2017
06.01

Nun polishing Bowl

SYNOPSIS:  About yet another monastery and about an outrageous Chinese policy of 2015 which almost drove my driver into bankruptcy.

The Chinese flag and a big poster with all the political figureheads from Mao Tse Tung until today were prominently displayed once you entered the gate to the oldest monastery of Tibet:  Samye; permanent reminder of who is in charge around here.

My guidebook (from 2001), talked about a ferry going across a river to get to Samye, and about a shuttle truck going from the ferry stop to the site across rough terrain.  How times have changed!  A paved road took us across a mainly dry riverbed and straight to the monastery.  Samye’s layout is distinct and differs from all the other monasteries I have seen in nearly a month now.  Its original layout once resembled that of an architectural mandala;  the main temple forms the center, and four differently colored stupas mark the cardinal points.  A circular wall, topped by 1080 small stupas enshrines the complex. 

Once upon a time, it was possible to climb the nearby hill to comprehend the overall layout.  That is forbidden to tourists today.  I am sure the locals still find a way and Google most certainly somewhere and somehow, will have an aerial view of it.  The addition of buildings such as the Chinese headquarters, monks dormitories and subsidiary shrines, have obscured the once-pure layout over time.  The gardens were well kept and I had to wonder if a particular hedge was chosen for the site to match the monks’ robes!  Amidst miles and miles of sand dunes that characterize the area, Samye felt like a true oasis. 

This visit rounds out my inadvertent pilgrimage to all of the major monasteries affiliated with the Gelugpa-Sect in Tibet (inside and out of TAR).  If you are interested, you can google more of the history.  I won’t bug you with it.  I don’t blame anyone if you are “monasteried out”. 

Over lunch, the guys and I were talking about this and that, when Tenzin told me about a policy from 2015 which affected a lot of people like Pootse, our driver.  Almost overnight, the government decided that vans used for the transport of tourists should not be privately owned.  Invoking something close to our Eminent Domain laws, the government confiscated all the vans in question and regardless of age, or what was owed on the vehicle, paid out $2000 per person.  Pootse, about two months prior to this event had taken out a loan for a used van for $5000.  He lost his car, but his car loan remained with him.  He now has to rent his own car and he drives it for the agency that is now in charge of it.  And the agency charges for his car (presumably its upkeep), but does not pay a penny towards his loan…  Only in China! 

I asked Tenzin if that created a revolt of sorts?  After all, hundreds of vans were affected by this all over Tibet?  A revolt?  He smiled wryly… and made the sign of a pistol instead.  I guess not.

Back in town, I hired one of those rickshaw drivers to do a sightseeing tour with me.  I was too lazy to walk around but the weather was too nice to be wasted sitting in a dark hotel room.  But Tsetang has little to offer that could be of interest.  As so many other places in east Tibet, it is a Chinese town that has choked out the Tibetans that once lived here.  Only in its outskirts can you find any Tibetan-style homes, farms, dress, Tibetan life…      

With the time-honored bowl of noodle soup, mixed with a bit of melancholy, ended the second to last day in Tibet!

Good night.

2 comments so far

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  1. At first I thought the Nun polishing the bowl had a gas mask on…but when I enlarged the picture I saw that it was a flower making it look like a gas mask. Interesting bit of confusion.
    But she does have a mask on…what is she using to polish that bowl with!!!
    Did I miss something.

    Pic of you: nice hat.

    • She uses something like rice or other kernels of grain. And face masks are very common around here. A whole fashion industry sprung up around it. I am bringing a fee home with me, just in case you need one. 🙂