: Dege (德格) – August 22

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.

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Day 65: Dege (德格) – August 21

Heading up to the monastery with the same name as the city, 白玉寺. As we worked our way up towards the monastery, as all monasteries seem to be built high up on the mountains with the city underneath, we were greeted with many locals. Seems like everybody though, takes a glance at us, then as they bow their sights back downwards, they notice one thing: our prayer beads.

Back in the Labrang monastery, we ‘requested’ (you don’t ‘buy’ these things) prayer beads from a local antiques dealer, and ever since any Tibetan sees it, they’d usually take it out of our hands and start fiddling with it and start talking to us in Tibetan, before ending with a thumbs-up and a “Very good!” in mandarin. We don’t know what the fuss is about, but we’ve got some pretty funny looks, so we guess we got some pretty nice beads….

While in the monastery, we tried to take this shortcut up to the peak, but this dog comes out of nowhere and starts barking at us, causing a chorus of other stray dogs to chime in. At first we were confused, wondering why the dog would bark at us, but then we realized he was trying to lead us back onto the main road…. We tried ignoring him and continue onto the shortcut, but he kept barking… so when we turned back he’d stop barking and lead us back to the main road!?!?! W T F?!?!??! So we gave up our ascent, and made our way back down.

After a long and bumpy (sounds familiar eh?) ride, we finally arrived at the city of Dege. At one point during our trip, we were separated only by a river before getting into Tibet! No worries though, we’ll be there pretty soon.

Missed Story: Back at Wuming monastery, before we left our friendly host we wanted to give something back to her. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much except some Oreos and sausages. Since they were vegetarians, they can’t take the sausages. The host also wouldn’t accept our gifts, but said she would offer it to the grandmaster as an offering…. So… we offered a pack of Oreos to a 活佛!

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Day 64: Baiyu (白玉) – August 20

Not able to find a ride out of town, we sat down for a meal at a local Tibetan restaurant. After breakfast, we headed to another…. you guessed it, a monastery! And the road there was, once again, extremely bumpy. We’re pretty much used to 3+hrs of bumpy roads nowadays, and time really moves by quickly.

When we got to Gatorsi (嘎拖寺), we realized why it put a name for itself. Not sure how it was built, but the whole thing was built off the side of a 4000M tall mountain!?!? And this monastery was built back in 1159AD !!!!! Seriously, this monastery is so far away from any pockets of civilization, it would’ve been great for solitary study but, how did they get there in the first place!?!?!?

History Lesson: This monastery is also 1 of 6 most important monasteries for Nyingma sect,宁玛派(红教)六大寺院之一. It was said that Guru Rinpoche (蓮花生大士) studied in the area and blessed the mountain, and beneath the monastery lies a large rock with a naturally occuring word, “Ga”.

Being easily spotted as outsiders, the locals were very friendly once again and helped us lock down a lama to unlock the doors to show us around the mandala. The mandala was ridiculously opulent, as it is plated with gold! It as so shiny, I was sort of glad the sun didn’t shine too bright this afternoon….

On our way back, we passed by a village famous for its craftsman in the art of Tibetan sword-making. From the outside it was just like any other village, but when we asked around we were lead into a local craftsman’s house. Unfortunately, just like most crafts of prior generations, there are very few people willing to continue on this way of life, instead choosing other higher paying jobs.

And then we were ‘stuck in traffic’ for 1.5hrs….. Not that there were too many people, but there was construction going on and they wouldn’t let anyone pass through the ONLY road leading back into the city. I really don’t know what they’re constructing, because it’s still bumpy was hell….

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Day 63: Baiyu (白玉) – August 19

Another day of bumpy ride, another round of interesting people. Today, we rode with a lama and his thuggy friend. As mentioned before, most young Tibetan locals look a bit like GUWAKJAI(古惑仔).I’m not sure how to describe this, but the lama had some scars on his head and looked like he’s got a past of his own. The ride was long, so the lama suggested we grab lunch first. We sat down for a bowl of noodles, and the lama went ahead and paid for all of us. Later, he saw our iPhone and he whipped his out too!

Lama Note #1: They have disposable income…(sometimes quite a lot from people’s 供养!)

Apparently the lama have some friends going to the same place we’re heading, so he’s going there to show them around the area.

Lama Note #2: They don’t always study/meditate, they have vacation too!

During the ride, the lama joked with us the whole time. His thuggy friend was even more friendly, telling us local stories of the land, telling us how to get around etc. At the end of the ride, the lama even paid more to compensate the lack of the full car!

Seriously, so far all the people we’ve met, no matter what age, no matter how ghetto they looked, they are ALL VERY NICE! Let’s hope we don’t meet any bad apples!

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Day 62: Ganzi (甘孜) – August 18

Leaving early in the morning, we got into a team of 4 vans, and we were seated with a group of local teenagers. Apparently it was back-to-school for these kids, so for the next 7 extremely bumpy hours, we had some interesting conversations with one particularly interesting teenager.

The kids were a bit rowdy, but they were extremely friendly, even treating us to two bottles of coke! Their mandarin wasn’t great, and our Tibetan is non-existent but they were very nice to the both of us. We feel that we are getting pretty well acclimatized, as one of the kids actually had pretty severe car sickness from the bumpy road!

The van though, was pretty shady. I now understand why some cars are so cheap…. the chassis of the van is actually 5 pieces of metal binded together like a kit kat bar… W T F?!?!? How did I find out? Well, because 1 of the pieces kept protruding out of the car and they stopped every 30minutes to hammer it back into place…. It wasn’t the van I was in but didn’t make me feel any better as we zipped up and down mountain roads with no guard rails….

We stopped at the top of the mountain at above 4500m, and everybody got out of the car to conduct a Tibetan culture of scattering scriptures (风马)into the wind as an offering to the mountain. The mountain is actually a ‘saintly’ mountain to Tibetan buddhist practitioners (despite having a road blasted along the side).

The Kid:

One of the teenagers spoke fluent mandarin, and was very talkative. He didn’t look like the other kids, carrying a more fluid motion of someone with lots on his mind. Speaking softly and confidently, he surprised us when he said he was only 17….

He would enthusiastically inform us about the details of his culture (he’s Tibetan), and within his voice you can feel a sense of uncompromising pride. Several times he would suggest to us that, spending a year or two to learn the Tibetan language, and help the locals improve their standard of living would be a gracious thing to do. We asked him what he’d do after graduation, and he spoke softly, without thought, “I’d like to improve my language skills, and continue to learn Buddhism. This way, I can promote both my religion and my home land to the world.”

Coming from a 17 year old, with such conviction…. especially when all his friends were throwing tree moss around, it was a pretty impressive sight.

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Day 61: Serda (色达) – August 17

In the morning, we headed up to the mountains to round the mandal with the locals. It was also a place for locals to go take a picnic with two buckets of yogurt and a bag of bread! Coming back down from the mountain top, our hospitable host tried to take us to get blessings from a 活佛, but timing didn’t work out…rather unfortunate. Honestly though, we were kinda freaked out at her enthusiasm!!! She was sincere to begin with, but sorta freaky!

We took a ride to the city of Serda. The city itself only has about 10 thousand people (half of that in the monastery!), and literally has one road going in. There’s no trade, no manufacturing, no tourism but somehow the city is extremely clean and new. When we took a stroll around town, we went into their town hall, and found their 2012 infrastructure budget posted outside. I am no urban planner, but through a combination of government and private entities, a whopping $700M RMB was invested into this small area this year!!! Putting things into perspective, this is a ridiculously small town with a ridiculously small population…!!!

Riding with us into the city were 4 teenage lamas, and we chatted up with them for a bit. So when they enter the monastery, it is like going to school, but instead of learning something like fluid dynamics or calculus, they learn how to achieve nirvana…haha cool! And every 5 days they get 1 day off, and today was their day off! The funny part is, only females were allowed into the town today so they were breaking the rules to head into town! And what for??? TO PLAY BASKETBALL!

We spent the afternoon watching them play a bit of basketball, and reminisced about stuff at a local tea shop. I don’t know how it works, but this town has a ridiculous abundance of tea shops…. The motel we’re staying in was built 3months ago. Seems like every city we’ve been at was built within the past year. So just an FYI, I’m pretty sure infrastructure investment here is going to be finished soon…. We just hope they build some better toilets.

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Day 60: Wuming Monastery (五明佛学院) – August 16

Riding the bus from 7-3pm, our bums took a ridiculous beating once again. The craziest part was, for the most part we were driving along the national highway 317, the northern route into Tibet. The lane is ridiculously small, and weaves itself between a jagged mountain and a river without any guard rails. The scary part is, THERE IS ONCOMING TRAFFIC TOO!! Props to the drivers on this route, as there were no accidents at all the whole way through, unlike a typical day on the 401?

Arriving into the monastery, you realize the sheer size of the thing. To put into perspective, there are about 20 thousand monks/nuns living in this monastery, whereas the town itself has around 10 thousand! Little houses carpet the whole mountain side, with several large temples within. Some temples focus on Tibetan teachings, while others focus on Mandarin teachings. There is also a large mandala at the top of the mountain for people to turn their sins away and bring more fortune.

The monastery is like a bustling city, with restaurants, convenience stores and its own market. Continue reading

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