Right outside the monastery…

SYNOPSIS:  About two days of sightseeing.  First, a Chinese “Resort Town”.  About village architecture and a legend that goes with it.  About superstitions and predigests.  About the oldest temple in Tibet, and a Nyingmapa monastery in which monks and nuns co-habit. 

Sometimes, I lose track of the itinerary.  I am at the mercy of the Great Tibet Tour travel agency and their idea of “culture”.  I had specified that I am interested in all aspects of Tibetan culture and I had listed a few “must see” monasteries.  But a few things appeared on my itinerary which seem to be standard offerings for the typical Chinese tourist who frequents the eastern part of Tibet a lot more than any Westerner. 

Today, we drove through lush scenery, wound our way up yet another pass (the Sikkim Pass of 4700+ meters), an occasion at which Pootse our driver, stops his recantation of mantras, rolls down his window, and shouts out something that sounded like this:   XXX

It means as much as: to all the good spirits that sit on every man’s shoulder! Yeah, these guys here believe that only men have good spirits sitting on their shoulders.  What do they know?!

We wound our way down the other side of the pass, no less gorgeous, passing some crazy dedicated bikers, and soon Pootse stopped, and Tenzin declared that we had arrived at our destination: Lunang.  I am not getting out here, I said. What is this supposed to be?  Disneyland? 

Souvenir stalls, guys with horses which you could ride across a meadow, a few show-yak, and a make-belief Tibetan Village full of fancy restaurants and hotels looking like Tibetan farm houses, in which one chicken dinner would cost between $80-100 since Chinese tourists believed (or were made to believe) that they had some special herbs stuffed into the bird, that had magic healing powers.  Good grief!  Is that, what the (hundreds and thousands, by the way!) Chinese tourists do for fun?

I felt sorry for the 2 hours, the driver had been working hard, and inquired if there was anything else on the program on this side of the pass.  I also assured Pootse that I really had enjoyed the scenery.  Yes, there was one more thing:  A few houses; actual Tibetan farm houses, that had survived the onslaught of the Chinese tourism industry.  The old, nearby village was called Namai.  Now that was right up my alley.  I love villages and this village architecture was distinctly different from the Lhasa region, and from other parts in the East.  A legend explained it all:

Once upon a time, a king called for help to build a monastery (was it Samye?).  Every village had to send a few loads of soil.  Namai and other villages in this Kongpo Region refused.  In retaliation, the king cursed their soil and it is no longer suitable to be used in their homes.  Farm houses in other regions are either flat, or top off their slanted brick walls with a layer of adobe, onto which layers of wood are piled; now, more likely you will see corrugated sheets of metal.  Because of this ancient refusal, the villages in this region are forever doomed to have an open-air attic!  Funny enough, they do; and that despite rain and snow.  Quite counter-intuitive.  Usually, architecture is optimized to adapt to various weather conditions.  Here, they really are putting up with some hardship because of this “history”.   I had a good time in this village, making this long drive all worthwhile.

People from the Kongpo region mainly practice the native, pre-Buddhist Bon Religion.  Tenzin (as a typical representative of a follower of Buddhism, and people in the rest of the country) is highly suspicious of these folks, and ascribes all kinds of evil to them:  they are capable of poisoning somebody with food — people affected will die within 2-3 years.  They are not trustworthy — don’t take a friend from the Kongpo region if you expect a long-term friendship; they act friendly but mean harm, and so on.  Wow!

We had a hard time getting away from those infamous chicken dinners, but finally located a small Tibetan eatery; the usual hole in the wall with benches and a central stove on which the tea was brewing — and had our noodle soup with yak meat, the standard dish around here which I have been eating for a month now.  It really does not get old.  It’s tasty, and a little bit of cilantro and chili always does the trick.

And back we went across the pass, calling it a day.

The next day, we visited the oldest monastery in all of Tibet, dating back to the 7th century:  Buchu Lakhang or Bujiu Si.  Well, soon that date will have to be amended to:  renovated and restored in 2017.   The main temple of this Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) monastery was all ripped up, workers were busy sawing wood, mixing cement, forming bricks in the courtyard.  The treasures of the place were piled up warehouse style in a small side building.  The most auspicious objects are a huge stone that supposedly floated up from a sacred lake, and the footprints of…  who could it have been, I forgot…  A small protector chapel was accessible.  Those are always fun, usually filled with wrathful images such as Hayagriva, Yamantaka, or Mahakala.

But the highlight of the day was the 19th century Nyingmapa (Red Hat) monastery of Lamaling.  With an octagonal, three-tiered floor plan, it looked very Chinese to me.  It was destroyed once by fire, once by the Red Guard…  Dedicated to Padmasambhava, Avalokitesvara, and Amitabha, it rounded out some of the usual favorites. 

What was most unusual is that in this monastery about 37 nuns and 40 monks live together.  The do have separate dormitories, but they pray, walk, work, and eat together.     And don’t you get any ideas!  Only Lamas in the Gelugpa sect can marry or have a worldly life.  Monks and nuns in both major sects have vowed celibacy as part of their religious commitment.    And I am sure that (for the most part) they take this seriously.

And just in case they don’t…  I came across two really unusual sculptures right outside the monastery:  Two fully erect penises wrapped in votive shawls!  And just in case you were wondering what this is all about (as I was), a faded sign explains it:

Against bad dreams!